French President Emmanuel Macron is in the middle of a social media firestorm – Sarah Wildman Jul 10, 2017, 6:30pm EDT

Macron stumbles for the first time.

Photo by Morris MacMatzen/Getty Images

France’s newly elected president, Emmanuel Macron, just learned a painful political lesson: In the age of social media, making casual references to the “civilizational” problems of Africa and the demographic challenges of African women having “seven or eight” children is going to blow up in your face.

Here’s what happened. During a press conference at the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, a journalist from the Ivory Coast asked Macron why there was no Marshall Plan for Africa, a reference to the massive amount of economic aid the US poured into destroyed European countries following the Second World War.

Macron responded with a three-and-a-half-minute soliloquy. He meandered on about the “civilizational” problems that Africa faces, and the differences between a postwar reconstruction project like the Marshall Plan and modern-day aid programs designed to address a variety of problems in a variety of countries.

Macron’s use of the word “civilizational” probably would have been enough to get him into hot water; it certainly sounds like a casually racist assessment that Europe’s “civilization” is different from, and perhaps better than, Africa’s.

But what came next triggered a social media firestorm that represented the first clear stumble by the new French leader. More than halfway through the answer, Macron said that one key challenge facing Africa is places where women still have “seven or eight children,” a birthrate he called continuously destabilizing.

A clip of the response, spliced to make it look like it was almost one run-on sentence, has triggered a bit of a Twitter storm.

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