The Sunday News
Kuda Bwititi, Harare Bureau
THE chief executive of the French government’s development agency, Mr Rémy Rioux, says Paris is enhancing ties with Harare, and President Emmerson Mnangagwa is welcome to send a delegation to his country to further deepen relations.
Mr Rioux said this yesterday after meeting President Mnangagwa at the Zimbabwean Head of State and Government’s Munhumutapa Offices in Harare.
The AFD is a public bank that implements French government policy on assistance to developing countries. On Friday, the head of Agence Française de Développement (AFD) signed a $570 000 grant for technical co-operation with Zimbabwe, paving the way for unlocking of more funding.
AFD opened shop in Harare in 1993 but bailed out in 2002; and now Mr Rioux has revived the local presence and lent his weight to President Mnangagwa’s economic, political and social reform agenda.
With Finance and Economic Development Minister Professor Mthuli Ncube leaving for Bali, Indonesia this weekend to engage international creditors at the annual World Bank and IMF meetings (12 October-14 October), Mr Rioux’s visit was timely as France is a major international lender and a key member of the Paris Club body that co-ordinates solutions to difficulties faced by debtor countries. Mr Rioux himself is past-president of the Paris Club, and on Friday he held talks with Prof Ncube on strategies to address Zimbabwe’s debt and arrears.
Addressing journalists after meeting President Mnangagwa yesterday, Mr Rioux said: “I am the first head of an international development agency to visit Harare under the New Dispensation after the elections, and I had the honour and the privilege to have a meeting with His Excellency, President Mnangagwa. We discussed the relationship between France and Zimbabwe.
France never stopped being active in Zimbabwe in providing investments in the country and I told the President that we certainly have the intention to increase. Yesterday (Friday) we signed with Minister Ncube a grant for capacity-building and project preparation for half-a-million euro ($570 000).”
Mr Rioux said a delegation from Medef, an organisation of leading French businesspeople, would be in Harare early next month to explore investment opportunities. Further, he said France had extended an invitation for a Zimbabwean Government delegation to visit Paris in the first-half of 2019 to strengthen bilateral ties.
“The French businesspeople will come early November in the country to start again and we will have a high-level political dialogue soon in the beginning of next year between our two countries,” he said.
Mr Rioux said AFD was encouraged by President Mnangagwa’s economic reforms and his engagement and re-engagement of the international community.
“We also discussed the situation of the country, the very strong ongoing reform and the way to create as much trust as possible with all partners to speed up the recovery and for the country to be fully back in the international community. It’s my feeling that Zimbabwe is heading in the right direction,” he said.
Asked of the possibility of Zimbabwe accessing more funding from AFD, Mr Rioux said “ . . . the idea is to prepare new commitments for higher volumes as soon as, of course, the debt situation is eased. We will start with grants and then hopefully support the private sector, the financial sector, SMEs, guarantees and do more in the coming months and years,” he added.
On Friday, Mr Rioux told our Harare Bureau that his visit was “an expression of French willingness to build a very, very strong co-operation”.
He said AFD implemented President Emmanuel Macron’s vision.
“AFD is a large institution. We are active in more than 100 countries, we implement the vision of President Macron for international co-operation . . . I really see my visit here as a political signal from France.
“We will never let Zimbabwe down in terms of investment. We certainly have the intention to be a partner and increase our intervention in the country and support the policy set by President Mnangagwa and Minister Ncube.”
Prof Ncube added: “This is a wonderful gesture to the people of Zimbabwe. This is a grant of $570 000 that we have signed off and it is really aimed at capacity-building in Zimbabwe.
“This falls right in the path of the re-engagement agenda. France is a very important partner in our re-engagement efforts. It is the centre of many things in Europe, so this is really a part of the re-engagement process. France is also a creditor nation to us, it is also part of the Paris Club with other partners, it is a shareholder in the African Development Bank and it is a shareholder in the World Bank.”
He said good use of the grant would unlock further funding.
“This is very positive and it is a smart way to use grants to leverage investment. It is not a debt. There is no risk in the first place. This grant will leverage investment for the future. That is exactly how you want to use aid so that you can use it to leverage for investment in the future. We are in a position where we cannot contract more debt because we are in debt already, but this is a way of planning for the future.”
He said sectors that could benefit from the grant included parastatals, local authorities and climate change intervention.
France is a leading member of the European Union, an international organisation that President Mnangagwa has set about mending ties with following nearly two decades of acrimony under Mr Robert Mugabe’s regime. To that end, his charm offensive has already seen Germany reopening lines of credit, while Belgium’s Prime Minister Charles Michel has expressed readiness to work with President Mnangagwa’s administration.
Re-engagement with Britain has advanced and London is likely to support Zimbabwe’s debt and arrears plan at the Bali meetings; while Government is also in talks with the United States to normalise relations. On the part of another economic and political power, China, President Mnangagwa has restored trust after his predecessor’s regime ignored huge debts to that country.