NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 14 – On the first-ever visit to Kenya by a French head of state, presidents Emmanuel Macron and Uhuru Kenyatta announced a series of public-private infrastructure deals Wednesday, totalling Sh340 billion (2.65 billion dollars).
Key among the contracts between French companies and the Kenyan state will be the construction of a railway line from the traffic-congested capital Nairobi to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, a trip of about 20 km (12.4 miles) that can take up to two hours by car.
After Djibouti and Ethiopia, Kenya was the third stop on the French president’s East African charm offensive, during which he offered “respectful” partnerships in the face of growing regional indebtedness to China — fast expanding its foothold in the continent.
Macron said France wants trade and commercial relationships that are “much more fair and profitable for Kenyan people,” adding the best kind of investment was one that respected the receiving country’s sovereignty and was “sustainable.”
Not good, added the French president, were major projects undertaken in other countries “without creating jobs” and financed with long-term loans that plunge countries into irreversible debt.
The railway, Kenyatta said, “will help completely transform the lives of millions of urban workers”. It should be operational by 2021.
France and Kenya are also negotiating a contract for 1.6 billion euros to improve a highway from Nairobi northwest to Mau, a busy stretch of road for passengers and freight that is among the country’s deadliest.
– ‘Respectful’ partnership –
Looking to strengthen economic, military, and cultural ties in East Africa, Macron on Tuesday offered “respectful partnership” to Djibouti, heavily-indebted to China for infrastructure project loans.
“I would not want international investments to weaken the sovereignty of our partners,” Macron told Djibouti President Ismail Omar Guelleh.
In Ethiopia, he announced a defence agreement in which France will loan 85 million euros to Ethiopia to support the establishment of a navy for the landlocked country.
On Thursday, the French leader will attend the One Planet Summit in Nairobi on reversing climate change.
During his visit to East Africa on Tuesday, Rwanda invited Macron to attend the 25th anniversary of the country’s 1994 genocide that killed some 800,000 of its citizens.
Rwandan authorities have long accused France of complicity in the massacre. Macron has not indicated whether he will attend the event on April 7 in the capital.