President Emmanuel Macron, newly elected, learned a political lesson the hard way: making casual references to Africa’s “civilizational” problems in the age of social media can backfire
During a press conference at the G20 summit that took place in Hamburg, Germany, a journalist asked Macron why the Marshall Plan for Africa didn’t exist, making a reference to the massive amount of economic aid that the US sent into European countries destroyed after the Second World War.
The President’s response was a three and a half minute monologue. He talked about the “civilizational” problems that Africa has to deal with, as well as the differences between a postwar reconstruction project (the Marshall Plan) and aid programs meant to address a variety of issues in many countries.
Using the word “civilizational” would probably have been more than enough to spark things up; it does sound like a racist assessment that Europe’s “civilization” is different, and even better, than Africa’s.
However, what came next triggered a social media storm that was a clear bump in the way for the new French leader. Halfway through the answer, Macron mentioned that one of Africa’s biggest challenge is the fact that there still are women who have “seven or eight children”, calling this birthrate continuously destabilizing.
As expected, a short video of this response appeared on twitter, saying: “The challenge of Africa, it is totally different, it is much deeper, it is civilizational, today. What are the problems in Africa? Failed states, the complex democratic transitions, demographic transitions, which is one of the main challenges facing Africa.”
It then falls into the words: “a successful demographic transition when countries still have seven to eight children per woman — you can decide to spend billions of euros, you will not stabilize anything.”
A big majority of the internet has decided that Macron is putting all the blame on high birthrates, as well as on women. With a little rephrasing, the internet came to the conclusion that what Macron really meant is that African women are the problem of Africa, which sounds terribly bad.
However, the clip only contains 28 seconds of the full 3 and a half minutes. Macron’s full response is not as obnoxious as it first sounded.
His full response was:
“The challenge of Africa, it is totally different, it is much deeper, it is civilizational, today. What are the problems in Africa? Failed states, complex democratic transitions, demographic transition, which is one of the main challenges facing Africa, it is then the roads of multiple trafficking which also require answers in terms of security and regional coordination, trafficking drugs, arms trafficking, human trafficking, trafficking in cultural property and violent fundamentalism, Islamist terrorism, all this today mixed up, creates difficulties in Africa. At the same time, we have countries that are tremendously successful, with an extraordinary growth rate that makes people say that Africa is a land of opportunity.”
It is too soon to say that his response was more than a stumble.