Em­manuel Macron is al­ready show­ing he is no pro­gres­sive

French pres­i­dent’s com­ments re­gard­ing Africa can­not be dis­missed as a mere mis­un­der­stand­ing of the is­sue

African Independent - - NEWS -

“crime against hu­man­ity”.

The pres­i­dent’s nam­ing of a gen­der-bal­anced cabi­net has also seen him praised as a de­fender of so­cial jus­tice.

Macron’s com­ments re­gard­ing Africa, how­ever, can­not be dis­missed as a mere mis­un­der­stand­ing of the is­sue. His stance on Al­ge­ria demon­strated his aware­ness of the on­go­ing le­gacy of colo­nial­ism in the con­ti­nent. He fur­ther un­der­lined his un­der­stand­ing of the sub­tleties of in­ter­na­tional pol­i­tics when he cor­rectly noted the link be­tween cli­mate change and global ter­ror­ism. What­ever else Macron may be, he is not poorly in­formed.

This is not the first time Macron has been ac­cused of racism. On a re­cent visit to a coast­guard base, he joked about the frag­ile “kwassa kwassa” boats used by Co­moran im­mi­grants to reach the French depart­ment of May­otte – dubbed the “boats of death” due to the thou­sands who have drowned mak­ing the jour­ney. Dis­cussing the dif­fer­ent kinds of fish­ing ves­sel used in May­otte, Macron laughed that “kwassa kwas­sas do lit­tle fish­ing – they bring Co­morans”. As well as mak­ing light of the hazardous jour­ney these im­mi­grants face, Macron’s choice of words was pro­foundly de­hu­man­is­ing.

Macron’s in­te­rior min­is­ter Gérard Col­lomb has also raised doubts about how pro­gres­sive the new gov­ern­ment ac­tu­ally is by com­par­ing refugees near Calais to an “ab­scess”. Col­lomb re­fused to condemn a de­ci­sion by lo­cal au­thor­i­ties to re­strict food and wa­ter dis­tri­bu­tions to refugees to one daily two-hour win­dow – dur­ing a heat­wave.

France’s hu­man rights om­buds­man has de­nounced the “in­hu­mane” treat­ment of refugees at Calais. But Col­lomb has sum­mar­ily dis­missed ac­cu­sa­tions of po­lice bru­tal­ity against them. This came at a time when hu­man rights or­gan­i­sa­tions, which are press­ing charges against lo­cal au­thor­i­ties, have al­leged po­lice of­fi­cers are go­ing so far as to “poi­son” refugees’ drink­ing wa­ter with tear gas.

Time for the state to move over On closer in­spec­tion, Macron and Col­lomb’s com­ments are not as in­con­sis­tent with Macron’s over­all pro­gramme as meets the eye.

His eco­nomic lib­er­al­ism is no se­cret. Since be­ing elected in May, he has launched wide-rang­ing em­ploy­ment law re­forms in favour of em­ploy­ers.

There are also €11.5 bil­lion of pri­vati­sa­tions planned, along­side tax cuts which will dis­pro­por­tion­ately ben­e­fit the rich­est 0.1% of so­ci­ety. He has never hid­den his pref­er­ence for free en­ter­prise over state in­vest­ment – and was backed dur­ing the elec­tion cam­paign by France’s fore­most man­age­rial lob­by­ing group.

In this con­text, the less widely pub­li­cised com­ments Macron made in his three-minute re­sponse to the question on the “Mar­shall Plan” for Africa take on their full sig­nif­i­cance. Other “civil­i­sa­tional” prob­lems the pres­i­dent iden­ti­fied in­cluded se­cu­rity, il­licit trade and failed states.

He ac­cepted pub­lic fund­ing should play “a role” in ar­eas such as ed­u­ca­tion and health. How­ever, he ar­gued the pri­vate sec­tor should be en­cour­aged to pro­vide the lion’s share of in­vest­ment in Africa and rea­soned the high growth rates in cer­tain states make the con­ti­nent “a land of op­por­tu­nity”.

The ide­o­log­i­cal stance ly­ing be­hind this ar­gu­ment is rooted more in neo-lib­er­al­ism than post­colo­nial racism.

Macron has no prob­lem with for­eign aid – but he im­plies Africa’s eco­nomic prob­lems should be solved pri­mar­ily by the in­vest­ment of pri­vate com­pa­nies, mo­ti­vated by the prof­its to be made in do­ing so.

So­cial jus­tice… when it’s use­ful Macron may or may not per­son­ally be racist but his use of a racist stereo­type to sup­port this ar­gu­ment is un­likely to have been an ac­ci­dent. It dis­tracted at­ten­tion from the ide­o­log­i­cal stance un­der­pin­ning his re­ply as a whole – one in which eco­nomic out­comes trump all hu­man con­sid­er­a­tions.

Po­lit­i­cal the­o­rist Shel­don Wolin la­belled this ide­ol­ogy “in­verted to­tal­i­tar­i­an­ism”. Philoso­pher Raf­faele Si­mone de­scribes a mod­ern so­ci­ety founded upon it as a “gen­tle mon­ster”.

Its “mon­strous” as­pect hides be­hind an os­ten­ta­tious lib­er­al­ism – at least to­wards those af­flu­ent enough to drive the econ­omy by pur­chas­ing con­sumer goods. Those un­able to do so are sub­ject to harsh re­pres­sion, which ex­plains the treat­ment of the Calais refugees.

Sup­port for pro­gres­sive causes is not pro­hib­ited by in­verted to­tal­i­tar­i­an­ism but only ever ex­tends as far as is demon­stra­bly ben­e­fi­cial to the econ­omy and the pri­vate sec­tor. Hence, Macron’s prom­ise to act against dis­crim­i­na­tion in the work­place, and par­tic­u­larly against women, could be gen­uine.

Re­cent re­search has found re­duc­ing such dis­crim­i­na­tion could be worth €175bn to France. Be­yond this, how­ever, he has al­ready started to re­nege on cam­paign prom­ises re­lat­ing to gen­der in­equal­ity – sug­gest­ing he does not value it as an end in it­self.

Macron might at times use the lan­guage of so­cial jus­tice but he is no “pro­gres­sive”. That he was a prefer­able op­tion to the far-right Ma­rine le Pen in the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion can­not ex­empt him from crit­i­cism for­ever. He does not ap­pear to value so­cial jus­tice for its own sake.

For politi­cians to be truly wor­thy of the name “pro­gres­sive”, they must give peo­ple prece­dence over profit. – The Con­ver­sa­tion

Fraser McQueen PhD Candidate, Uni­ver­sity of Stir­ling

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