During his just-ended four-day charm mission to Eastern Africa, French President Emmanuel Macron spent a considerable amount of time in Nairobi. This is the first visit by a French president since independence in 1963, and underscores Kenya’s place as a key regional actor that France and other Western powers must engage for mutual gain.
In the Kenyan leg of the tour, the accent was on strengthening economic ties, with an emphasis on the development of the transport sector. Particularly significant was Mr Macron and his host, President Uhuru Kenyatta’s visit to the derelict Nairobi Railway Station. As some observers have pointed out, this was also definitely a first visit in years for President Kenyatta and other top leaders to the station. The railway, which previously played a pivotal role in moving cargo and passengers, has in the past few years been totally neglected.
But there is now a clear signal about the need to rejuvenate the railway system for commuter service in Nairobi and across the country for increased cargo transportation. It’s urgent because Nairobi has been choked by horrendous traffic congestion that is to blame for colossal losses in fuel and man hours.
Mr Macron has also visited Ethiopia and Djibouti, signalling French interest in deepening economic and political ties. A major consideration here is that there are mutual benefits from such deals for Kenya. But there is also need to enhance security against the backdrop of the terror threat in the region, which is an incentive in promoting business. International companies interested in gaining a foothold in the region will need an assurance on security from their leadership. French firms have signed contracts in Kenya worth some 2 billion euros ($2.26 billion). The French are, of course, keen on countering China’s growing influence in Africa by signing a mix of military, and infrastructure deals, and also in competition with traditional ally Britain. Indeed, at the core of diplomacy is enhancing ties to secure business, political and other national interests.