The youthful – it will be inappropriate to say, juvenile- President Emmanuel Macron of France showed up at the New Afrika Shrine in Lagos, after meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja. He was making good earlier promises that he would be interested in discussing issues of cultural exchanges and youth development.
To receive President Macron were Noble laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, former governor of Ogun State, Segun Osoba, his Anambra State counterpart, Peter Obi, (whose pictures weren’t published), the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, senators, musicians and Nollywood greats.
At the Shrine, Macron formally launched the African Cultural Season, which will showcase African music, fashion, cinema, visual arts, architecture and theatre sometime in 2020. He explained that the event, to be sponsored by France and European businesses, would be “a new face of Africa in Europe.”
Macron, who revealed past visits to the Shrine as an intern of the French Embassy in 2002, added, “This place is important for Africa and their culture, and that is why I am here.” He also urged Nigerian youths not to allow the accident of colonialism hold them back.
And probably for the benefit of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State, who escorted him to the Shrine, Macron indicated that France was committed to the development of infrastructure in Lagos.
Of the “summit” he held with the French leader, Femi Anikulapo-Kuti confirmed thus: “The discussions I had with President Macron were… about the migrant crisis (a youth problem, essentially), and how to solve them, (and) the importance of the future of the youths…”
President Macron, who described the Shrine as “a music place, as well as (a place of) politics, which is needed to change society,” admonished Nigerian youths, who probably regard him as a role model, saying: “Politics is important, be involved.”
For those who may feign ignorance, Femi’s father was Fela, the indomitable spirit popularly called “Abami eda.” He was the creator of Afrobeat music, a pulsating and rhythmic music style that is highly laden with lyrics of caustic criticism, as well as political, ideological and pan-African themes.
Fela, also known as “Black President,” was a multi-instrumentalist, singer, composer and choreographer. He was also deeply involved in civil rights activism, which led him into bloody encounters with the security forces that equate the interest of Nigeria’s political establishment for the national interest.
At the Shrine, Macron identified the paradox of Africa, whom some Europeans think is “a tremendous place with young people,” which yet other Europeans lament “is a place of terrorism and the origin of (illegal) migration.”
In Abuja, Macron promised almost nothing to the Federal Government, besides merely seeking to improve France’s ties with English-speaking African countries, and to plan closer ties with Nigeria to tackle security challenges in the Sahel.
He said, “I think the main plan (to contain terrorists) is an African Plan and France is not the one to fix the African situation. So what we want to do is that we will intervene… in Africa and the Sahel, to fight terrorism, especially in Mali and the region.”
He stressed, “We will stay as long as requested by our friends, especially Mali. What is important to me is how different African governments organise themselves to fight terrorism and get rid of these people, especially Jihadists.”
Before coming to Nigeria, the newly elected French President was never quite categorical about Africa. Although France is reportedly helping to combat the Boko Haram insurgency in north-eastern Nigeria, observers insist that it can do more.
Some recall eminent Kenyan historian, Ali Mazrui’s prognostications that in the 21st Century, France would withdraw from West Africa and Nigeria, being a natural hegemonic power in the sub-region, would absorb its neighbours, especially Benin Republic, Niger Republic and Cameroon. Some critics, however, think this is unrealistic.
Because of the non-committal platitudes that President Macron offered Abuja, observers expect a continuation of France’s relative aloofness to the regional Multinational Joint Task Force, formed by Benin Republic, Niger, Chad, Cameroon, and Nigeria, to combat the Boko Haram insurgency.
This is a rehash of a bald statement credited to former French President Francois Hollande when he met with the Presidents of Benin, Niger, Chad, Cameroon – francophone countries that share borders with Nigeria – as well as representatives of the European Union, USA and Britain.
Former President Hollande had grandly declared: “(The Boko Haram insurgents) have threatened civilians, they have attacked schools and they have kidnapped citizens of many countries.” After declaring that “There are no questions to be asked, only action to be taken,” over the kidnap of more than 200 Chibok girls, France went silent.
President Macron is likely to have been done with whatever he thought was the bit of France on the insurgency that deeply hurts Nigeria. His attitude to Nigeria may have been summarised by his visit and statements made at the Shrine.
His abiding focus is on Europe and he has been described as “ardently pro Europe.” Bruno Tertrais, deputy director of Foundation for Strategic Research, concedes that “(President) Macron is extremely well prepared on European, financial and macroeconomic affairs,” but “his comfort zone stops there.”
Francois Heisbourg, Chairman of International Institute for Strategic Studies and Macron’s adviser on defence and security, admits: “He didn’t have any particularly strong feelings on foreign affairs. He hadn’t made any particular statements on China and Russia (for instance). He hadn’t identified himself as being from a values-based or a realpolitiks school. He came with a low base of knowledge and biases.”
Because President Macron supports an open-door policy toward refugee immigration policy, Marine Le Pen, who lost the run-off of 2017 French Presidential election to him, regards the Macron presidency as the triumph of globalisation over patriotism.
Those who argued that his election was a blow against xenophobia, brought up a rather incongruous evidence in his criticism of Lafarge Hillim, the Swiss-French construction firm that bided to construct the wall proposed by eccentric American President Donald Trump on the Mexican-American border.
Perhaps President Macron’s major show of “feelings” for Africa is in his once upon a time declaration that French colonisation of Algeria was “a crime against humanity.” He adds: “It’s truly barbarous and (it’s) a past that (France) needs to confront by apologising to those against whom (France) committed these acts.”
All is not quite lost, even if Macron prefers to interact with Nigerian culture, to the neglect of politics. He could deliver on former President Hollande’s June 2017 promise that France would invest one billion euros, through private French interests, into the oil and gas industry of Nigeria, its number one trading partner in Africa.
There is some relief because, whereas France may be aggressively moving away from using fossil fuel, it will further embrace gas, a clean energy source. France has substantial investment in the Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas Company and some French investors are developing solar energy in Katsina State.
However, the French Ambassador, Dennys Gauer, expressed concern that French companies are getting confused with the inarticulate fiscal policies on Nigeria’s oil and gas sector. This is an indirect way of saying that the intent of Nigeria’s Petroleum Industry Governance Bills may not be acceptable to France. This may have informed President Macron’s mere stopover to Aso Rock Abuja on his cultural, but diplomatic, tourism to Afrika Shrine, Lagos.
- Twitter @lekansote1
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