French Ambassador Gives Interview to Abuja Daily...
Interview of HE M Jean-Michel DUMOND
Nigeria Is Not Well Known In France – French Ambassador
LEADERSHIP, MARCH 17, 2008
By Kunle Somorin
Until his posting to Nigeria as the French ambassador and an accredited representative of the French government Jean-Michel Dumond was the deputy head of the French mission in Berlin, Germany. His career spanning many years, had mostly been in Europe. Therefore, his assignment in Nigeria where his country has so much business interest becomes his first posting to Africa, yet the interaction between the two countries and its peoples remains at a very low level, but the French diplomat would not accept that language has been responsible for it. To Ambassador Dumond, the real reason is "ignorance" This he said, in his first interview since arriving the country in January, will be his major task during his duty tour in Nigeria. He also spoke on many other global issues to Kunle Somorin and Emmanuel Iffer.
Your Excellency can you paint a picture of the relationship between France and Nigeria?
Well! France and Nigeria share the same global vision, we share the same basic values, and we both work towards adapting to a globalised world. We both have a common ambition of eliminating poverty and making progress towards development. We both work towards strengthening the rule of law, justice and transparency, as well as cultural diversity. So those are our common goals as members of the world community.
And when you look at events on the world stage, on many occasions, France and Nigeria have been on the same line. One can say that we both have common interests. When it comes to trade, Nigeria is the second biggest trade partner of France in sub-Saharan Africa; we have about 10 per cent of Nigeria’s internal market. We also top the list of investors in this country. We have about 160 enterprises that are performing very well in Nigeria’s economy. So clearly we have a very large economic interest in this country.
On the other hand, Nigeria is also exporting a lot of oil to France, last year alone; one billion dollars worth of oil was exported from here to France. So that is the first point I want to emphasize: huge economic interests. Secondly, the stability of the West African region, and we are indeed appreciative of the role Nigeria is playing in this part of the world, as a global power on the continent of Africa. We do appreciate the role its forces are playing in peacekeeping operations all over Africa.
But when we look at the political level, the relationship doesn’t match our present economic relation, as well as the role we are playing in the region, and I think in the coming years, this has to be considered as an important aspect of the relation between Nigeria and France. France is not well known in Nigeria, just as Nigeria is also not well known back in France, so I think one of my major tasks while I serve here will be to work on this to ensure that our two countries get to know each other better than it is the case presently.
How do you hope to bring about the realisation of this vision?
I think we have to develop the political, cultural and economic relation between our two countries. How do we go about this is by facilitating missions from Nigeria to France, and from France to Nigeria. By facilitating, particularly, trips of business people from France to Nigeria, as well as for me to go to France from time to time to present the diversified realities of Nigeria to the people of France. And it is within this global framework that we shall strengthen the bound between our two countries.
I think we can begin this process with exchanges at many levels. Already our minister has extended an invitation to your minister of foreign affairs to visit France, and your foreign minister has accepted the invitation in principle, this visit will provide them the opportunity to discuss on how to establish a global relation between Nigeria and France, which would allow for the setting out of a new partnership between us. As you know, we have decided to establish a framework between France and Nigeria which would deal with any issue on the international agenda. Our plan is to take full advantage of the pending meeting between the two ministers to set out the global framework of our relation. Our thinking is that this relation should no longer be just between one arm of government alone, but all the other arms of government as well, for instance, between parliaments, a situation where parliamentarians from Nigeria would visit France and interact with their fellow parliamentarians in France and the other way round. These encounters would afford the visitors an opportunity of exchanging views, thereby sharing experiences amongst themselves.
There could also be relations between other bodies such as civil society groups and NGOs, or between Nigerian States and France regions. It is a pity that at present, there is no single partnership existing between any Nigerian State and any French region.
Don’t you think that language could have been a barrier, considering that Nigeria is English an speaking country?
Absolutely not. Honestly, I don’t think language can be a barrier.
So what do you think is responsible for this situation?
I think it is a question of mutual ignorance, I think our two peoples do not know themselves well enough, because so far as culture is concerned, there is no barrier. For instance, the French people have recently discovered that Nigeria had in the past an incredibly rich culture, thanks to an exhibition in Paris about Benin culture of Nigeria, and most French didn’t know there were such rich art works in Nigeria. So it is more a matter of ignorance. We must now work towards developing the knowledge about ourselves.
So clearly, the question of language is not much of a problem, afterall, there are many Nigerians who speak French or want to speak French. When you go out there, you meet many Nigerians who are willing to learn the French language, without asking for a sponsoring from the French, which tells you a lot about a desire for the French language in the country.
At some point, French language was adopted as Nigeria’s second official language, how did the French government got involved with this project?
Well, it is up to the Nigerian government to tell us exactly what they want us to do, but what I can tell you is that when you consider our cooperation, and I can assure you that what we are doing is always based on local requests, you will notice a clear difference between us and many others. Our cooperation focuses mainly on teaching the French language and on cooperation with schools and other learning institutions.
We do know that there is a French language school in Lagos, which is purely managed by Nigerians are we likely to see your government sending some experts to assist?
Well, we have a network of schools, and in all these schools, we have French people sent by the French government to organise French lessons. We are happy that many Nigerians attend classes in these places and learn the language.
Most international relation experts are of the view that Nigeria has not benefited from her relation with France, particularly in ECOWAS, it is believed that France is the one that has always worked against Nigeria’s interest in favour of its former colonies within the organization what is your take on this?
Very bluntly, I think this is not accurate. I cannot recall a single occasion when we worked against Nigeria’s interests in ECOWAS. What I must tell you is that we commend the role ECOWAS is playing. Let’s take the issue of peace, security and stability. If you recall what happened in Chad when rebel groups decided to overthrow the legal government there, we refrained from firing a single shot. We decided to wait for the decision of the African Union in Addis Ababa and for the declaration by the president of the Security Council in New York.
So our major concern now is to see how we can help to build a new security system on the continent of Africa, which we believe should be in accordance with the way Africans themselves want it to be built. In this regard I can say that ECOWAS is playing an active role, by building a force that sometimes in the future can be deployed to intervene when security is threatened. Our objective is to help, through an open and honest assistance, so that Africa meet up with this objective of peace, security and stability on their continent, not only through the ECOWAS but the African Union as well.
For instance, there is going to be an exercise in Bamako to demonstrate how these forces are being built, there has been similar exercises in Abuja, a few weeks back, in which many French officers were involved, so that is how we are looking at things now.
As you know, we want to give a new impetus to the relation between France and Africa, our President, Nicolas Sarkozy, was in South Africa a few days ago. When you look at his speech in Cape Town, it is clearly said that he wants to establish a new pattern of relationship with Africa, which is based on our common values and understanding of the world and common interests, but this is not something that can be achieved in a day.
Are we likely to be seen a relationship between France and African more in terms of strategic interest rather than historical as has been the case all this while?
Clearly, history is history and we can not change it, but what I would like to stress is our desire to establish a new partnership with all African nations. It does not mean losing sight of the reality history has forged between France and some African countries. Definitely France is looking at deepening cooperation with all African countries.
Are you likely going to have a stronger relation with Nigeria more than some Francophones?
But why would you look at it as a competition. Nigeria is a very huge country with a very large population, it is one of our largest trade partners in Africa, and as far as trade is concerned we want the relation to be even more active.
Many Nigerians believe that, the lose of Bakassi to Cameroon is because of France, due to the large deposit of oil in the area, how do you react to this?
What I can say is that there was a judgment delivered by the international court of Justice, and both the Nigerian and Cameroonese governments had decided to abide by the judgement. France never interfered.
But really, is the French government happy with the fact that the judgment reduced Nigeria’s local governments and given to Cameroon?
Well, as you know, the case was not just about Bakassi but all along the border from Lake Chad to the Gulf of Guinea. There are spots where the court decided in favour of Nigeria, and in some instances in favour of Cameroon. But what the court decided was not our concern. Our concern is about stability, because it could have led to instability which we are always worried about, especially when the stability and security of the region is at stake.
One was wondering why the group from France which was caught with children in Chad has to be sent to France for their jail term at the request of the French government?
Because it is a legal agreement entered into for certain cases, between independent states, whereby people condemned abroad can serve their jail terms in their home countries, without changing the nature of the punishment, except in a situation where the authorities where the judgement was rendered decide to pardon or adjust the sentence.
But really what is the philosophy behind this kind of agreement?
It is very simple, when such a sentence is passed on you, you prefer to serve your time in jail where your family members are, where you have your own people. But this is only possible when such an agreement already exists between France and the considered country.
The issue of the economic partnership between Europe and ECOWAS, where the EU was given ECOWAS a deadline to enter into the agreement, what do you think is the implication of this hard line posture on the part of Europe?
As you see negotiations are still on, that is all I can say.
But there was a deadline; can you say that negotiations are still going on?
You see there was nothing hidden about it. The only thing is that the former Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) agreement was about to expire on December 31, 2007 and countries that benefit from this agreement were bound to loose such advantages. But negotiations are still on.
But do you think that African countries stand to benefit from these kinds of agreements?
Of course, that is the intention.
Because we have seen things happen and you know that such relationship between Africa and Europe has never been mutual, so do Africans stand to benefit from EPA?
Yes, that is the reason for negotiations to be going on. I do believe that, at the end of the day, everyone will get some benefit from it.
The agreement was that under this arrangement, there wasn’t going to be subsidy if we are to trade like partners, but till today subsidy existing, in OECD countries, so what have to you to say about that?
Well, we are going to negotiation with an open mind that there will be something for everyone to benefit in a mutual way.
Recently Kosovo declared independence, you and other Europeans supported it, and now Taiwan is already looking in that direction, do France think that the unilaterally way Kosovo declared independence is in order, wouldn’t it create stability problem in that region?
We think this move will contribute to political stability in the region. Shortly after the unilateral declaration of independence, member states from the European Union met and agreed on two things, one, every country should decide on what it feels is right, secondly, they agreed on sending European forces to take over from those of the UN, so as to help stabilize the situation.
But how are you going to resolve the looming crisis between Serbia that is supporting the Kosovo action?
Well, we are open to discussion with Serbia and we are taking into consideration their views, but we believe, under the present circumstances, this move remains the best option to calm down the volatile situation in that area.
About Iran, how do will reconcile that accusation Iran that it is planning nuclear weapon, considering that this was the same way Saddam was accused eventually invaded but the story now is no weapon of mass destruction?
I do not see any contradiction between the positions we adopted vis-à-vis the two countries. Events in Iraq, as you know, showed that we were right. Concerning Iran, we want to find a way to solve the issue. That’s why we are trying to combine openness and firmness.
Nigeria had election last year, which EU has deeply interested in, and your observers, like many others returned a negative verdict on the conduct of the polls, but few days back the tribunal said that the election was clean, how does France react to this?
As you know, final judgement is not yet known since the case is now going to the Supreme Court. So let’s wait for the outcome at the Supreme Court.