Nelson Mandela’s graduating class. This could not have been a coincidence for this Franco-Lebanese who set her sights on Africa very early on. Rima Le Coguic worked for the AFD, where she put her expertise in development issues to good use, before joining Expertise France as Deputy Director last September. She talks to us about her career path, the evolution of Expertise France, and her roadmap. Interview
Interview by Dounia Ben Mohamed
Before talking about your new position, I would like to go back over your career. Your appointment, at a time when Expertise France is being restructured like the other institutions of the AFD group, confirms the direction taken by France in Africa…
I have a diversified background. Hailing from Lebanon, I was very quickly interested in development and exchange and the partnerships to be built between countries. After training as an engineer, I wished to complete my studies on the aspects of international economics (DEA in economics), public policy management (ENA) and private management (MBA). My career path shows the desire to understand the subjects and contexts with a multidimensional and multidisciplinary view and a real interest in international relations and development issues in southern countries.
I joined the French Development Agency (AFD) in 2005, initially in the Middle East. I immediately wanted to work in project engineering, the core business of a development bank. I believe that solutions and projects must be designed and structured taking into account the specific context of each country. I thus worked for about 10 years on infrastructure and energy transition projects with a dual focus on access to basic services and low carbon solutions.
Meeting with the winners of the Meet AFRICA program during the Africa-France summit in October 2021@RR
In 2018, I took over as head of AFD’s Africa Department. This continent is the priority of French aid. The challenges and opportunities of the African continent are multiple: demography, growth, employment, access to basic services, peace and governance, biodiversity, human capital. On this continent, the need to establish development paths based on primary needs (infrastructure, health, education) in order to enhance human capital and governance, and the significant consideration of the challenges of the coming decades on issues of adaptation to climate change, sustainable development and respect for the environment, are all confronted. It is not about copying the development model of European countries, which is no longer viable.
“At AFD, we have worked on field-based solutions built by local actors with a partnership and co-construction approach”
At AFD, we have worked on field-based solutions built by local actors with a partnership and co-construction approach. Being born in a developing country, I am very sensitive to the fact that we do not reproduce pre-established models from one culture to another.
Expertise France (EF) was created in 2015 through the merger of several public operators. Since its creation, work has been carried out to establish it as an implementation operator like GIZ in Germany, Enabel in Belgium, FIIAP in Spain, and UNDP. France chose to integrate Expertise France into the AFD Group, which is now composed of three complementary agencies: Proparco, which represents the private sector, AFD, the world’s largest donor, and Expertise France, an implementing agency that advises, trains and strengthens the capacities of partner countries in terms of public policies.
I have therefore joined Expertise France as Deputy Director General in charge of operations in the fall of 2021. My appointment will accelerate the rapprochement between AFD and EF. More than 60% of EF’s operations are concentrated in Africa.
Expertise France operates in Mali. Does the reconfiguration of the military system have an impact on current activities?
Expertise France’s activity in Mali is in line with the pillars defined by the Coalition for the Sahel. As such, the agency is involved in strengthening the capacities of the armed forces of the States in the region, in order to promote stabilization and the return of the State in vulnerable areas. The reconfiguration of the military system is a future development that we are taking into account in our positioning in Mali in order to maintain our commitment to our partners in a difficult security context.
However, Expertise France’s operations cover broader sectors. Activities relating to health, education and financial governance represent around 40% of the agency’s interventions in Mali and are growing. More and more projects are being implemented in the areas of training, education and entrepreneurship.
“50% of Expertise France’s activity is concentrated in Africa, in accordance with the priorities defined by French public aid and by key donors for the agency”
More broadly, it is important to note that 50% of Expertise France’s activity is concentrated in Africa, in accordance with the priorities defined by French public aid and by key donors for the agency, such as the European Union.
To what extent do you also call upon “African expertise”? Which are not lacking and can complement the “French expertise”?
Historically, operators of the ministries and then the EF agency provided expertise from the French civil service. Today, Expertise France has diversified its pool of experts with different countries and backgrounds. The civil service pool now represents about 70% of the agency’s experts.
It should be noted that Expertise France is 60% financed by the European Union and, as such, when Expertise France implements a project financed by the EU, it operates in the service of European policy. Therefore, our experts, as well as our field project managers, can be, and increasingly are, from the countries in which Expertise France operates (Africa, Europe, etc). This approach is increasingly valued.
As Expertise France is the operator of French ministries, we operate with funding from our French ministries to serve a policy of partnerships or provide technical expertise to partner administrations. France recently decided to strengthen this activity by doubling the number of experts deployed, which will reach 300 by 2023.
“Expertise France wants to make the most of the expertise of the country in which the project is implemented”
Today, Expertise France, as well as other European actors, wants to make the most of the expertise of the country in which the project is implemented. In other words, if we go to Mali, it is interesting and enriching to rely on the pool of local experts. It also allows us to mobilize experts with a good understanding of the country’s culture, which is a real asset. I can mention the recent “Talents in Common” program led by France, which finances experts in Togo as part of a local mission, or more recently, in Senegal, a local agency, Synergie, with whom we are in talks to mobilize local expertise.
Among these priorities, what are yours, and finally the direction you would like to give to Expertise France in its “All Africa” approach, in this post-COVID context of economic recovery on the continent?
In this new phase that is starting, the integration into the AFD group will be quite structuring for us. Indeed, AFD and EF are expanding their partnerships and are increasingly involved in “Team Europe” initiatives and approaches. Similarly, the desire to move closer to the ground is leading us to decentralize more and more teams and decisions. This is why EF is stepping up its presence in the ground with dedicated offices in Guinea, Mali, Tunisia and the Comoros, with a delegation of decisions for greater agility and responsiveness. In terms of themes, Africa will remain the priority, with several priority themes and in particular those mentioned at the recent Africa-France summit, namely: youth and entrepreneurship, education, health, gender, governance, international justice cooperation, peace and security of populations, and of course all the support to the processes of digitization and the consideration of the climate dimension which remains a priority for all of us. All of our actions will continue to be carried out as close as possible to the populations.
Find out more: https://www.expertisefrance.fr/actualite?id=841312