There were smiles all around in Kenya as French President Emmanuel Macron and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta shook hands over a series of infrastructure deals worth $3.3 billion.
It was the third stop on the French president’s East African charm offensive – and the first-ever visit to Kenya by a French head of state.
France wants trade and commercial relationships that are “fair and profitable for the Kenyan people,” Macron said. Alluding to Africa’s many relationships with China often freighted with debt, French investments would be respectful of the receiving country’s sovereignty and sustainable, he pledged.
Among the newly signed deals is a contract for a railway line from Nairobi to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, a trip of about 12 miles that can take up to two hours by car.
Other signed deals include a 30-year concession for a French company to operate a highway linking the Kenyan capital and Mau Summit in western Kenya, a contract for a solar power plant and a contract for coastal and maritime surveillance.
The railway, President Kenyatta said, “will help completely transform the lives of millions of urban workers”. It should be operational by 2021.
The two leaders then shared a photo op seated in Uhuru’s new Peugeot 3008 SUV – assembled in Kenya.
Still, France faces an uphill battle to win more deals in Africa, where China, Turkey and others have moved in quickly and competition is fierce from African countries
In 2017, French exports to Kenya, a former British colony, were about $200 million — about half Uganda’s exports to its neighbor. China exported $3.8 billion, making it Kenya’s biggest trading partner.
Nonetheless, France made few missteps if any on its four nation African tour while U.S. Asst. Sec’y of State Tibor Nagy earned negative headlines while in Cameroon for chiding President Paul Biya over a list of human rights violations.
Pro-government groups were unhappy with his references to the detention of opposition leader Maurice Kamto and 150 of his supporters and to the violence in the western Anglophone separatist regions. Other countries on Tibor Nagy’s itinerary are Uganda, the DRC and Rwanda.
Coincidentally, the official visits come as both French and American governments are under fire at home over the erosion of civil liberties, income inequality, racism and the rise of white nationalism and neo-Nazism.
This article originally appeared the Charleston Chronicle.