Did Macron cause a « diplomatic incident » during his visit to Ouagadougou?

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You asked us if a joke by Emmanuel Macron during his speech at the University of Ouagadougou had offended the President of Burkina Faso, who left the stage for several minutes during the French President’s speech.

Tuesday 28 November, Burkina Faso. In the amphitheatre of the University of Ouagadougou, Emmanuel Macron presents what French policy towards Africa will be during his term of office. For once, the president wants to break with the « old world ». He asserted that he was not there to give lessons, and his speech to the students continued with a question and answer session.

The performance – almost two hours in total – was noticed. Spurred on by an overexcited audience, the French president did not refrain from making humorous remarks. Responding to a volley of questions from a student, Macron began with a long tirade lasting several minutes.

He concludes by addressing the subject of the electricity and air conditioning cuts that affect the university (from 10:44 in the video): « We are going to open a power station tomorrow. I said what France’s commitment was in terms of renewable energy, and the commitment we are going to make in terms of investments in entrepreneurship, in companies, to help Burkina Faso and all the countries in the region to develop energy and to fight against power cuts.

« He went to repair the air conditioning ».

And this is where the passage that is the subject of all the exegesis begins. « But you spoke to me as if I were the president of Burkina Faso! Faced with laughter and applause, Emmanuel Macron interrupts himself and tries to speak again several times. « And somewhere, ask yourself […] about the psychological undercurrent behind your questioning and the enthusiasm it has created, » the French president intimates. You speak to me as if I were still a colonial presence.

And he said: « But I don’t want to deal with electricity in the universities in Burkina Faso! [cheers, long pause] That’s the president’s job [applause]. » The president in question, Roch M.C. Kaboré, then decides to slip away with a few members of his team, which is noticed by Emmanuel Macron, who says to him, all smiles: « So, he’s leaving… Stay there! » At that moment, the image from the France 24 camera shows a Burkinabe president waving to the audience as he leaves the stage.

And Macron continues: « So he went to fix the air conditioning », before concluding his answer « more seriously ». As another student took the floor, Emmanuel Macron turned towards the door through which Kaboré had left, probably to address the staff who had not left the room with him. He questions with his eyes, pointing to the chair left empty by the African head of state. Then he nods and turns back to the audience, clearly reassured.

A « diplomatic incident » for the opposition

The departure of a head of state from a public stage in the middle of a counterpart’s speech is not a common occurrence. But the fact that this departure coincided with a line of humour that was not very flattering for this head of state fuelled all the controversy. Les Inrocks saw it as a « humiliation » inflicted by Macron on Kaboré, as did National Front politician Tiffany Joncour, who got several hundred retweets on a message in which she shared a video clip of the scene. The same day, 20 Minutes headlined that « Macron mocks his counterpart ».