France has refuted recent media allegations that President Emmanuel Macron made a controversial and racist remark regarding Africa and African women at the G20 summit in Hamburg, German.
In an interview with News24, the French embassy in South Africa maintained that Macron's comment was not racist.
"Macron's comment did not carry any racial connotations. The president was answering to a question about the need for a 'Marshal Plan' for Africa. He said that he [felt] the challenges faced by the African continent needed a more complex solution than only a 'Marshal plan', aimed at reconstruction of previous stable countries," the embassy said.
Reports early this month claimed that Macron told a press conference during the G20 summit that "civilisation" problems and women having "seven or eight children" were hampering development on the continent.
Misery and war
Macron, according to the reports, said this as he responded to a question pertaining to why there was no concerted effort to help the continent economically.
A 28 second edited video clip of Macron's response was shared on social media and it provoked outrage, with some accusing him of racism and of blaming women for poverty.
But the embassy maintained that the context in which Macron was quoted by the media was wrong.
"He named three types of problems: 1) Problems of security, that have their origin in economic underdevelopment and religious fundamentalism; 2) Problems of state capacity, with failed states, complicated democratic transitions, and bad governance;
"3) Demographic problems, with high fertility rates that tend to fuel misery and war. This is particularly true in the Sahel region. That is why President Macron wants the 'Alliance to the Sahel', recently launched by France and Germany, to support the strengthening of women rights, the interdiction of forced marriages, together with a strong educational policy as well as family planning systems," said the embassy.
According to the embassy, the following were Macron's exact words:
"The Marshall plan was a plan for the material reconstruction of countries (... ). Africa's challenges are now completely different, more profound, more civilisation. What are the problems faced by Africa? Failed states, complex democratic transitions, demographic transition which is one of the biggest challenges of Africa [... ] It is through rigorous governance, the fight against corruption, the fight for good governance and a successful demographic transition [that you manage it].
"When some countries still have seven to eight children per women, you can spend millions of euros, and you will not manage to stabilise the country. So the transformation plan that we must implement together, taking into account the specificities of African countries and together with African heads of states, it's a plan that takes into account our own commitments on all the fields that I mentioned, and associate better public and private actions [... ]."
The embassy said that the president was talking about problems faced by Africa.
"As you can see, President Macron was listing the structural problems faced by the continent. Talking openly about these problems is the only way to deal with them," the embassy said.
The embassy said that Africa was a priority for France's foreign policy.
'Africa is for Africans first'
"We have a comprehensive and mutually beneficial relationship in many fields: on the economic side, on political and security issues, and on development aid. We also support the African governments' efforts to tackle the demographic challenges through the Ouagadougou partnership, which aims to foster family planning in West Africa.
"Recently, President Macron announced the launch of an Alliance for the Sahel, through which we will increase our aid to this region by €200 million. Our policy on Africa is intimately linked to our European commitment. We associate closely the European Union and its Member States to our actions."
The embassy said that Africa was for Africans first and that France would only intervene when it was asked to.
"Africa is for Africans first. African solutions to African problems must be prioritised. Should we be asked to intervene militarily, we do it in last resort, upon the request of local authorities, with the backing of the UN, and in partnership with African stakeholders. This is what France did in 2013 in Mali and in the Central African Republic," it said.