French President Emmanuel Macron unveiled a raft of investments on Wednesday to boost Africa's youth following a visit to Nigeria. He notably announced a 12-million-euro basketball programme to encourage young Africans to use sport for social change.
"Migrants who come to Europe, are not coming from countries at war," Macron told journalists Wednesday at the end of a two-day visit to Nigeria.
"They're coming from countries like Nigeria, Senegal and Côte d'Ivoire. They need help from us to build new opportunities."
This, he says is why he came to Nigeria,"to change the narrative."
"We have a very good partnership with Nigeria in terms of security," he told RFI, notably in tackling the Boko Haram threat in the North.
Now he wants to go further.
"If we want to provide hope and perspective, to create more opportunities for young people, I do believe that what we are doing through the economy, culture and sport, is one of the receipts [recipe] for Nigerian success," he said speaking entirely in English.
Part of that success includes getting talented youngsters off the streets and into basketball.
To that effect, Macron announced a 12-million-euro sponsorship programme between the French Development Agency (AFD) and Africa's National Basket Association (NBA). The programme will target five million young people across Africa, including South Africa, Cote d'Ivoire and Liberia.
The idea came to him he says, during a visit by Liberian President George Weah to France in February after his inauguration.
"Weah told me that after the civil war, one way of healing the divide was by playing basketball," comments Macron. "On the court, there was no us or them."
Breaking down barriers in entrepreneurship
The French leader has also vowed to break down barriers for young entrepreneurs.
During an open business forum with over 2,000 entrepreneurs earlier on the Wednesday, he pledged to invest one billion Nigerian naira (around, 2.3 million euros) in the private sector to allow businesses to take more risks.
"This young people, this new generation has a lot of responsibility and opportunities to build and what I want to build with you is this new narrative," he told a captive audience in Lagos, the commercial capital.
It's a welcome message for entrepreneurs like Oje Femi Merorore, an alumnus of the 2018 Tony Elumelu Foundation.
"To see such an intelligent individual talk about issues that relate to the world, and Nigeria and Africa in such a way that really resonates with us was really great," he told RFI.
Another entrepreneur, Adejoke Ogungbire, who runs an organisation for entrepreneurs with special needs, says she was left inspired.
"Being a president that young in a country as unique as France is inspiring," she told RFI.
"While he was talking I was taking notes. And there was something he said about how your nationality or origin does not determine your ability to succeed. Deaf entrepreneurs need to hear that message, to know they can still achieve their dreams."
Pro-Africa policy fuelled by migration concerns
"This new narrative is to be built now," Macron insisted. "I do believe it's your responsibility, and I do believe it's good for Africa and it's good for France. Because if Africa doesn't succeed, France and Europe will never succeed," a reference to the migration crisis, which he says means "Europe can no longer function as an island."
Some critics have accused Macron's pro-Africa policy of being a covert attempt to stem African migration and keep Europe's borders closed, a criticism he rejects.
For his former mentor, Jean-Marc Simon, who worked with Macron during his six month internship at the French embassy in Abuja in 2002, Macron's interest in Africa began long before this recent visit.
"He's always been interested by Africa, and Nigeria in particular, and he learned a lot from this experience," he told RFI.
Simon defended Macron's approach to Africa, saying the dialogue between France and Nigeria is "very important."
"The problem is not to change the French policy, it's to have a policy, and a dialogue with a country like Nigeria can't be neglected," he said.
Read or Listen to this story on the RFI website.
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