French President Emmanuel Macron has concluded a two-day visit to Nigeria, his first to the country as President.
It was a wide-ranging trip where he announced plans for a series of cultural events dedicated to Africa in 2020, met the President formally, launched a France-Nigeria investment club and appealed to young people not to take “crazy risks,” to reach Europe.
It was not the first time that Macron had visited Nigeria – he spent six months in the country as an intern at the French embassy in 2002.
He arrived in Lagos on Tuesday night, fresh from a press conference with President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja, and headed for the New Afrika Shrine, an unusual venue choice that raised a few eyebrows.
It transpired that Macron had visited the Shrine, a nightclub founded by legendary Afrobeats musician, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, during his stint in Nigeria as an intern. The venue is now run by Fela’s children Femi, Seun and Yeni Anikulapo-Kuti.
No global leader has ever visited the Shrine, nor indeed any Nigerian president.
The Shrine is the kind of place Nigerian parents warn their children about, a nightspot that is synonymous with wafts of marijuana smoke, gyrating back up dancers and the pulsating sounds of the Afrobeat music popularized by Fela Kuti.
One can only imagine the groans from the security team at the Elysee Palace in Paris when the choice of venue was announced.
The club is in an area in Lagos that most overseas visitors hurriedly drive through.
Some foreign diplomats and ambassadors are not even permitted by their countries to visit the mainland of Lagos unless they are driving through to go to the only airport in the city.
But Macron seemed keen to revisit the haunts of his internship days and a night of culture celebrating the best that Nigeria has to offer was put on display for his benefit.
He told the crowd that the venue was an “iconic place,” however he evaded the question when pressed about his memories, saying “whatever happens in the Shrine, stays in the Shrine.”
He added that he discovered the real Africa during the months he spent in the country in his twenties.
“That’s why I probably have a different view of Africa than a lot of other people in Europe. Because I was educated here,” Macron said.
President Macron also took time to address the migrant crisis in Europe during a speech to young African entrepreneurs on Wednesday.
He said it was important for Europe to help Africa succeed to tackle the crisis, which has reached critical levels as European countries wrangle over whether to allow rescue ships carrying migrants to dock in their ports.
Macron said it was a ‘win, win game,” for everyone if Africa succeeds.
“The loser’s game is to have extremists in Europe playing on fears and sometimes on racism and saying African people are losers, they want to invade us. It is to have African people say ‘it’s impossible to succeed in my country, I have to reach Europe,’ taking the most crazy risks…
“I believe in a win, win game. Let’s help Africa to succeed. Let’s provide new hope for African youth in Africa,” President Macron said.
He added: “Let’s explain to European people that it’s.. part of a common destiny,” he said during an interactive session with young leaders hosted by Tony Elumelu, one of Africa’s most successful entrepreneurs.
Macron was keen to emphasize that he comes from a generation “that does not tell Africa what to do,” instead he wants Africans to build the continent that they want to see, for themselves.
He called it a “new narrative” where Africa is the one to decide for Africa, to explain about Africa and to create its own model of entrepreneurship, its own culture and explain it to the rest of the world.”
Macron also alluded to the country’s colonial past, although he said relations between Africa and France are now “framed by post-colonial relations.”
“I think we have a very complicated history with Africa,” he said.
“My generation never experienced colonialism. I mean it’s part of our history obviously.. you have to recognize all the past deeds and face them, but you have to move forward, ” Macron said at an event organized by TRACE media in his honor.
Dressed down in a casual white shirt, with his sleeves rolled up, Macron was on an apparent charm offensive, gamely posing for the obligatory selfies and joining some of the Nollywood stars in a skit on stage about their industry.
He arrived two hours late to a mammoth crowd, eagerly waiting to catch a glimpse of him.
Macron also announced that the French government was launching an African culture season in France in 2020.
“We decided to organize in France for 2020, a series of events about African culture but the new thing is that it will be for Africa, for African artists, by African artists, and with African leaders, business communities in France and African people,” Macron said to loud cheers from the crowd.
He added that the bill for the event would be footed by African businesses and “will not be sponsored by European or French businesses.
“It’s brand new,” the French president said.