France-Africa relations: a glass half empty or half full?
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I am chair at the board of . I was born, educated and lived many years in sub-Saharan Africa, on the Ivory Coast. And from that experience I became engaged in development and the fight against poverty. I joined the public sector to try to help with the restructuring of the microeconomy, which I did at the French ministry of finance and development for eight years. I then joined the World Bank where I was mainly in charge of the Asia region.
Later, I became the chief executive of (AFD), which was very much involved in Africa. It was here I was inspired by developing partnerships with the private sector and NGOs/foundations. When I left AFD , I decided to create an impact investment firm focused on Africa, bringing together people from traditional finance and philanthropy.
You were the head of the AFD for nine years. What have you seen in terms of France's commitment to aid?
For France and every country in , the development agenda has changed. You are not working on just overseas development assistance anymore. Global issues dominate the agenda. Now development agencies are asked to deal with climate change and health issues across the globe. As a consequence, AFD isn't just working in traditional areas but going to Asia, China, Latin America and elaborating and implementing new tools and instruments to address these issues.
Developing countries have also changed – there is growth everywhere. You still have countries with major crises that have to be dealt with in the traditional way, but you also have poor but fast-growing countries. They demand something different: more infrastructure and more private sector support and probably less transfers for basic social services that more people can pay for. These are a new set of challenges and development agencies have to adapt to address them.
What about public and institutional support for AFD and French development initiatives?
For many decades there has been very strong government support for this type of policy. The French public have been very supportive of ODA, despite the macroeconomic crisis, major debt and employment challenges.
When we look at the polls, this support remains extremely strong, but the government budgets are shrinking. Ultimately I suspect the ODA budget will have to take its share of the global constraint. But you couldn't say that this is the first item that the public and politicians want to cut. On the contrary it's been preserved, and my expectation is that will continue to be the case.
What do you think hasn't done well as a donor country?
France's performance in ODA, on the financial side, can be seen either as a glass half empty or half full.
France has been doing well for many years, but it has always fallen short of reaching 0.7% of GDP. On the other hand, there are many dimensions of France's involvement not captured by ODA figures. In the 80s was seen as a lost continent, left to macroeconomists and NGOs. As a result France lost its understanding, involvement and engagement. This has had very far reaching consequences for the country, in security, politics, the economy – even trade.
But one thing that is probably unknown in my country is that France's trade with Africa has collapsed in the past 20 years and our share of the African market has declined by incredible proportions. Now, if France was just to maintain its share of the African trade, this would create about 400,000 jobs in France. At a time when you have a lot of unemployment it's not something you just overlook.
What then is the future for France's relationship with the continent?
My hope now is that as we see the opportunities that are brought by rebound of growth on the continent and the risks and the problems that we see, there's a reinvestment in the entire society, not just the government.
Africa can be a great opportunity for France: we have to renew our partnership, rebuild it on a new basis, with a vision of shared interest.
And what about the future of global partnerships? From your involvement in the , what change should we expect?
If one of the stakeholders is not taking their share of the burden, then things will not happen. Maybe one of the criticisms you could make of the current set of MDGs is that they were very much ODA-centred. It was about the development community and the government, and of course they are very important part of the agenda but they are just one of the stakeholders that can make it happen, so our message was about that very important paradigm shift. We have to design the implementation of policies as being the product of those alliances and not just the will of the government.
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