Macron's Africa visit reveals determination to weaken China's grip on the continent



Djiboutian people hold China’s national flag before the launching ceremony of a new housing contruction project in Djibouti, on July 4, 2018. The new project is financially supported by China Merchants Group.

Going from an almost non-existent engagement with the continent pre-2000s, China is now the region’s largest economic partner and nation creditor.

Figures from a 2015 McKinsey report estimate China’s trade with Africa stood at over $185 billion. In comparison, France’s trade with the region was estimated at a significantly lower figure of $57 billion.

The same report claimed that the number of Chinese firms in Africa is two to nine times the official count.

In Kenya, China fronted an estimated $4 billion to build the Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway, Kenya’s largest infrastructure project, while in Ethiopia the giant was the financial muscle behind the Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway, reportedly worth $3.4 billion.

These investments reflect how Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti have taken the lead as some of the most important partners in China’s “Belt and Road” reach for global influence.

“Belt and Road” is often described as a 21st century trading route linking China to Eastern Europe and Africa. It is made up of a “belt” of overland corridors and a maritime “road” of shipping lanes.

Macron had decided early on to place Africa as a top priority, a directive he clearly gave to France’s 170 ambassadors in his first foreign policy address in 2017.

“It is in Africa that the future of the world will largely play out”, he boldly stated.

Macron has wasted no time in implementing his plan. He swiftly launched the first ever Presidential Council for Africa, his very own advisory squad on France-Africa relations, and actioned his charm offensive blueprint with an initial trip to West Africa in July, and now East Africa.

But aside from curtailing Chinese dominance, a closer look at the data reveals the region is growing in economic importance. In 2017, Ethiopia became France’s third biggest market with French exports soaring to a record high of over 830 million euros.

The number of French companies in Kenya has almost tripled over the past five years. The likes of Peugeot, L’Oréal, Accor, Schneider Electric and Danone have all set up a regional base, reflecting Kenya’s growing image as a place to do business.

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