Inside Politics

Uhuru’s European charm offensive pays dividends

Friday, October 2nd, 2020 00:00 |
President Uhuru Kenyatta and French counterpart Emmanuel Macron witness the signing of three bilateral agreements between Kenya and France at Elysee Palace. Photo/PSCU

Fred Aminga and PSCU

Kenya’s charm offensive in Europe began in earnest with a visit to France by President Uhuru Kenyatta in an onslaught set to bear social-political and economic dividends on the back of the coronavirus  shocks.

Being the first country the President visited since the country opened following seven months of lockdown proves the importance of the move. President Kenyatta landed on Wednesday evening at Elysee Palace and was received by his French host Emmanuel Macron where three bilateral agreements estimated to be worth over Sh380 billion were signed before the two parties held private talks.

Top of the list was a public private partnership (PPP) for the construction of the Rironi-Nakuru-Mau Summit highway signed between Kenya National Highways Authority (KeNHA) and Vinci Concessions, making it one of the largest PPP projects in Eastern Africa.

Cabinet Secretary James Macharia said: “The project which involves a capital outlay of Sh160 billion, will be implemented under a PPP financing model where the concessionaire will design, finance, build, operate, and maintain the road for a period of time, and thereafter transfer it to the government.

The mega agreement will see the construction of the Rironi-Nakuru-Mau Summit six-lane dual carriageway which will decongest the existing highway and enhance efficiency of cargo transport, and opening Western Kenya to business, and easier penetration into the export markets of East and Central Africa.

This deal is expected to excite the construction industry on the back of dwindling fortunes wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic shocks.

Transmission line

A statement sent to media says the other deals signed includes one for the development of the Nairobi Central Business District (CBD) to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) commuter railway line and the 400KV Menengai-Rongai electricity transmission line.

The Nairobi CBD to JKIA commuter rail link is expected to enhance movement between the city centre and the airport and decongest the city making it cleaner and safer for business.

“Our aspiration is to see that this commuter railway line eases traffic in Nairobi but also ease the movement of people within Nairobi.

We hope that along the route and the surrounding areas, other businesses will be able to grow,” said Kenya’s ambassador to France Prof Judi Wakhungu, noting that the visit will not only strengthen people-to-people but commercial ties between the two nations.

“When it comes to investment and the private sector, we have over 100 French companies operating in Kenya,” she said.

“The largest component of our relationship is actually education. We have had Kenyan students in France for many years, we have also had French researchers in Kenya for very many years,” Wakhungu added.

Speaking yesterday when he delivered the key note speech at the 6th BPIfrance Inno Generation business forum at Accor Arena, President Kenyatta singled out technology, infrastructure and manufacturing as the top three sectors with the highest potential for French investors. 

He said the African continent has a huge deficit of connectively projects, especially in the railway and roads sectors.

The Head of State said Wednesdays signing of a public private partnership agreement for the construction of the Nairobi-Nakuru-Mau Summit Highway in Kenya, was a testament of the huge potential available for French private sector to participate in Africa’s infrastructure development. 

The BPIfrance Inno Generation business forum is the European country’s largest international innovation and entrepreneurship extravaganza which brings together hundreds of French companies to explore investment opportunities abroad.

According to the Kenya delegation to the event, several deals are expected to be signed during the forum.

Referring to the three deals signed with Kenya, President Macron said last year during his inaugural visit that, the deals with France were “respectful” partnerships, observing that they came at a time when many countries in Africa, including Kenya, are starting to feel the pain of indebtedness to China.

Important deals

President Uhuru has in the last two years been bullish in an earnest bid to negotiate several important deals including a post-Brexit trade agreement with the United Kingdom (UK) and a bilateral trade deal with USA to cushion the country in the event of past trade deals through two private meetings and a private conversation with Britain and US.

The UK negotiations are expected to be finalised ahead of the UK’s exit from the European Union (Brexit) on December 31, 2020 to be conducted within the Kenya-UK Strategic Partnership Framework established by the two leaders and the East African Community parameters in order to enhance regional integration.

Kenya is also eyeing a free trade deal with the United States after President Kenyatta and US leader Donald Trump agreed in February to start formal talks on a bilateral trade pact that might help offset concerns about China’s expanding investment imprint on the continent.

Kenya is mulling a deal with Washington before the expiry of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act, which allows sub-Saharan African states to export thousands of products to the United States without tariffs or quotas until 2025.

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