Rémy Rioux, Chief Executive Officer of AFD: “The Next 80 Years Will Be Decisive”

published on 06 December 2021
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Rémy Rioux CEO of AFD
To mark a landmark anniversary for Agence Française de Développement, its Chief Executive Officer takes a look back at the fundamental elements that have shaped AFD, and contemplates the future of development amid a changing relationship between France and its partners.

80 years “by your side”: what does this statement say about the history of Agence Française de Développement and its evolution?

Our history, our actions and our economic model have evolved alongside our partners. It is our positioning as well as our mindset. Working alongside others means being on the side of our clients, our partners, and the companies in the countries where we operate. This is done with respect, careful attention, and the utmost in collective intelligence, in order to establish solid, trusting, long-term partnerships, and to ensure that the results of our collaborative work are as strong as possible. Every day, we strive to build this bond of trust, ambition and action, which is the essence of development work. We need to ‘connect’ with others and, through this decentralized approach and this involvement with other people, we can transform ourselves and our institution.

Our anniversary is a great opportunity to reflect on who we are and what those who came before us have built. It’s also a chance to look ahead to the 80 years to come, which will be decisive. To look forward, plan ahead, and anticipate the future. This is also part of our mission, demonstrated by the thousands of projects that we support every year. With Expertise France joining forces with AFD Group on January 1 next year, we will be able to work even more closely together on projects and provide support for public policy in order to accelerate sustainable development trajectories.

What is the DNA of Agence Française de Développement?

AFD’s strength comes from being a technical, modest institution filled with diverse and broad expertise and talent, whose professionalism and conscientiousness is recognized by all. It is an organization that honors its commitments – and this has been true throughout its long history. There have been five AFDs, bearing five different names. In 1941, it was that of the Resistance, Caisse Centrale de la France Libre (Central Fund for Free France), which was not a financial instrument of colonization. In 1944, it became Caisse Centrale de la France d’Outre-mer (Central Fund for French Overseas Territories), the first to invest outside France.

In 1958, it was changed to Caisse Centrale de Coopération Économique (Central Fund for Economic Cooperation), to support the independent territories, with the greatly renowned CEO, André Postel-Vinay, who established a very strong culture of respect and rigor in management, taking a stance against “racketeering”.

Then, in 1992, the year of the Rio Summit and the moment when sustainable development became a central concern - we took the name Caisse Française de Développement (French Development Fund). The year 1998 was a turning point with the emergence of globalization, at which time the new Agence Française de Développement was created.

This too, is a name that will change in turn…

The idea of giving AFD a new name came up during the discussions held with the French President at the Africa-France Summit in Montpellier on October 8. This new name should represent the arrival a new order, one that goes beyond official development assistance. Everyone can see that the framework and rules established when [former colonies] gained their independence, no longer correspond with the geopolitical, climatic, economic and social realities of today’s world – like a suit that no longer fits.

See also: At the New Africa-France Summit, Young Africans Made Their Voices Heard

Shouldn't the semantic terms used to define the development sector also evolve?

It is true that certain terms are problematic nowadays. The “fight against poverty”, for example. In a recent discussion with the Chadian Minister of the Economy, he said to me, “Please, stop talking about the fight against poverty; talk instead about the economy, opportunities, innovations, job creation, etc.” The term “aid”, which I no longer use, is probably the most contentious. Our whole lexicon has become outdated, and we have not yet adopted new terms. It is a fascinating subject and we must now embark on the huge task of clarification, both internally and externally, which should cause a ripple effect in the world of development finance. It is not an easy task because we are rightly proud of what we have achieved over the past 60 years. However, it is essential to be open to new perspectives, to build new coalitions and to achieve greater impact.

Are changes already underway since the submission of Achille Mbembe’s highly anticipated report to President Macron at the beginning of October, and with the Africa-France Summit that took place in Montpellier at the same time?

The Montpellier Summit was an essential step, and viewed as such, after the impetus provided by the President of the Republic with his speech in Ouagadougou at the end of November 2017. A number of actions have already been launched with young people being given increasing priority in our development policy; the Choose Africa initiative (offered by our subsidiary Proparco to African SMEs); our rapid response to the Covid crisis in Africa; and the restitution of the artifacts looted by Colonel Dodds from the Royal Palaces of Abomey in Benin. At the New Africa-France Summit, all these actions were reviewed; and a common framework defined for them. A new space has opened up, in which Achille Mbembe and the eleven young “gems” present in Montpellier have been fully involved.

See also: “Choose Africa on air”, Proparco’s digital program

It is essential to listen to and really hear the refreshing and invaluable ideas that were expressed at the event in Montpellier. It is now AFD’s responsibility to devise proposals in order to take our development policy in this new direction, as redefined in the planning law on inclusive development and the fight against global inequalities which was unanimously adopted on August 4, 2021.

Is development moving fast enough to respond to the desire for change and the need to redefine relations between France and its partners?
We are not, of course, in a time of humanitarian crisis or urgency. Development is a longer and more complex process involving empowerment, education, capacity building and legitimacy. Development policy should target social, environmental and climatic structures. However, this concern about long-term progress should not indefinitely delay what can and must be done immediately!

Development can have an effect in the short and medium term while also bringing about and accelerating long-term transformations. To summarize, it is about the long term in the short term. With regard to climate change, for example, we need to act quickly, well before there is an emergency and extreme weather phenomena occur on a larger scale.

More generally, how do you see the world of development and solidarity in 80 years’ time?
I see them as intrinsically linked! It will be a world of respect and partnership, in the sense that legitimate political communities, those that people have freely chosen for themselves, will be able to exercise their sovereignty and combine it with others, so the world will be in constant interaction. This has been demonstrated by the Covid-19 crisis: each community must take care of its own, but international action is also needed, first of all with our neighbors, as with Europe and Africa.

How should we view these new links between the national and international community? The Finance in Common initiative, which has brought together 530 public development banks, launched by the IDFC and chaired by AFD, is a perfect example of the new forms of solidarity that are emerging, as the major issues we have in common begin to take precedence over our differences. It is exactly this type of initiative that should make us optimistic about the future!

See also: Our Work as Illustrated by Six Flagship Programs