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Nigeria: Dangote, Adenuga, Rabiu, Chagoury, Elumelu, Wigwe meet President Macron at Elysée event

By Nicholas Norbrook
Posted on Friday, 1 October 2021 13:04

The Elysée Palace, complete with installation danfo from artist Emeka Ogboh
The Elysée Palace, complete with installation danfo from artist Emeka Ogboh (Photo/Nicholas Norbrook)

French President Emmanuel Macron spent formative months as an intern at the French embassy in Abuja. Now, he wants to better connect French companies into the vast economy that is Nigeria. 
His plan blends old-fashioned economic diplomacy with a wider goal of 'fixing' the oft-fraught relationship between France and its former colonies; through restitution of looted artworks, the Africa2020 cultural season, and a France-Africa summit in Montpellier on 8 October that will put young people - not aged political leaders - in the spotlight.

No, this was not a GPS error. To mark the end of France’s Africa2020 cultural season, Lagos was the guest of honour on 30 September.

The yellow danfo – a popular taxi bus in Nigeria – that was parked in the courtyard of the Elysée Palace was an installation piece by Nigerian artist Emeka Ogboh. It came complete with a soundscape of taxi touts yelling their destinations from speakers hidden around the grounds.

Either we see these young people as a potential threat […], or we see this as a huge opportunity for Nigeria and Africa to succeed…”

The Nigerian delegation was of economic heavyweights: Aliko Dangote, Abdul Samad Rabiu (chairman of BUA Group), Tony Elumelu (UBA chairman), Herbert Wigwe (MD of Access Bank) and Mike Adenuga (Globacom chairman).

The party was completed by Gilbert Chagoury, a Lagos property tycoon, whose Gilbert and Rose-Marie Chagoury Foundation was the chief fundraiser for the Africa2020 season.

President Macron next to an installation by Nigerian artist Emeka Ogboh
President Macron takes the danfo for a spin [Reuters, pool]
It [the event] was the right way to “build bridges with this economy”, President Macron told The Africa Report. “This is a huge opportunity both for Nigeria and France, and I think Nigeria is involved in very new challenges, in finance, in fintech, in digital, but also in culture, with movies and so on,” he says. “This ecosystem is very inventive and we have a lot of cooperation to build [on].”

Youth as opportunity, not threat

Macron also pointed to how several of these Nigerian businessmen are becoming new African ‘business angels’, which dovetails with his own project to invest in youth entrepreneurship on the continent.

“You have a generation that is both disruptive and resolute – it is [at a] crossroads, not just for Nigeria but for us. Either we see these young people as a potential threat, we try to build walls and so on – [which] will be a mistake and a failure – or we see this as a huge opportunity for Nigeria and Africa to succeed, and even for us [France]; because they bring energy, they bring a new vision. Look at this artist [Emeka Ogboh]. He is completely disruptive; and he is bringing something innovative and fruitful for our own ecosystem,” says Macron.

It is about building universalism of the 21st century […]: letting Europeans have access to major African works of art, letting Africans [not only] have access to their own art but also European art…”

Back in late June, as part of the Business France summit at Versailles, Macron invited these six Nigerian business heavyweights to a private session, bringing together top level French CEOs to the table too.

It is part of a multi-year campaign to chase big contracts in anglophone Africa, pursued by Macron’s administration. The Nigerian highlight is the winning, by french petrochemical group Axens, of a multi-billion dollar contract to provide the technology for the BUA refinery.

In addition – unlike a previous attempt at a Franco-Nigerian business summit – the French participation was also at a similarly high level. The CEOs of French logistics giant CGM CMA Rodolphe Saade, the CEO of Accor Sébastien Bazin, the CEO of Total Patrick Pouyanné and the head of the Hopitaux de Paris Martin Hirsch were also all present.

President Macron’s yardstick for success is signed deals. Building on the accords signed in September 2020, BUA Group signed a deal with Axens for the second phase of its refinery project.

However, the star of the June show was Herbert Wigwe, who announced the negotiation of a French banking licence for Access Bank, which will allow him to open a full service bank in Paris, not just a representative office.

The Versailles summit also allowed for the high-level networking that France minister of exterior commerce Frank Riester has been pushing for. Mike Adenuga, for example, was introduced to French satellite communications group EutelSat.

That meeting has borne its fruit, with a partnership signed at the Elysée event on 30 September. A partnership between the two companies should see the deployment of 500 Wi-Fi relay stations to far-flung rural areas, for connection to a EutelSat satellite.

(L-R) French external trade minister Frank Riester, Globacom Chairman Mike Adenuga, President Emmanuel Macron, and EutelSat CEO Rodolphe Belmer.
(L-R) French external commerce minister Frank Riester, Globacom Chairman Mike Adenuga, President Emmanuel Macron, and EutelSat CEO Rodolphe Belmer. [photo supplied]
Likewise, French group Vocalcom, which already manages the software for Glo Telecom’s call centres in Nigeria, is hoping to cement a new deal in the mobile-money sphere with Glo.

Tony Elumelu’s Hiers Holdings is believed to be pushing to transform its own Paris representative office into a full banking licence.

It has not been entirely plain sailing for the relationship.

A deal between BUA Group and St Gobain to create a plasterboard factory in Nigeria fell through, with BUA Group’s Rabiu preferring to choose a Turkish firm instead. The initial deal had been announced in June.

Sources inside the Elysée stress that this simply underlines the tough competitive outlook that there is for all companies globally, French included, and the need for exactly this kind of relationship-building diplomacy to build closer ties.

The Elysée event was a way for President Macron to keep the Franco-Nigerian Business Council active, and keep up momentum ahead of the France-Africa Summit in Montpellier on 8 October.

The summit will attempt to bring new voices into what is an occasionally fraught relationship with weighty colonial baggage and current day flash-points over the role of French security forces in the Sahel, and the role of France’s central bank in the management of previous currency regimes.

Led by Cameroonian philosopher Achille Mbembe, a series of France-Nigeria Dialogues will bring the perspective of youth and diaspora groups into the conversation.

[…] Africa has a right to universal culture, and that means European artworks going the other way.”

For N’gone Fall, who addressed dinner guests at the Elysée, the point of the Africa2020 season was to launch conversations not only about art and history, but also financial flows, memory, the circulation of ideas, people and goods.

Most importantly, [the event provided an opportunity for conversation about] the French educational corpus, the UNESCO-certified History of Africa, in a bid to change how Africa is seen in France and how the African-heritage diaspora in France see themselves. This is a huge endeavour.

Two current events show how frayed the ties between France and its African diaspora have become. The first is the trial of Salah Abdeslam – whose father was born in Algeria to Moroccan parents – for the Bataclan terror attacks of 13 November 2015. The second is the eruption into the current presidential campaign of Eric Zemmour, a Trump-lite xenophobic journalist whose family are also from Algeria.

Fall took the opportunity to remind the French education minister Jean-Michel Blanquer, who was present, that the protocol on how to achieve this integration of African history into the French-education syllabus was still not complete; but celebrated “thousands of history teaching events in schools across France” as part of the Africa2020 season.

“It is about building the universalism of the 21st century,” says Macron, who sees a new beginning in the restitution of artworks looted by the French to Benin. “Letting Europeans have access to major African works of art, letting Africans [not only] have access to their own art but also European art; it can’t be a separation, Africa has a right to universal culture, and that means European artworks going the other way.”

For France, the homage to Nigeria marks greater engagement with a wider slice of the continent. In May, a conference on the financing of Africa’s economies was held in Paris. It saw the announcement of debt relief for Sudan and a separate event held in support of Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, allowing Sudan to better re-integrate into the global economic system.

France took the opportunity to push for a new deal for the continent, asking for redistribution of the money generated from the recent disbursal of the Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) regime by the IMF.

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