So, yesterday I attended the University of Nairobi Taifa town hall meeting with the French Republic President Mr. Emmanuel Macron. The event was moderated by Julie Gichuru. Julie is an amazing person but she normally comes out as someone who does not want people to step on the toes of the rich and powerful. Her opening remarks were that all questions are allowed but we should be nice to the President. She wanted to hear the inspirational messages and the opportunities and not those bad things that France has been accused of doing in Africa. That reminded me of her Twitter Timeline before the last election. At some point the French President was the one nudging her to allow people to ask questions the way they see fit. Of course there are some questions which were stupid in many levels and clearly show the deep rooted of Sirkali saidia mentality. Worst still, they came from people introducing themselves as PHD students or working with international organizations.
That aside, the French President’s had two messages for his audience
- He strongly believes in Africa having lived in Nigeria in his younger days. He said that the perception of most Europeans about Africa is biased or wrong and the perception of most Africans about France is biased or wrong. And he is out to change that
- France has chosen Africa and willing to give Africa a balanced partnership. And his mission here is to ask Kenya and by large Africans to choose France. On top of that he believes that learning French is good for African integration.
While sitting there, my head was going wild trying to decipher the message and come up with coherent questions. Starting with the first point, is living in Africa enough to make non-Africans believe in Africa. The answer in my view is both yes, no and complicated. Start we with No…. There are those who have lived in Africa for years and still treat Africa and Africans as shithole, just to borrow Trump’s phrase. In reality they live and work in Africa by name only. Part Yes, because I believe that there are those who genuinely love Africa and want the best for the continent. And Finally, complicated refers to the business type…some are good some are exploiters, and it is hard to tell from the surface.
Where the French President falls, I have no idea but because he is young and Obama like, he has many fans in Kenya. Personally, I think the deals he is making in Africa will show us his real character when the details emerge in the coming months and years. Yes, in Africa we have to wait for years before we know the content of the deals our leaders make with the foreigners. One thing for sure is, he is here to look at the interest of the French people and nobody should fault him for that. The primary duty of the president of any given country is to look at the interest of his/her people.
Talking of the deals, one young lady asked him about the cost we will pay for this French choose Kenya maneno. And his answer was that it is not exploitative as some may think or others have done in the recent past. To be exact, he said he is bringing in a balanced partnership. How a balanced partnership looks like is a question somebody should have asked him (I never got a chance to ask questions despite trying very hard to get Julie’s attention).
Still on questions that he should have been asked…nobody asked him about OT Morpho who really exploited our corrupt electoral process and refused to open the server when the public complained.
On the second message which is more do with China activities in Africa as a competitor of the West. Macron is saying we have chosen you and we are going to give you a better deal than the other guy from the East. First, I think that Africa constantly gets raw deals because of the stupidity of the African rulers and policy makers. And Africa will only get balanced partnership the day African leaders will stop being greedy and lazy. In the recent past, pictures have emerged where Kenya delegations go to foreign missions for meetings and sit there while the guys they meeting are seriously taking notes. Stories are also told of Kenyans who go to treaty negotiations abroad and spend most of their time shopping, and looking at the foreign capitals buildings while their opponents are working on the finer details of the “negotiated” deals. At the end they come in and sign what they have no idea about… It is the reason why we have had thousands and thousands of bench marking trips abroad by our Government officials and nothing to show for it.
For Macron I will only believe that he’s coming with clean hands if he tries to confront the following otherwise balanced partnership will just be PR.
- African economies at the moment are mostly Agriculture based. The Western Europe economies are highly developed and industrialized and Agriculture play a tiny bit of the overall composition of their economy. But what do they do, they highly subsidized their farmers making it extremely hard for African farmers to compete with them. At the same time, they preach to Africans to open their market for Europeans products. Naaaah….start by levelling the playing field for one area that we can truly have balanced partnership in
- Ensure that the French companies working in Kenya are ethical and not corrupt. Corruption has taken this country to the dogs and it is mostly aided by the foreign companies. Start by censuring the likes of OT Morpho
- Macron talked of Digital Africa initiative, that is aimed at helping tech start-ups and tech talents. One of the deal which is said to have been signed is to do with urban rail system and Macron said that on top of doing the railway they will bring a company which will do the ticketing system, really? This is something that Kenyans can do…we have so many ticketing systems like ticketsasa and why our negotiators agreed to this is beyond me but it does not smell like a balanced partnership.