The recent visit of the French President, Emmanuel Macron, devoted to influencing a new generation of Nigerians, writes Nseobong Okon-Ekong
Coming straight from the African Union meeting in Mauritania to Nigeria underscored the importance of last week’s visit to the country by President Emmanuel Macron of France. With a volume of trade between the two friendly countries standing at close to N800 billion, Nigeria is France’s first commercial partner in sub-Saharan Africa.
Nigeria is surrounded by French-speaking African countries and being the most populous African country with very active and enterprising citizens, who are recording great achievements in all spheres of life, the country has always been fascinating to France.
Apparently, Nigeria takes this strategic position seriously and makes conscious efforts to improve her understanding of French ethos. An example of this is the Nigeria-French Village, which was established in 1991 by the Federal Government of Nigeria as an inter-university centre for French studies. Its sole aim is to provide immersion opportunities for French language learners and enthusiasts.
There has been deliberate return of this favour from France. For instance, in 2013, AfricaFrance Foundation, an agency meant to encourage the deepening of economic relations and the development of human capital was established. BusinessFrance, a similar platform in the business sphere also opened an office in Lagos a few years ago.
The relationship between both countries extends over a range of activities including security, human rights and development to business. Though the French aid agency has only been active in Nigeria in the last 10 years, but its activities are expanding rapidly. Thirty-seven per cent of France’s 8.6 billion Euros aid goes to sub-African, making it the top recipient of such funding.
Last year, France invested around 350 million Euros in Nigeria, mostly soft loans to the federal and state governments and the private sector. France is working with Nigeria to improve energy and water infrastructure, provide better transportation, fix rural roads and helping small and medium sized enterprises.
France is the largest host country in the world for foreign students and the first for African students. Every year, over 250,000 foreign students choose France, of which 100,000 are Africans. There are only a few Nigerian students among them.
Considered a leading centre of global culture in Europe with a large number of influential artists and scientists and a good GDP ranking, one of the gains that the visit of President Macron may foster on Nigeria is an increased immediate interest in France from more Nigerian youths and business people. Macron’s measured approach in Nigeria clearly revealed that he sought to make more impact among the youths and the next generation.
Apart from the courtesy of diplomatic engagement with President Muhammadu Buhari, it would seem that his interest was to spend more quality time in Nigeria’s commercial capital, Lagos to engage with the youths and business people. His choice activities in Lagos were revealing. Macron visited Lagos’ iconic centre of culture, the New Afrika Shrine, bringing the attention of the global media on Nigerian culture through its music, fashion, cinema and visual art.
He was also available at the official unveiling of Alliance Francaise, a French Cultural Centre. He underscored the importance of culture on his agenda by promising to facilitate an African Cultural Season 2020. The next day, he spoke to thousands of Nigerian youths on the prospects of business between the two countries.
His youthful age is likely to inspire Nigerian youths, whom he advised at the Shrine to recognise the importance of politics and to participate in it. Idolising Macron, an increasing number of Nigerian youths are expected to gain more interest in governance and aim for influential public offices.
Challenging Nigerian youths to promote a new narrative on Africa to the global stage, Macron emphasised the urgency of having new thinkers, artists and scientists emerge from Africa. Hinting at a new method of engagement with Africa from Europe, he said, “This new commonality is not based on what is important for Europeans but what is important for Africa.”
This line of thought was not different when he spoke about insecurity on the continent. He said, “I think the main plan is an African plan and France is not the one to solve or fix African situations. We will intervene and make our presence in Africa and Sahel to fight against terrorism, especially in Mali and in the region. And we will stay as long as it is requested by our friends.”