Supporters of France’s newly-elected leftist President Emmanuel Macron championed his candidacy, in part, as a repudiation of opponent Marine Le Pen’s alleged xenophobia and racism. Many voters are now scratching their heads after Macron suggested that Africa’s problems are “civilizational,” not financial, to explain why they should not receive more foreign aid.
Macron made the inflammatory remarks during the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, when asked by an Ivory Coast journalist how many member nations would back a funding program for Africa reminiscent of Europe’s post-war Marshall Plan.
Not only did Macron not think that such a plan would work in Africa, but he countered the question by pointing out a whole host of problems facing the continent that appeared to be rooted in a racial critique.
“The Marshall Plan was a reconstruction plan, a material plan [for a stable region],” she said. “The problems Africa faces are completely different … and are civilizational. What are the problems? Failed states, complex democratic transitions, and extremely difficult demographic transitions.”
Macron went on to criticize African women for having “seven or eight children per woman,” and concluded that “spending billions of dollars outright would stabilize nothing.” He also listed drug- and human-trafficking, arms smuggling, and Islamic terrorism as complications that could overshadow the benefits of increased aid to Africa.
While some economists and pundits defended Macron’s comments as right-minded, noting that foreign aid has hobbled African economic development by disincentivizing local enterprise and facilitating corruption, liberal commentators decried the remarks as racist and neocolonialist.
“Macron’s remarks fall into a tradition, as well, of grandiloquent and condescending statements about Africa that point to every cause of the continent’s difficulties other than colonialism and its enduring trace,” wrote Siddhartha Miter of Quartz, who contended that Macron is not “deep” enough to grasp the full extent of the plight facing Africa.
The most recent French presidential election saw 39-year-old Macron, a former investment banker and Socialist Party economy minister, handily triumph over a populist challenge by Le Pen. Since his victory, Macron has been criticized as “pharaonic” for his noticeable lack of media appearances and his aloof approach to leadership.