French leader Macron starts East Africa tour in Djibouti

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French President Emmanuel Macron waves as German Chancellor Angela Merkel leaves the Elysee Presidential Palace after their meeting on February 27, 2019 in Paris, France. (Photo by Chesnot/Getty Images)

French President Emmanuel Macron has touched down in Djibouti as he kicks off his tour of East Africa that will also see him visit Ethiopia and Kenya.

French President Emmanuel Macron waves as German Chancellor Angela Merkel leaves the Elysee Presidential Palace after their meeting on February 27, 2019 in Paris, France. (Photo by Chesnot/Getty Images)

The French leader sought to reassert the importance of France in its former colony, with Paris increasingly fearing China’s role in Africa as it expands economic and military influence across the continent.

Djibouti, strategically located at the southern entrance to the Red Sea on the route to the Suez Canal, hosts France’s largest naval base on the continent and is home to some 1,400 personnel used to train African troops as well as to monitor the Horn of Africa and Yemen.

While it was seen as a vital outpost in the past, French administrations have disregarded it in recent years with Macron only the second French leader to visit the East African country in the last 20 years.

“France considered Djibouti for too long to be a territory that was won,” said a senior French diplomat based in the region.

Those comments echoed President Ismail Omar Guelleh’s public criticism in 2015 accusing France – from which it gained independence in 1977 – of abandoning Djibouti and investing very little in that nation.

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