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Macron urges African youth to be politically 'involved' during Nigeria visit

media French President Emmanuel Macron arrives at the Afrika Shrine nightclub in Nigeria's commercial capital Lagos, July 3, 2018. Jean-Marc Belchi for RFI

French President Emmanuel Macron received a rock-star welcome at Nigeria’s New Afrika Shrine nightclub in Lagos on Tuesday. The venue, founded by Afrobeat star Fela Kuti, provided him the backdrop to launch his new African Cultural Season, which he hopes will change France's perception of African culture.

"There's a paradox when we talk about Africa," the French leader said addressing a cheering and whistling crowd in English on Tuesday.

"Some say it's a tremendous continent with unique opportuinities, others that Africa is a place of sclerosis and the source of migration. Africa is more than that."

This was the message Macron came to deliver at the New Afrika Shrine in Lagos, famous for its jazz rythms and Afrobeat music. The choice of venue was no accident though. He told the audience:

"Fela was not just a musician. He was a politician who wanted to change society. So if I have one message for young people, it's this: 'Yes, politics is important; yes, be involved," Macron told the audience from the stage.

Emmanuel Macron arrived at the famous venue in the Nigerian city of Lagos, just hours after holding talks and a joint news conference with President Muhammadu Buhari in the capital, Abuja, at the start of a two-day visit to the West African country.

During the news conference he stated his commitment to helping the fight against Islamist militants in the northeast, before embarking on the hour-long flight to Lagos to visit the New Afrika Shrine.

The venue replaced the famed original - created by Fela - which burned down in 1977.

Fela - a singer, composer and saxophonist - pioneered the Afrobeat sound by combining organ riffs with West African drumming and brass instruments. He was famed for his sexual exploits, marijuana smoking and fearless critiques of Nigeria's military regime.

"Fela was not just a musician. He was a politician who wanted to change society. So if I have one message for young people, it's this: 'Yes, politics is important; yes, be involved," Macron told the audience from the stage.

The message arrived two hours late, following a delayed meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja on the second day of Macron's visit to West Africa after Mauritania on Monday.

Despite the wait, guests like gallery owner Nike Okundaye, didn’t seem to mind.

“I’ve come to present a present to the president of France," the extravagantly-dressed artist told RFI, pointing to a portrait of the French leader wearing Nigerian attire.

"I met him 15 years ago in Abuja, and now to see him as president I’m so happy and overwhelmed,” she said.

Macron first visited Nigeria in 2002, working for six months at the French embassy in the Abuja capital.








Spirit of Africa

Macron's presence at the famed venue founded by Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti, attracted the biggest names in Nigeria’s music and film industry, like Nollywood film director and actor Kunle Afolayan.

"Macron is the first president that is coming to the Shrine," Afolayan told RFI, saying he was "privileged" to have been tasked with introducing members of Nollywood to the visiting French leader.

“When it comes to culture, entertainment, Africa is always at the forefront, and the French to a large extent have been supporters of art in Africa and this [evening] marks it all,” he said.

On the brown and yellow walls of the Shrine, African-themed portraits were on open display portraying the works of upcoming designers, that contemporary art director Tokini Peterside says, the French president is helping to promote.

"You have artists, fashion designers, filmmakers who’ve been producing formidable content in this city and on the continent for the past ten years, so the fact that the president has decided to recognize that by making an official visit to Lagos, a cultural capital, it really does validate the hard work that has been done,” she told RFI.

Hurting Fela Kuti legacy?

The presence of the French president brought a different ambience to the home of Afrobeat also raised eyebrows. Critics have accused the Kuti family--who invited the French leader--of betraying their father's anti-establishment legacy.

“It’s a political statement bringing him here, not just cultural,"  Femi Kuti, the son of the late Fela Kuti said.

"This building, this music is political. It’s socially conscious. He did not choose here for no reason. He could have gone anywhere. He came to a place which has a heritage of fighting social injustice, he knows what he’s doing,” Kuti told RFI.

 Macron welcomed the Kutis' support ahead of the launch of his African Cultural Season in 2020, which like Tuesday's celebration of African culture at the Shrine, will also showcase the continent's rich diversiy.

"I owe a huge debt to the [Kuti] family," Macron told the audience. "They provided not only a place but through its style and commitment, and battles of the father they convey this message: that it was possible and even now to decide your own future," he said.

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