Macron visit to rebuild ties with Algeria raises colonial history
President Emmanuel Macron starts a three-day visit on Thursday to Algeria to help rebuild diplomatic ties with the former French colony that celebrated its 60th independence anniversary this year.
The first French President to be born after Algerian independence, Emmanuel Macron, is hoping "to lay a foundation to rebuild and develop" a sometimes difficult relationship with the North African nation, his office said, as he is accompanied by seven ministers on Thursday and will be met at the airport in the capital Algiers by President Abdelmadjid Tebboune.
The two heads of state will visit a monument of martyrs of the country's war for independence, which ended more than 130 years of French colonial rule with Algeria's independence in 1962, after which Franco-Algerian relations have seen repeated crises.
On his second visit to Algeria since he took power in 2017, the French leader "has chosen to direct this visit towards the future, (focusing on) start-ups, innovation, youth, new sectors," the Elysee Palace said on Tuesday.
Macron, alongside a 90-strong delegation, will meet entrepreneurs in Algiers, as well as young people in the second city Oran.
Ties between Paris and Algiers, however, have been particularly stormy since last year, when Macron questioned Algeria's existence as a nation before the French occupation and accused the government of fomenting "hatred toward France." He projected a French superiority complex, "Was there an Algerian nation before French colonization?" and argued that there had been previous colonizations before the French one, citing the Ottoman Empire's colonization of Algeria.
In response, Tebboune withdrew his country's ambassador and banned French military aircraft from its airspace.
Visit is a 'political necessity'
Macron's office later issued a statement on his "regret" for the misunderstandings caused by his comments, and his aides believe that both sides have moved on, noting the resumption of normal diplomatic relations and overflights to French army bases further south in Africa.
Analyst Mansour Kedidir said that "given instability in the Maghreb region, conflicts in the Sahel and the war in Ukraine, improving ties between France and Algeria is a political necessity".
Macron and Tebboune will discuss the situation in Algeria's southern neighbor Mali, as well as the growing regional clout of Russia, Algeria's top arms supplier, while France's latest efforts to mend ties come as Algeria moves to fill a vast shortfall in gas supplies to Europe following Russia's military operation in Ukraine.
European nations are seeking to end their dependence on Russian hydrocarbons, giving Algeria renewed clout, considering that it is Africa's biggest gas exporter with direct pipelines to Spain and Italy.
"The French president will certainly ask Algeria to make an effort to try to increase its gas production," said Algerian economist Abderrahmane Mebtoul, but Macron's office claimed that gas is not a major feature of the visit, and an advisor said the trip is "about being oriented towards the future."
A different face for each nation
Macron has long ruled out issuing an apology for the highly sensitive issue of colonialism, but he has made a series of gestures to this end, but few in Algiers have much sympathy toward the French leader, who during his first election campaign in 2017 had described French colonialism as a "crime against humanity," yet still refusing to apologize.
Computer scientist Othmane Abdellouche commented, "Before he was president, he used nice words, he visited (Algeria), but right after he went back to France, he changed, he used a totally different discourse".
According to French historians, half a million civilians and combatants died during Algeria's bloody war for independence, 400,000 of them Algerian - the Algerian authorities say 1.5 million were killed.
In October, Tebboune's office said that over 5.6 million Algerians were killed during the colonial period.