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Rémy Rioux: "Françafrique survives above all in the minds of those who denounce it"

Appointed by François Hollande, Rémy Rioux was proposed by Emmanuel Macron for a third term at the head of the French Development Agency (AFD).

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Rémy Rioux: "Françafrique survives above all in the minds of those who denounce it"

Appointed by François Hollande, Rémy Rioux was proposed by Emmanuel Macron for a third term at the head of the French Development Agency (AFD). A candidacy which must be validated in the fall by the permanent committees responsible for foreign affairs in the National Assembly and the Senate. But the senior civil servant, a historian by training, is also interested in ideas. A few months ago, he published a dialogue book, Pour un monde en commun. Perspectives between Africa and Europe (Actes Sud) with the Cameroonian intellectual Achille Mbembe, theoretician of post-colonialism.

While the last soldiers of the Barkhane force have just left Mali, France is facing growing protest in Africa, Rémy Rioux explains why it is high time to change our perceptions on a continent which represents "the only region in the world for which growth forecasts have not been revised downwards due to the impact of the war in Ukraine and inflation". But for the boss of the AFD, we must also be aware of the "new forms" that relations between our country and Africa are taking.

L'Express: You should be reappointed at the head of the AFD, subject to a positive vote by the committees responsible for foreign affairs in the National Assembly and the Senate. What do you want to do in terms of development for this third term?

Rémy Rioux: Development policy has come back in force, first with COP21 and the climate issue at the instigation of President Hollande and Laurent Fabius, then, even more strongly, since 2017 at the initiative of President Macron to help develop the Sahel, highlight the priority of education or deal with the pandemic anywhere in the world. Significant resources have been released, since it is the public budget that has increased the most in percentage terms for five years. And that's just the beginning, I think. Just a year ago, a programming law on solidarity development and the fight against global inequalities, led by Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, was passed, the only text voted unanimously by Parliament under the previous five year term. This law provides a solid and renewed basis for development policy and the Agency that serves it. It obliges us and allows AFD to consider another step, with even more political support. A Secretary of State in charge of development, Chrysoula Zacharopoulou, has been appointed to the Minister of Foreign Affairs Catherine Colonna, and Bruno Le Maire at Bercy remains very committed. At the end of July, we were alongside the President of the Republic, his ministers and parliamentarians, in Cameroon, Benin and Guinea-Bissau, to affirm this strong ambition and pursue the renewal of relations between Africa and France.

It is in this new and favorable context that we have decided to publish this book of dialogue with Achille Mbembe to say that a reinvented development action is essential in an uncertain and dangerous world. We need an altruistic, positive, concrete capacity, which shows that it is possible to maintain bonds of friendship and to provide fair and effective responses everywhere in the world. Much remains to be done, of course, to definitively free this policy from the weight of the past and clearly distinguish within it the two logics that drive it: justice and solidarity to finance what no one finances, on the one hand; the mobilization for the common goods of humanity to encourage the greatest number of actors to take care of it, on the other hand. It's difficult, of course: development policy is the only public policy whose beneficiaries are not your own citizens. But in our rapidly fracturing world, this action has never been more necessary, in my view. The AFD Group, which we are in the process of building, contributes through its action to this clarification. I hope, if Parliament renews its confidence in me, to serve this new ambition with our board of directors and the group's 3,500 employees.

Historian Achille Mbembe has been accused of treason by African figures for traveling with Emmanuel Macron. “For years, even decades, Achille Mbembe violently torpedoed France and its African policy while solemnly calling on Africans to turn away from this criminal and shameful country. His story was most brilliant. nothing to expect from France that we can offer ourselves,” he wrote in a column in Le Monde in November 2017 on the occasion of President Macron’s first trip to Africa. Mbembe is yours and yours with the same head of state, travels on the presidential plane, enjoys the golds and comforts of the French Republic, now publishes interview books with Rémy Rioux, the DG of AFD , calls to vote Macron in the presidential election of 2022" for example wrote the journalist Frédéric Lejeal, author of the Franco-African Decline, the impossible break with the colonial pact...

Wherever I go, I see the great respect that surrounds Achille Mbembe, and first of all among young Africans. After having gone a long way in a conceptual and critical approach, I think that Achille Mbembe is at a point in his work and his life as an intellectual where he also wants to experiment and change reality, in perfect coherence with everything that 'he wrote previously and in complete freedom of spirit. And me, I'm doing a bit of a parallel path. That of an actor, a public manager, a historian by training like him and convinced that we must refound our action on new ideas and concepts. This is why this dialogue, which we started long before this book, is so precious to us, to the point of wanting to share it with readers.

But freedom of spirit is frightening, of course. Opening these debates and getting out of the molds is always disturbing. I do not deny that Françafrique existed, like the form that our relationship took for a while. Achilles himself documented it very well. But today, reality no longer corresponds to this framework. Those who made Françafrique have, for the most part, disappeared. And, paradoxically, a twilight Françafrique today seems to survive above all in the minds and words of those who denounce it. As if its opponents themselves - and I say this with respect - had a reluctance to break the old mold that founded their fight, and to agree to consider or support the emergence of new forms taken by relations between France , Europe and Africa. Yet it is precisely these new forms and these gaps between our inherited representations and reality that fascinate us, Achille Mbembe and me. Emmanuel Macron opened this debate, with courage, and we contribute to it with this book. Free to all, on both sides, to participate. I believe this is very important.

The future of Africa is still too often limited to questions of immigration. But from a demographic point of view, as you recall in this book, it will be the continent with the largest proportion of working people, compared to a very aging Europe and Asia (including China). In 2100, it will accommodate nearly 40% of the world's population...

Africa is the great revolution ahead of us! And at AFD, we seek to raise awareness of the true extent of the continent, which has been systematically reduced for so long. Think of the geography and representation of the globe inherited from Mercator which greatly underestimates the sheer size of Africa. Its economy has also long been minimized. With each update of the estimates of their national wealth (GDP), we discover that African countries are economically more prosperous than previously measured. I was struck to note, in the IMF's latest WEO report in July (the "World Economic Outlook"), that Africa is the only region of the world for which growth forecasts have not been revised decline due to the impact of the war in Ukraine and inflation, with a growth forecast of 3.8% in 2022 and 4% in 2023. South Africa is even experiencing an upward revision compared to to the original forecast. As soon as a new technology arrives in Africa, it takes hold - we remember this with mobile telephony. There are more mobile bank accounts there than in the rest of the world. It is not a question of seeing Africa in pink because the challenges are immense. But we must be aware of the biases in our eyes and finally put on the right glasses!

Conversely, I believe that there is a real awareness of the African demographic weight. Each year, one more Cameroon is born in Africa, i.e. a demographic surplus of around 30 million inhabitants, at a time when the European Union, like the other regions of the world, has been seeing for several years its population begins to decline. Still, we must not stop at this simple observation, distinguishing the very different dynamics between regions of Africa, some having almost completed their demographic transition - North Africa and Southern Africa -, while others are still booming - West, Central and especially East Africa. And we must simultaneously project demographic and economic growth and study their correlation, also integrating into the models the effects of the environmental crisis, which also directs population movements.

The conclusion is simple: we must invest massively in the development of Africa, both public and private, so that its demography becomes the continent's comparative advantage and not its burden. By mobilizing its internal resources more efficiently, through the construction of financial systems, but also through much more abundant external financial flows. We are still far from it. Without ever forgetting that in 2050, one young person, that is to say a sportsman, a student or even an artist, out of three will be African! We must very quickly integrate this data into our thinking in order to make the right public policy choices.

Another bias on Africa is fatalism, with this idea that the continent will never let go of its old demons, forgetting the immense progress already made in education or health...

Africa is back, indeed, and for more than twenty years. We didn't realize it right away. I remember in 2004 when, at the head of the Treasury, I wanted to work with Africa, it was like an anomaly. Devoting all or part of one's career to this continent seemed so strange at a time when it was the construction of Europe that determined ambitions and careers. Today, we talk a lot more about Africa, even if the representations persist long after the reality has changed.

To see clearly, the AFD published in 2019 an Atlas of Africa by Armand Colin. We took more than fifty economic, social and environmental indicators, and we looked at their evolution over several decades. The path traveled is remarkable. Since the 1950s, for example, life expectancy has increased by an average of 25 years on the continent, even if there are still strong and astonishing disparities. In terms of schooling, whereas in 1950 an adult spent an average of less than two years in school in most African countries, today he remains there between six and eight years. The share of public expenditure devoted to education is, for many African countries, among the highest in the world: 18.5% on average across the continent, compared to 14% globally. The percentage of the population with access to electricity has also jumped, even if it is obviously still much too low: between 1990 and 2017, this rose from 29% to 53%, allowing nearly 500 million more Africans to benefit. And we could multiply the examples.

You invite us to review our geographical conceptions of Africa, and in particular to put an end to the separation between "North Africa" ​​(often integrated into a "Middle Eastern" zone extending as far as Pakistan) and "Sub-Saharan Africa". However, major institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank continue to make this distinction...

It's so obvious to me. The African States decided to create, on May 25, 1963 in the magnificent Africa Hall in Addis Ababa, an Organization of African Unity (OAU), which became the African Union (AU) in 2002. This is the political form chosen by the representatives of the peoples of Africa, just as the European Union is the one chosen by the peoples of Europe. There is no Union of Sub-Saharan Africa, is there? Morocco, which shunned the organization for a long time, even returned to the AU in 2017 and is very active there. Morocco, Mauritania and Tunisia are even candidates to become members of ECOWAS, the sub-regional organization of West Africa. By what right do we cut Africa in two? I do not underestimate the Arab fact, and the Mediterranean obviously represents a specific space. But we must question certain representations, inherited from colonization and which prevent us from seeing reality. When you consider Africa in its entirety, you see its impressive weight, and you also see much more clearly the multiple dynamics that make up the great diversity of the continent.

These representations die hard. US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken traveled to South Africa, the DRC and Rwanda this summer to prepare for the Africa-US summit next December. And he made public on this occasion a strategy for... sub-Saharan Africa! Europe, the region of the world which has gone the furthest in regional integration and going beyond the purely national fact, has understood on the other hand and has begun to share with its African partners on this precise point, essential in my opinion for invent collective and democratic forms adapted to the state of our societies. Without ever forgetting the long road travelled: you will no doubt remember the magnificent intervention by the Kenyan ambassador to the United Nations, Martin Kimani, at the very beginning of the war in Ukraine, calling for respect for international law, on behalf of the African peoples who would nevertheless have many reasons to question their own borders!

Precisely, the African countries are very reluctant to condemn Russia, whereas Volodymyr Zelensky nevertheless spoke before the African Union. Emmanuel Macron castigated a form of "hypocrisy". Is this a legacy of non-alignment, or does anti-Westernism take precedence over the desire to condemn Russian aggression?

The Africans are indeed not alone in this case and there is, obviously, a caution from the other regions of the world in relation to this conflict. Undoubtedly old links with Soviet Russia weigh heavily, the widespread idea that Europeans should settle their problem among themselves, and also certain resentments. In discussions with our African partners, memories of Iraq or Libya come back quickly. With the perceived feeling that there could be double standards in global governance and the fear that their problems will not be heard, especially today their very great concern about the food situation.

But I also wonder what our partners would expect from us, if such a brutal war of aggression were on their doorstep? A strong reaction, no doubt. This is why the President of the Republic has taken a clear position to recall that what is happening in Ukraine is fundamental for all of us, and to mobilize widely in the face of the food crisis and modernize agricultural systems with the initiative FARM. He did so with great respect for our partners, whose voice is important internationally, as we have already seen during the Covid-19 crisis or in climate conferences. Twenty years ago, I am not sure that we would have heard the African nations so distinctly on these common subjects.

Today there is a deterioration in France's image in Africa and growing protest against its presence, particularly in the military. The ruling junta in Mali, for example, castigated Emmanuel Macron's "neocolonial, paternalistic and condescending posture". How do you explain it, when as you pointed out, "Françafrique" is moving further and further away?

We are in a new moment, singular and exciting. A work and a debate have been widely opened, on the initiative of France moreover. Steps have been taken with Rwanda. This is also the case with Algeria. And I was in Cameroon when Emmanuel Macron announced the establishment of a multidisciplinary commission responsible for shedding light on France's action during the war of independence, between 1950 and 1972. Achille's emotion Mbembe and many participants that evening was palpable. Then, in Cotonou, we admired the 26 works stolen by Colonel Dodds in 1892 from the palaces of Abomey and returned in 2021 by France to Benin. Don't forget either that the French Development Agency (AFD), which I have the honor of directing, is investing as never before in Africa, in the order of six billion euros every year now.

This very lively and active moment in our relationship naturally releases a high volume of expression. Which, when we follow them attentively, are far from being unequivocal. It is now up to all of us, at least all those who wish, to say what we want to do together. We need a new word, which clearly expresses the usefulness of strong, constructive and respectful cooperation. To not only have a past together but also a common future.

After nine years of presence, Operation Barkhane has just completed its withdrawal from Mali. Is it a failure?

I do not believe that. Called upon by Mali, France held its place and several objectives initially set were achieved. And then, what would be the counter-factual? Isn't the situation in Mali today even more uncertain? The idea that the Sahelian countries, beyond their own responsibility, will manage without reinforcements, coming first from their neighbours, seems to me to be wrong. From this point of view, we have entered a new phase with the extension of the jihadist threat towards the coastal countries, which will provoke the reaction of States which have greater capacities, not only at the military level, moreover.

The former director of operations of the AFD, our friend Serge Michailof, recently published a very interesting book, entitled Afghanistan: autopsy of a disaster, 2001-2021. What lessons for the Sahel? (Gallimard). With two strong ideas: external military interventions should not last too long and have specific and achievable objectives, on the one hand. And then, on the other hand, the need for a complete and prolonged effort, given the extreme fragility of these situations, so that stable and effective political forms emerge, to rebuild republican security forces and so that the material situation of the populations improves sufficiently for them to regain confidence in the future. The Sahel also needs such a response, in "3D" and over time as France has been promoting since 2017: diplomacy, defense and development. As far as it is concerned, AFD has already invested 4 billion euros in the G5 Sahel countries and built a large "Sahel Alliance" with all the key development partners in the region, who are implementing more than 1,000 projects. and 20 billion euros in the area. It is much more than before. And everyone forgets that the Sahel is the region of Africa with the highest growth rate. There is obviously a link between the rise of armed groups and the increase in wealth, which allows very profitable trafficking. Development is an essential dimension of the crisis.

In the book, you criticize the American intervention in Afghanistan and its "war diplomacy". But, during these twenty years, there has been spectacular progress in the field of girls' education. While there were 5,000 girls in school in 2001, this figure had risen to 2.4 million in 2012. Today, after a year of Taliban power, we can see the terrible setback for Afghan women...

Here I refer again to Serge Michailof's book, which nevertheless underlines the disproportion between military investments and those for development in Afghanistan. It is estimated that the expenditures of the United States amounted to 1000 billion dollars in twenty years, with less than 10% of these amounts only for development. A large part of the civilian programs has even been managed directly by the American Department of Defense and not by USAID, the agency which brings together the development professionals of the United States. And if there has been undeniable progress in Afghanistan following the intervention of the international coalition, these have unfortunately been very unevenly distributed over the territory, which partly explains the return of the Taliban. The peasants in the mountains have not benefited in the same way as the inhabitants of the cities from our presence. And there have also been major difficulties in building a quality administration in Afghanistan.

But I don't want to be schematic. What's harder and more complex than development work? It is a question of intervening in the most tormented territories, on the subjects that have remained unresolved and always striving to place ourselves on the side of the others. I want to defend the quality of our work, the results of which have been positive, as all the studies have shown for a long time, as well as the numerous project evaluations that AFD publishes on its website. Isn't this, moreover, the only global public policy that exists in the world, endowed with significant means, which reach 150 billion dollars each year, and a group of solid institutions? I note, moreover, that this policy and these institutions have regularly been tasked with new tasks, be it aid for trade, the fight against climate change or the protection of biodiversity. Isn't this the sign of their seriousness? AFD basically has a dual mission: that of investing in the most fragile territories, first; but also that of mobilizing as many players as possible for our major global issues. At the international level, we would benefit from giving clear objectives and commensurate means for the success of this double objective, by moving away from the logic of aid, which is too unequivocal and asymmetrical, frozen more than fifty years ago.

But, on global warming, how can we strongly limit CO2 emissions at the global level without preventing poorer countries, such as those in Africa, from reaching our standard of living?

There is a real tension between the fight against climate change - which means reducing our dependence on fossil fuels as quickly as possible - and the imperative of development - to give access to inexpensive energy to the 600 million Africans who are still private. There is no doubt that this dilemma will be expressed during the COP27, in Africa, in Sharm el-Sheikh next November, particularly around the question of gas exploitation which will be strongly supported by the African Heads of State.

To overcome this blockage, we must objectify the situation and above all plan for the medium and long term. At AFD, we like to use a two-dimensional graph in which we find the human development index (HDI) on the abscissa and the CO2 emissions per capita on the ordinate. The countries are then divided into several groups, which must all "land", as Bruno Latour says, in a world that is both decarbonized and developed. To achieve this, we must not reproduce exactly the trajectory followed hitherto by Western economies, but invent new ones, more economical in greenhouse gases. All countries must therefore evolve rapidly and define their own sustainable development strategy, each starting from a different starting point. In this graph, we see that the future of the world is being played out first in China and India, given their demographic weight. The United States is a special case, with some of the highest per capita emissions in the world, but very positive signals since the election of Joe Biden, in particular the very recent vote by Congress on a program of investment for renewable energies of 369 billion dollars. The European Union and Latin America are the two most advanced regions in this great transition.



African countries are still at the beginning of this trajectory, but they are already hard hit and must also adapt to climate change. While they represent 17% of the world's population, they only produce and consume 3% of energy and their share of emissions is only 4%, and even only 1% outside of South Africa and North Africa. Africa must therefore invest massively and quickly in its energy infrastructure for its development. And, as in other areas, this infrastructure deficit also offers Africa the opportunity to adopt the low-carbon technologies available today more quickly than other regions of the world and to define higher quality development trajectories. .

It is this dynamic and ambitious discussion that it is essential to have now in Africa, so as to achieve the expected development objectives, while maximizing the share of renewable energies in the energy mix and limiting, as far as possible , that of fossil fuels, in particular to avoid the so-called "lock-in" phenomena which in the future would make countries prisoners of the polluting technologies retained today. This is the purpose of the Just Energy Transition Partnership (JET-P) proposed by the G7 to South Africa and Senegal, as well as to Indonesia, India and Vietnam, which is being discussed very actively right now.

The question of financing will be decisive in convincing that these profound transformations are possible and in carrying out optimal, precise and concrete investment plans. This is why we launched the "Finance en Commun / Finance in Common (FiCS)" movement two years ago to bring together all the public development banks in the world. We have invited on October 19 and 20 in Abidjan, at the invitation of the African Development Bank and the European Investment Bank (EIB), the 550 public development banks in the world, which finance 2,500 billion , or 15% of total investments every year in the world, including a very significant part in the energy sector. Well oriented and cooperating with each other, these public, national and international financial institutions can make a difference, through their own funding and by mobilizing other actors. This is what the Caisse des Dépôts group is actively doing in France. I note that in the United States, the Inflation Reduction Act already mentioned has created a new green public development bank, the first at the federal level since the abolition in 1957 of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC), the large public bank of the Roosevelt's New Deal. In Africa, there are more than a hundred development banks, active and all wishing to contribute more strongly to this great transition. Let's trust them and strengthen them!

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