France's Macron takes Africa push to Brazzaville ahead of Kinshasa
French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday carried his African tour aimed at renewing frayed ties to the Republic of Congo after inking an economic accord with Angola
Macron landed in the Congolese capital Brazzaville just before five pm (1600 GMT), on the third leg of his voyage after visiting Angola and Gabon.
He was due to spend only a few hours in Brazzaville before travelling to Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, which lies on the opposite bank of the Congo river.
In the Angolan capital Luanda, Macron held talks with his counterpart Joao Lourenco, calling the oil-rich country a "strategic partner in the region".
Macron, who chaired an economic forum attended by more than 50 French companies, said the "heart of this visit is the strengthening of agricultural partnerships" with Angola.
France was seeking to "build a balanced and reciprocal partnership" with Angola.
"This fits in with the idea I have of this economic partnership between the African continent and France," Macron said.
"Mindsets have changed," he said.
France has for decades been involved in the petroleum industry in the Portuguese-speaking southern African country, which is one of the continent's top crude producers.
Macron's visit offered an opportunity to explore cooperation in other sectors.
The two governments penned an agreement to boost Angola's agricultural sector, particularly "climate resilience and water security", in addition to helping revamp coffee, soya, cotton and dairy production, among other sectors.
The goal should be to develop a "made-in-Africa strategy", he said.
- De-escalation -
Before leaving Luanda, the French president thanked Lourenco for his work to restore stability to the region, highlighting his diplomatic efforts in conflict-torn eastern DRC.
He added that there are "legitimate hopes" for a de-escalation in the turbulent region.
M23 rebels have captured swathes of territory in eastern DRC since re-emerging from dormancy in late 2021, and have nearly encircled the trade hub of Goma.
The insurgency has cratered relations between the DRC and its smaller neighbour Rwanda, which Kinshasa accuses of supporting the M23.
Independent UN experts, the United States and other western countries -- including France -- agree with Kinshasa's assessment, but Rwanda denies the charge.
Several officials, who requested anonymity, told AFP that an M23 delegation was present in Luanda, but did not not meet French officials.
- Anti-French sentiment -
Anti-French sentiment runs high in some former African colonies as the continent becomes a renewed diplomatic battleground, with Russian and Chinese influence growing.
On Thursday Macron said the era of French interference in Africa had ended and there was no desire to return to the past.
"The age of Francafrique is well over," Macron said in Gabon's capital Libreville, referring to the post-colonisation strategy of supporting authoritarian leaders to defend French interests.
Macron had met Central African Republic President Faustin-Archange Touadera in Gabon on Thursday.
The talks came after relations had deteriorated as Russian influence increased in Bangui and French troops left the troubled country last year.
The same day, rights groups in Congo-Brazzaville pleaded for the release of former presidential candidates Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko and Andre Okombi Salissa and asked Macron to relay their concerns to Congolese President Denis Sassou-Nguesso.
The pair were each jailed for 20 years in 2016 for endangering state security after they ran against Sassou-Nguesso in disputed presidential elections that were followed by violence.
Congo-Brazzaville's president has ruled with an iron first for almost four decades.
Macron was to go on later Friday to neighbouring DRC, which was ruled by Belgium during the colonial era.
But there have been reservations about the visit.
Dozens of young Congolese demonstrators holding Russian flags rallied outside the French embassy in Kinshasa on Wednesday to denounce Macron's visit.
On Thursday, 20 citizens' movements wrote in a statement that Macron "is not welcome to the DR Congo".
In a separate statement, some 150 NGOs demanded that Macron backs "calls for sanctions" against Rwanda, and "help the DRC organise its self-defence".