French president visiting Ivory Coast, Niger over weekend

ABIDJAN, IVORY COAST - DECEMBER 20: French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte Macron are being welcomed by President of Ivory Coast Alassane Ouattara and his wife Dominique Folloroux-Ouattara with an official welcoming ceremony at the Felix Houphouet Boigny International Airport in Abidjan, Ivory Coast on December 20, 2019. (Photo by Cyrille Bah/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
ABIDJAN, IVORY COAST – DECEMBER 20: French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte Macron are being welcomed by President of Ivory Coast Alassane Ouattara and his wife Dominique Folloroux-Ouattara with an official welcoming ceremony at the Felix Houphouet Boigny International Airport in Abidjan, Ivory Coast on December 20, 2019.
(Photo by Cyrille Bah/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

French President Emmanuel Macron arrived in Ivory Coast Friday evening, where he shared a holiday meal with French forces , at the start of his West Africa visit aimed at confronting the region’s rising jihadist violence.

During his first stop Friday evening at a French military base, Macron is meeting with those on the front lines of the fight including some commandos who were involved in the operation in Mali during which 13 soldiers died in a helicopter collision

The security situation Africa’s Sahel region is deteriorating by the day, said Ivorian political analyst Geoffroy Julien Kouao. Ivory Coast is not only home to a French military base, it is also the region’s economic powerhouse and it came under attack in 2016 when al-Qaida-linked militants sprayed gunfire at a popular beach, killing 19 people.

“Let’s not forget that Ivory Coast shares 800 kilometers (500 miles) of border with Mali and Burkina Faso so the military component dominates this visit by the French president,” Kouao said.

Macron was to meet with leaders of the Sahel countries in France earlier this month but the meeting was postponed when an Islamic State affiliate carried out the deadliest assault on Niger’s military in recent memory. Officials said 71 soldiers were killed when their army camp was overpowered near the volatile border with Mali.

On Saturday, Macron plans to help launch the International Academy to Fight Terrorism, which will focus on regional strategies and training those involved in the fight against extremism, according to the French presidency.

He also will pay a visit to Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou in Niamey on Sunday before returning to France, where the summit with West African leaders has been rescheduled to mid-January.

On Sunday, Macron will pay tribute to the victims of a 2004 bombing during Ivory Coast’s civil war this weekend in Bouake. A trial is to begin in France next year, 15 years after the attack that killed nine French soldiers and an American civilian who had sought shelter at the French army base.