Interview with HE François Pujolas, French ambassador in DRC
Shortly after the visit of the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jean-Yves Le Drian, to the Democratic Republic of Congo and the new bilateral cooperation agreement between the two countries, HE François Pujolas gave an exclusive interview to Mining & Business Magazine.

Mining&Business Magazine: Mr. Ambassador, I suggest that you outline the new roadmap for France's action in the DRC. We will then review the common document. The fight against climate change, the protection of biodiversity and the strengthening of the Francophonie as a preamble. Why is this so important?

HE François Pujolas: On climate and biodiversity protection, the French and Congolese presidents met on the sidelines of the Nairobi summit, the "One Planet Summit", which dealt precisely with the preservation and sustainable management of Central African forests. 80% of the forest basins are in the Democratic Republic of Congo! The two presidents were gathered to sign, with others, the Nairobi call to give new impetus to this action. Indeed, the global fight against climate change is affected by the management of this forest massif, which is the second largest green lung on the planet. So our common concern is sustainable forest management. 

Without going into detail, France will respond to this climate concern in the field of agriculture and energy, at the request of President Tshisekedi.

M&B: Let's talk about education. A review shows that 700 classrooms and 30,000 teachers have been funded since 2013. Where are these classes?   

HE FP: These actions were part of the objective to facilitate access to quality education for all. To access education, there must be schools and unfortunately, there are not enough of them to accommodate students here in the DRC. France has fully financed 700 classes under the debt reduction - development contract. It is a subsidy to finance these constructions. It is a drop in the ocean, unfortunately not enough. These constructions were concentrated mainly in Kinshasa and the west of the country because we could not be everywhere.

We are currently discussing with other donors, in particular the World Bank, to see if we can find a formula to extend this solution because the cost of education is a second obstacle. The cost of education is prohibitive compared to Congolese salaries. We are going through our bilateral aid and coordination with the other donors of the "global partnership for education", to which France significantly increased its contribution last year. But we want to focus on quality education. This is the whole issue of teacher training. Here too, there are needs and France will be present in this area.

M&B: In the joint statement, there is also a desire to train the elites of tomorrow. At a time when we are thinking of closing the ENA in France, we are going to form enarques here? And then what? What about paying a decent salary so as not to drive these young enarques into corruption?

HE FP: The beginning is still training and I believe that the Congolese ENA has its own legitimacy. France contributed to its creation. It is only five years old and so far it has only produced good results. Indeed, this does not exhaust the subject of the careers of senior civil servants in the senior Congolese civil service. We are ready to respond to any request for assistance in this career planning process. 

For INAFOR, in order to address certain governance problems, I believe it is essential that the legal professions have this government initiative to modernise the training of judges. I think this is an excellent thing, we are happy to be able to work in partnership with others on this great project.

As for the Diplomatic Academy, here too we will respond to a request from our Congolese partners. We feel that there is a desire to modernize the Congolese diplomatic tool at a time when we see that President Tshisekedi is developing a much more sustained action in the diplomatic arena.

M&B: Let's talk about the health sector. The needs are enormous. Could you give us some concrete examples of what France can bring to the DRC? 

HE FP: There are a lot of things that are not only done through Franco-Congolese cooperation, taking into account the scale of the needs here too. It is not all about material considerations. We prefer to work on the modernization and efficiency of health systems because that is often where the problem lies. You can have very modern equipment. But if no one is there to do the maintenance and organize the hospital, it will not have the expected impact on improving health levels. 

We have two great projects, notably the Monkole Hospital in Kinshasa. We are considering other projects in other regions, particularly in the East, to modernize access to care and enable Congolese hospitals to respond optimally at an appropriate cost.

M&B: The joint statement by President Tshisekedi and Minister Le Drian highlighted Ebola fever. We are experiencing the second largest epidemic of all time.

HE FP: Absolutely. We are concerned, like the Congolese authorities, that the context is complicated in terms of public acceptance of interventions to help combat the epidemic. President Tshisekedi made an excellent decision by setting up a multi-sectoral committee. This major public health problem also affects security issues and therefore involves the Ministry of the Interior, the army and other ministries. For our part, we are on the ground through NGOs such as Alima and the French Red Cross. 

I would like to mention in passing that France was the first of the DRC's partners to offer a modern, rapid and effective screening solution. Now we have diagnoses in 24 hours.

M&B: The statement mentions the stabilization of the DRC. In concrete terms, will there be more French soldiers for training in the DRC? No more Congolese officers in France?

HE FP: In the field of defence and security, cooperation has been at rather low levels in recent years. We have decided to relaunch it. This is reflected in the joint declaration which refers to the creation of a joint college. This means strengthening the training of senior Congolese officers, but also training them in our regional schools. Yes, more Congolese officers, including in France, so that military cooperation between France and the DRC will have a greater impact. 

M&B: Numbers?

HE FP: We could go from a few people to 100 per year. But we will also send more French training officers to the regiments for training.

M&B: Let's talk about Francophonie. In concrete terms, what does this mean for the young Congolese farmer in the Likasi region? Maybe he wants to improve his French. Why wouldn't the OIF allow him to receive TV5 free of charge via Canal+'s satellite, for example?

HE FP: I think it's an idea worth exploring. Our idea is to ensure that the French language is known, spoken and disseminated through all media. It starts at school, where audiovisual media of course have an important role to play; and therefore also in the learning or perfecting of French.

We are the largest French-speaking country in the world. When it comes to the economic Francophonie, there are many avenues that need to be explored. And finally, there is a political dimension; we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the OIF (Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie) next year. The Secretary General of the Francophonie was here to celebrate the Francophonie last March. She mentioned the creation of a permanent structure of the OIF in Kinshasa. 

M&B: France Media Monde will be here next week, could you tell us a little bit about it?

HE FP: There are very popular media platforms here. I am thinking of France 24 and RFI in particular: they are an integral part of the daily lives of many Congolese, so I think we may explore the possibility of taking them even further and ensuring they are even more widely disseminated.

M&B: Is it possible to do something for the large national parks in Congo?

HE FP: Of course, we can do more for national parks. I will come back to the forest because it is what distinguishes the DRC from many other countries in the world. After the DRC, there is Brazil, I don't know of any other country that has such a percentage of its territory covered by tropical and primary forest. France has a particularly old understanding of national parks, which the DRC may not have benefitted enough from. We are in discussions with, for example, the VIRUNGA National Park about the training of eco-guards. It's something that can be replicated in other parks. We will support this park in particular because one of the new priorities of French aid is Africa. We must find the best ways to develop partnerships in vulnerable areas, and unfortunately this is the case in eastern Congo.

M&B: Since you're talking about Virunga, Total that left this search area. Is that good news? 

HE FP: They had said a long time ago that they would never explore in a national park. A large part of Block 3 was indeed part of the park. The contract period for Block 3 has ended. Total is no longer there. This is therefore in line with the group's general approach and the logic of its presence in the sub-region. 

M&B: Let's also talk about forest preservation

HE FP: Preserving does not mean sanctuarizing a space. It means managing a resource sustainably. That is the meaning of sustainable development; economic activity, environmental protection and social justice. Deforestation is unfortunately linked to domestic uses: Makala or burnt crops. Together with others, we call on our  to the Congolese partners to develop a competent administration at the Ministry of the Environment with criteria and certifications allowing forest exploitation licences to be granted in a controlled manner.

M&B: I cannot help discussing the recently-announced figure of 300 million. Does this figure include bilateral?

HE FP: Yes, $300 million over 5 years during the President's term of office. This is 100% bilateral and only in subsidies. It is important to note that this can have a leverage effect. And then it doesn't take into account what France is putting in the pot through the European Union.

M&B: Can we get an idea of the amount of bilateral aid?

HE FP: It's very complicated. We're looking at around 300 million.

M&B: So we made a point on this roadmap. What is the outcome of the French week? We have the impression that there is a shyness among French groups. I am thinking of Veolia in particular. What could be done to make the DRC more attractive?

HE FP: I think we must continue our efforts, we are going in the right direction. There is always a delay effect in the image of a country on the international scene. This is the image linked to a period of political crises. This still has a significant impact on the appreciation that potential investors may have. The signals addressed through President Tshisekedi's statements are positive; improving governance, combating bad practices, reflecting with international actors on the areas to be given priority. There is also a general openness that can only be welcomed. We gave a presentation about the DRC in Paris. There were about 40 groups attending. So I think we're on a positive trajectory of growing curiosity and interest in the country, but I think it's going to take a little longer.

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