Association for Free Research and International Cooperation

Emmanuel Macron in East Africa: a visit with strategic stakes

14.03.2019
Article from AFRIC Editorial
The French head of state; Monday, March 10, embarked on a day trip on a 4 days trip to Africa, precisely to Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya. This official trip comes a few days before Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives in Paris, whose country has established itself on the Horn of Africa as an indispensable ally. It is therefore on a land conquered by the middle empire that the French leader decided to try out his charm. Among the three popular destinations for this trip are two English-speaking countries (Ethiopia and Kenya), proof that after Emmanuel Macron's travels to Ghana in 2017 and Nigeria in 2018, France wants to extend its cooperation with Africa beyond its former colonies. While the stopover in Djibouti is largely focused on security issues, the choice of Ethiopia and Kenya, two densely populated countries with many advances and economic opportunities, is far from trivial.

DJIBOUTI SECURITY CHALLENGES AND REKINDLING RELATIONSHIPS

The French president’s visit to Djibouti, a country that feels neglected on the international and regional scene, is timely. As a historical ally to Paris, Djibouti through her president Ismaïl Omar Guelleh, complained lately of being abandoned by France, at a time when his relations with the United Arab Emirates are at the lowest and his interests in the sub-region mortgaged by the thawing of relations between the Eritrean and Ethiopian neighbors.

Before Emmanuel Macron’s arrival on Monday, the last visit of a French president to Djibouti was 09 years ago at the time when Nicolas Sarkozy was president. The visit of a French leader comes at a time when Djibouti needs it most, as she relies on France to exert her weight in the dispute with Eritrea, whose arms embargoes and travel bans as well as sanctions were lifted last November by the UN Security Council without resolving the old dispute with the country it accuses, including occupying part of his land and holding ten of his soldiers prisoners.

If his role of mediator in the isolation of which Djibouti is victim to was long awaited, issues regarding marked the exchanges between the French president and his Djiboutian counterpart. For during his brief stay in Djibouti Emmanuel Macron met with the commander of the French military base in Djibouti. Comprising 1,450 soldiers, this military base is the largest that France has in Africa. But the French army is not the only one to have set up its quarters in this country whose strategic position at the entrance of the Red Sea has also favored the installation of other foreign military bases such as those of the United States and China.

ETHIOPIA: A VISIT MARKED BY CULTURAL AND ECONOMIC ASPECTS

After his brief stay in Djibouti, the French president on Tuesday, March 12, continued his conquest of East Africa in Ethiopia; a country with 8% growth rate which has experienced impressive economic and political reforms with the arrival of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. The two men had already met in Paris in late October 2018, a meeting during which an agreement for military cooperation was negotiated between their two countries and whose signature was included in the agenda of Emmanuel Macron’s visit. The program of the French president’s the visit, which comes after the crash of Boeing 737 MAX 8 of Ethiopian Airlines, has not suffered any changes.

The French head of state and the Ethiopian prime minister, who are almost the same age, showed a perfect agreement. From this visit, we note France’s decision to assist in the development of the Ethiopian navy. Emmanuel Macron was not stingy with compliments with regards to the many changes made by Abiy Ahmed which has modernized his country, liberalized the economy and worked actively to reconcile the different communities. In order to encourage this economic boom France has put on the table an envelope of 85 million euros. Emmanuel Macron was also accompanied during this visit by several French CEOs, including Orange CEO Stéphane Richard, who is keenly interested in Ethio Telecom, the country’s only public telecom operator with 66.2 million subscribers. Capital has been opened to private and foreign investors. The presence of these great bosses in the head of the Elysée’s delegation reflects France’s desire to have its share of the cake in the various partial privatizations of public companies undertaken by Abiy Ahmed in his vast reform program.

France, which was asked by Abiy Ahmed last October to bring its expertise in the preservation of the Ethiopian cultural heritage, will also contribute to the restoration of the 11 troglodyte churches of Lalibela. Emmanuel Macron during his stay in Ethiopia also visited these holy places of Ethiopian Christianity classified as World Heritage by UNESCO. This is a way for Paris to prove that she is not only interested in Africa for the economy but also to promote culture.

Emmanuel Macron’s visit to Addis Ababa, seat of the African Union, was also marked by his meeting with Moussa Faki Mahamat, the chairman of the AU commission, and Algerian Smaïl Chergui, the commissioner for peace and security to the security of the Pan-African body. The exchanges between these three personalities focused on the presidency of the G7 grouping together the major industrialized nations of the world, which returns to France this year.

KENYA: SECURITY COOPERATION AND ONE PLANET SUMMIT

Kenya is the last stage of the French president’s mini African tour in East Africa. As in the previous two trips, security issues are on the agenda.

Especially since Kenya is engaged in the fight against terrorism in the region. The country which is also the seat of the mission of the African Union in Somalia (AMISOM) will continue to benefit from the know-how of France with which it has signed a contract for the training of the Kenyan, Ugandan and Burundian soldiers of the force of the African Union. France, which has also announced the signing of several contracts with Kenya estimated at 3 billion euros, has been asked by Nairobi to build a railway and a motorway.

If the menu of this program is also included, a visit to the central station of the capital and a press conference with students from the University of Nairobi, the One Planet Summit, is the peak of this trip. Emmanuel Macron is also in Kenya to talk about the protection of the environment. And the choice of this country to host the third edition of this event is not a coincidence because Kenya is champion in Africa in the promotion of renewable energy.

The French president, who along with his Kenyan counterpart is co-chairing this international meeting focused on climate change and the environment, also plans to hold talks with Malagasy presidents Andry Rajoelina and Congolese president Felix Tshisekedi. The opportunity for him to consolidate relations with the successor of Joseph Kabila whose election last January was strongly challenged by the French Minister of Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian.

Emmanuel Macron since his arrival in power seeks to give a new dynamic to Franco-African cooperation. Unlike his predecessors who gave more interest to ties with the former French colonies, Emmanuel Macron seems more attracted by the English-speaking countries of the continent that have a strong economic potential. More than ever, he feels the need to promote “made in France” in a continent where China has managed to establish itself as the leading economic partner by multiplying by 20 over the past two decades, the number of its trade with the world. ‘Africa. This 04-day trip is the longest run by the French president since the start of the Yellow Vests crisis. Unlike other trips, this one has not been canceled. Proof of the importance of this tour in the new African policy of France.

Article from AFRIC Editorial

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