Welcome to Nairobi, Macron

In Summary

•In a first visit by a French president, Kenya stands to benefit economically

•It is easy to get excited about the French street but it is an occupational hazard for any leader in Lycée Palace

French President Emmanuel Macron greets Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta as they address a news conference after touring the Nairobi Central Railway in Nairobi
French President Emmanuel Macron greets Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta as they address a news conference after touring the Nairobi Central Railway in Nairobi
Image: REUTERS

The visit by the French President Emmanuel Macron is an important signal not only for being the first by a French head of state but also speaks to a number of other narrative threads. I wrote a hagiographic Piece in December 2017 headlined Emmanuel Macron gives France back its mojo. 

Harold Macmillan when asked what a prime minister most feared responded, “Events, dear boy, events.”

President Macron was overtaken by events, in particular the Mouvement des gilets jaunes [Yellow Vests], and this tapered some of the enthusiasm. However, the French have always been prone to go to the Streets. In the 1990s, when I used to trade the French Short End, I recall PM Alain Juppe who similarly tried to reform and reshape the system but met his match on the street.

It was the iconic French philosopher Paul Virilio who said this about the Street:

“The revolutionary contingent attains its ideal form not in the place of production, but in the street, where for a moment it stops being a cog in the technical machine and itself becomes a motor (machine of attack), in other words a producer of speed.”

Therefore, it is easy to get excited about the French street but it is an occupational hazard for any leader in Lycée Palace. Just like how Macron arm-wrestled Trump to a stand still, Macron had to arm-wrestle the street to establish himself. It’s a rite of passage for a French president like the unheated pool at Mount Kenya Safari Club was my rite of passage.

President Macron has appealed directly to the African Citizen;  “I am from a generation for whom Nelson Mandela’s victory is one of the best political memories.” He has cast himself and is in fact as much a part of the post-colonial Africa as are the overwhelming majority of Africans. The reformatting of France-Afrique is a subject for another day. This first visit by a French president to Kenya speaks to a desire to engage with ''Anglo-Afrique''. The French government has an incredible level of coherence. The same president pronounced, "I want France to be a start~Up nation. A nation that thinks and moves like a start-up." 

Emmanuel Macron has pledged to invest 2.5 billion euros in Africa by financing and supporting startups and small-to-medium-sized enterprises by 2022. Dubbed Choose Africa, the government would support about 10,000 enterprises across the continent by providing credit, technical support and equity financing, the French Development Agency said in a statement. 

The funds will be mobilized via the AFD and its private-sector financing arm, Proparco. Macron, who is on a three-day trip to Africa to boost trade with Ethiopia, Djibouti and Kenya, said 1 billion euros was earmarked for equity investment in startups and SMEs. 

France is the sixth largest investor in Kenya, representing about 10% of direct and indirect commercial interests. Think Lafarge, Danone's investment in Brookside, Total both up and down stream, big loans into renewable energy via AFD and in KenGen and more.

The president unveiled the locally assembled Peugeot and had President Kenyatta take him for a spin in it. The Peugeot 504 was surely the most iconic car brand of all time in Africa. 

“We are launching a project for the refurbishment of the rail-line, from the central station to the airport,” Macron added that France plans to invest 3.1 billion euros worth of projects in Kenya once the two countries sign new trade deals.

Of course, France is present in Djibouti and therefore has a foothold in the western Indian Ocean, further buttressed by its presence in various Indian Ocean islands [which because of their Economic Exclusions Zones have become highly prized partners]. It is clear that France appreciates that the centre of Geo-economic Gravity has shifted and towards the Indian Ocean. The centre of gravity was once somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. President Macron and ''Allez France'' is seeking to extend its Africa positioning to better project power into this new strategically central geo-economic zone. Welcome to Nairobi Mr. President.