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French – Africa Engagement; A new way of doing things #AskKirubi

There is an old adage that says, “Until the lion learns to speak, the tales of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”

In true African fashion, I have bought and worn that proverb as if it were traditional regalia.  I have taken every opportunity as a self-appointed Ambassador to extol the great things happening in Kenya and the region.

As such, in my interactions with foreign governments, I always make a point to show them what more they could be doing in Kenya.  It is in keeping with that practice that I have often engaged the French Ambassador, Mr. RemiMarechaux, in vigorous discussions about strengthening their presence and commitment to Kenya.

Therefore, it came as no surprise when the Ambassador challenged me to take that message to a global platform.  He invited me to speak at the France-Africa forum which was held in Paris last week and which was officiated by the French President, H.E. Francois Hollande.  In his view, I would be getting the opportunity to address French Investors first hand – to become the lion that has learned how to speak and to tell his own tales.  More so, he wanted me to play a role that I have embraced full heartedly – speaking for the youth.

My message was simple. More than half of the world’s population is under the age of thirty years.The majority of these young people live in developing economies and in Sub-Saharan Africa specifically, these young people comprise about 70 percent of the population.  It is therefore, common sense for any country to have a clearly defined policy about how to engage the majority of their population and workforce.

My view is that if you don’t give young people something to do, they will find something else to occupy themselves and it won’t necessarily be pleasant.  Hence, the radicalisation and rise of crime challenges that we have witnessed in recent years.

Aside from what I had to say, I would like to share with you a few poignant things that struck me.

First, it appears that France is ready to engage Africa on different terms.  Obviously, it is in their best interest to do things differently given the growing international competition for Africa’s economic space.  In fact, in his speech President Hollande stated, “Africa is our future.  It’s our future because it is the continent with the fastest economic growth in recent years.”

Although it is clear that everyone wants a piece of the African trading pie, I have no doubt that from a policy standpoint France is making a deliberate effort to engage us under new symbiotic terms.  They are as an example, one of the only developed countries whose President personally visited West Africa in a show of solidarity with African nations buckling under the Ebola Crisis.

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Secondly, during the forum the ‘French-African Foundation for Mutual Growth’ aka AfricaFrance was launched.  The primary objective of AfricaFrance is to bolster economic ties between France and Africa.

The Foundation will, as a start, provide Africa’s youth with professional training to ensure they acquire the necessary skills to gain meaning employment now and in the future.They will also offer leadership training to senior executives across Africa in collaboration with one of their universities.

To my understanding, this foundation will not only serve French speaking countries but plans to have some form of presence in every African country.  It is therefore, disappointing to note that English speaking African countries were hardly represented at the forum.While there was a number of French speaking Presidents, the rest of Africa was markedly absent or very scarcely represented by their governments.

How can we as Kenya take advantage of such opportunities when we are not fully cognisant that they are present?  Whilst we may have an embassy in France, the gravity of such messages should not be passed along and cascaded downwards through a policy paper. They require fully government participation and involvement in order that they may be heard and implemented thoughtfully and carefully.

In my view, such wonderful opportunities hardly present themselves.  They are few and far in between and we must learn to exploit them fully.  It is my prayer that our Government will begin to engage France with the same seriousness that they are demonstrating to us through such policies and in their investments.

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