In Kenya visit, Emmanuel Macron seeks to reassert Paris influence

Wednesday March 13 2019

AGGREY MUTAMBO
By AGGREY MUTAMBO
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French President Emmanuel Macron is expected to sign a series of agreements with his Kenyan counterpart Uhuru Kenyatta as Paris eyes reasserting its influence in the eastern Africa region.

Ahead of Mr Macron’s seminal visit to Kenya, a diplomatic briefing on the tour in Nairobi lists it as important for the bilateral and multilateral issues affecting the two countries.

On Tuesday evening, Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Monica Juma said the tour reflects “soaring” cordial relations “based on shared principles and values relating to democracy, rule of law and respect for human rights.”

“The State visit will consolidate the mutually beneficial cooperation between the two countries,” she said.

“(It will provide) an opportunity for discussions between the two heads of State on a wide range of issues that encompass mutual interest at bilateral and multilateral levels, including economic and technical cooperation, regional peace and security, climate change, reform of the UN, migration and sustainable development.”

KEY PROJECTS

A provisional itinerary released on Tuesday said that between Wednesday and Thursday, President Macron will attend the launch of the commuter project at the Nairobi Central Railway Station.

Kenya says it will seek technical support for the development of Line 4 as well as Bus Rapid Transport Line 3.

The two countries are expected to reach a deal on financing to improve the commuter rail from the Embakasi station to the boarding gates at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.

In addition, at least four contracts will be announced, on scientific research, technical assistance on prudent financial management, recovery of arid lands and management of ocean resources.

Kenya and France have been negotiating other deals on energy projects, plant health programmes and the Big Four Agenda on food security, universal health coverage, affordable housing and manufacturing.

There was no official confirmation, yet, on whether the deals will be signed, but the briefing indicated the agreements were ready.

FRANCE INTEREST

Overall, the deals being negotiated for roads, geothermal, health and financial management could be worth Sh339 billion, staggered over the years, a diplomat associated with the negotiations told the Nation.

For the French, however, the visit seems to be about their own interest.

Having been colonial masters to Djibouti; Paris has found itself having to fighting growing Chinese influence in the Horn of Africa country and eastern Africa in general.

Mr Macron visited Ethiopia and Djibouti ahead of his trip to Kenya. Beijing has loaned money to all the three countries for key infrastructure projects.

AMISOM

Kenya said it will also seek France’s commitment in the fight against terrorism, specifically on whether it can support the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom). Kenya sent troops of the Kenya Defence Forces to Somalia in 2011 to help restore peace and stability.

Two years ago, the European Union reduced Amisom's funding, citing other security commitments. Diplomats in Nairobi think France’s influence played a role in the diversion of those funds to the Sahel region, where the French military has combated insurgents.

“Kenya may lobby France to support the EU's continued financing of Amisom operations until Somali security forces are able to take over the responsibilities in accordance with the decision of the summit of troop contributing countries,” the briefing notes, referring to the meeting in March 2018, when they agreed to progressively pull out from 2020.

UN OFFICE

In Nairobi, President Macron is expected to attend the third session of the One Planet Summit, a conference on environmental policies at which stakeholders discuss ways to implement the Paris Agreement on climate change.

But his very appearance at the United Nations headquarters in Nairobi could be controversial. There had been murmurs in the diplomatic community on how the French tried to take key functions from the Nairobi office to France, a move which would have weakened Africa's only UN headquarters.

Some Kenya government officials, who spoke to the Nation in confidence, said the visit could offer President Macron a chance to give a public declaration that his country won’t weaken the Nairobi UN office, as this could jeopardise negotiations for common environmental policies.

The briefing said Kenya is this year seeking to be a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council and will be looking up to France, a permanent member, for support when elections come up later in the year at the UN in New York.

The council is the most powerful UN body and though non-permanent members can’t vote on substantive issues, the status generally elevates a country’s image in the global community.

Non-permanent members are allowed to take part in discussions when the council considers that their interests are affected.