The Star | 28 October 2021
Inside the French push for stronger trade with Kenya
By Eliud Kibii
Franck Riester, France Minister Delegate for Foreign Trade and Economic Attractiveness, is leading a delegation to Kenya for a two-day visit starting today.
The official visit will include bilateral talks with President Uhuru Kenyatta as well as his counterparts, Trade and Industrialisation CS Betty Maina and Treasury CS Ukur Yatani.
Minister Riester, a special envoy of President Emmanuel Macron, will be in the country as a follow-up to Uhuru’s visit to Paris, where he attended the BPI France investment forum.
During the forum, Uhuru presented the three main industries that offer real opportunities in Kenya for French entrepreneurs : technologies (particularly mobile technologies), infrastructure and manufacturing.
On his part, Macron shared his wish to strengthen France’s relations with Kenya and encouraged French entrepreneurs to take advantage of the many business opportunities Kenya presents.
The Star’s Eliud Kibii engaged the minister ahead of the visit, which adds to previous high-level visits by French ministers : Minister of Foreign Trade (2012) ; Minister of State for Development and Francophonie (April 2015) ; Minister of State for Foreign Trade (June 2015) ; Minister of Environment (April 2016) and Minister of Foreign Affairs (August 2016).
The Star : Kenya and France’s bilateral relations have intensified in the recent past, particularly during the tenures of presidents Uhuru Kenyatta and Emmanuel Macron. To what extent have these ties affected business between the two states, particularly the balance of trade ?
Minister Riester : President Macron’s visit to Kenya in 2019 and President Kenyatta’s visit to France in 2020 have given a new impetus to our economic cooperation.
We share the same ambition to strengthen the French-Kenyan trade and investment relationship. You know our ambition : We want a balanced, mutually beneficial, sustainable partnership. In that regard, I am very keen on accelerating our common projects in the highway and transportation sector, in the blue economy, which is a shared priority, in the health sector and in agrifood, which is a critical sector for our countries.
In this visit, we understand you are accompanied by a delegation of more than 30 French companies. In which sectors are they targeting and what are the prospects ?
They are almost 40 French companies. They represent the very best France can offer, such as cutting-edge innovation, world-renowned expertise in a wide array of sectors, high social and environmental standards, and a strong commitment to creating local value.
They epitomize French excellence in sectors that are key for the economic development of Kenya, such as sustainable infrastructure, airspace industry, clean energy, ICT, tourism, agrifood, health and digital tech. We have much to build together in the best interest of France and Kenya.
There is the first and biggest public-private partnership contract in East Africa for the 30-year concession of the Nairobi-Mau highway between Kenya and France. What influenced this approach of partnership and what does it seek to achieve ?
The personal commitment of Presidents Macron and Kenyatta was key to sealing this partnership. It bears witness to a sincere belief that we need the public and the private sector to play along if we are to succeed in renewing and strengthening our economic cooperation.
Our aim is of course first and foremost to meet the needs of our Kenyan partners as best we can. This is best achieved by mixing public financing and private expertise. But further than that, I also believe this flagship project can serve as an example that will pave the way for better economic cooperation throughout the continent.
This is the way we have been doing business for four years and it is our principle from now on.
Renewables firm Voltalia sealed a €70 million contract for two solar power plants. This is a key area in terms of green energy, particularly at a time the world is looking forward to COP26. How are Kenya and France working in regard to climate change ?
French and Kenyan companies have built a long-standing trust relationship in the clean energy field. Thanks in no small part to the Renewable energy/Sustainable City Club, we have managed to increase synergies between our private sectors.
I believe we can still improve on this successful cooperation, and the Voltalia contract is proof we can go even further. That is why I give my strong support to the development of the energy club launched by French companies in Kenya to strengthen their links with Kenyan companies in this key sector.
They also want to be a counterpart for public authorities to contribute to their projects for a sustainable energetic mix.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs indicated you would be in Tanzania on October 19, where you were to inaugurate the first direct Air France flight between Paris and the airport in Zanzibar since 1974 and launch the Transport Task Force and Business France team in Tanzania. Are these two visits part of wide outreach to the EAC region ? And how important is the relationship with the Community ?
President Macron made East Africa a priority of our economic diplomacy on the African continent. French companies are not traditionally present in the region, although their know-how is ideally suited to accompany the economic takeoff of East African countries.
We want to remedy that, by encouraging more and more French companies to invest in the EAC region. Conversely, our aim is also to encourage more and more EAC companies to invest in France : our country is the best gateway to the EU Single Market, and choosing France can be a true asset for African companies looking to strengthen their activities abroad.
Covid-19 has greatly affected trade across the globe. What measures is France doing to overcome this bottleneck ?
If we get it right, we can bounce back even higher than before. That is the reason we are investing massively at home with our €100bn recovery plan, France Relance, and doubling down to prepare the future with our new €30bn investment plan, “France 2030”. We will remain pro-business and keep on making France more competitive, more innovative and more attractive to foreign investors.
That is also the reason we are encouraging French companies to build new bridges abroad, chiefly on the African continent, and strengthen existing partnerships. I sincerely believe it is only together that we will succeed in overcoming the crisis.
Restarting the economy, however, takes a global approach. France is fully aware of this fact and has been spearheading efforts to accelerate the recovery. In particular, we need to better accompany our African partners and help them achieve sustainable growth. That requires sustainable financing, which we put on the international agenda during the Paris Summit on the financing of African economies in May.
Africa and the global south have decried vaccine nationalism by the rich countries. Kenya has termed it vaccine apartheid. What is France doing as part of the EU and Team Europe to ensure fair access of vaccines by all and not necessarily donations ?
France has been at the forefront of international solidarity when facing the health crisis. President Macron was instrumental in creating the Covax initiative, calling for solidarity with Africa and a global response to the pandemic from the outset.
France has delivered 600,000 doses of vaccine to Kenya via Covax, and we have increased bilateral aid by 60 million euros to help Kenyan hospitals acquire medical materialS. We are also supporting AU initiatives and programmes to develop the capacities to produce vaccines on the continent. We will beat the pandemic together.
France has had a long history of cultural diplomacy with Kenya. As a former minister of this docket, how do you think the two countries can use culture to overcome emerging global challenges, such as poverty, radicalisation and conflicts ?
Culture is a common good, a common legacy. It is what binds us despite our differences. It is essential to foster a better mutual understanding between us and to change the way we look at each other. That is, for instance, the reason why we put such a strong emphasis on artists at the New Africa-France Summit in Montpellier, earlier this month.
By the end of this trip, what would want to be achieved by both sides ?
I want France and Kenya to grow ever closer. I want to see new partnerships emerge between French and Kenyan companies. I want to see new opportunities arising both in France and in Kenya, for both French and Kenyan companies to seize. I want to tap all the potential of our bilateral economic relationship.