Farewell message of Mr Sylvain Berger, Ambassador of France to Zambia
“I have come to the end of my 3 years mission as ambassador of France to Zambia.
I am very sad to leave this beautiful country and its so nice people, notably all the friends that my wife and I met. My children, all grown up, living in Europe, also loved very much Zambia, where they came from time to time. My eldest daughter even got wedded in Livingstone last week, inspite of the persistant constraints of covid-virus between Africa and Europe ! A part of my heart will remain in this wonderful part of Africa.
I was supposed to be received on my last day by HE the President of Zambia, but unfortunately this meeting didn’t take place, apparently because of a problem of coordination between the ministry of foreign affairs and State House.
At this farewell courtesy call, in principle traditional, I intended to thank him for the warmth I received from Zambian people, and share briefly my experience here, and my hopes for this country. I met him on several collective occasions, like inaugurations of development projects, but never could speak just with him.
I would have liked to be able to contribute more to the strengthening of French-Zambian relations ; it was difficult because of the problems Zambia has been facing in the last three years, with so many macro-economic and financial difficulties. And since March, covid complicated obviously the task. Three projects of agreements or declarations of intent could not be signed by the Zambian side inspite of my constant efforts, even if two of them were proposed first by Zambian authorities. The project of updating our very outdated fiscal bilateral convention could have been signed since 2016. Some arrears due to french companies by Zambian public entities have not been paid since 2015-2016.
But I don’t mean to criticize Zambia or Zambian authorities. I am humble : France also has its problems, due to a heavy second wave of virus, and submitted to two terrorist attacks in the last month. And our political relationship is cloudless since Zambian independence. We have notably a good military cooperation.
Our big companies, like Total, Bollore, or Lafarge, demonstrate every day their trustfulness to Zambia. Others show also their skills, notably in the renovation of Kariba dam, with Razel Bec or Freyssinet, or in the creation of the first and cheapest solar panels plant in Zambia, by Neoen, or interesting off-grid solutions, by Engie. I was happy to take part to the conference on renewable energies end of October organized with the minister of energy by the French Zambian Chamber of commerce, born only two years ago but already so efficient. CMA-CGM, AGS, Newrest, are also very active and useful. And we have many other successful companies in other areas like Parmalat, or Seedco (partly owned by Limagrain), and more are to come.
I would like to thank my fellow citizens for their contribution to the development of this country. The French community is small but very persistent and committed, in companies or NGOs. The French Development Agency finances interesting public projects (Itezhi Tezhi, Southern division, Mulenga waters, …), as well as Proparco for private projects.
I was pleased to be able, with local supports, to achieve some successes. Our French school has stood the test of virus. Our Alliance Française has been renovated and introduces new ways of teaching French. I met so many talented Zambian singers, painters, film makers or writers. We organized, beginning of October, with the Zambian directorate of museums, a ceremony of grant, sponsored by Total, of beautiful chokwe artefacts.
Our ministry of environment finances for five years the Kasanka national Park, so important for biodiversity, even if their project is currently geopardised by a foreign private encroachment, led against almost all Zambian legislations.
I obtained a financial assistance from Paris, to help the ministry of health to get medical equipments and pharmaceutical products at the start of covid epidemic in Zambia.
But what I mean is that I am convinced that we could have done so much more in our bilateral relations in those three years.
I hope that my successor will be as happy as me in Zambia, and will be more successful to get bilateral documents signed at last, then implemented. I believe in the future of Zambia, which could become a rich country. The current political polarization doesn’t help. The antic Romans used to say « mens sana in corpore sano », which means « a sound mind in a sound body ». It is difficult to have a sound economic body if you don’t have a sound political mind. Zambian entrepreneurs and foreign investors need to have a predictable and profitable horizon. European companies can’t indulge in corruption and expect a better environment, which supposes the long-awaited reform of ZESCO and of public procurement by fair tenders. IMF help will be increasingly necessary. Infrastructure investments are important but industry matters too. As well as invisible investments, in education, vocational training, and health, especially in a country where the demographic growth is so high, complicating all efforts of development.
Zambia has already good assets, thanks to its stability, openness, and rejection of criminality.
But a kind of culture of violence seems to increase during by-elections, due to some uncontrolled cadres. I hope that the next general elections will be peaceful. It will be only possible if the result is accepted, who ever is the winner; which goes through an even level of campaign, in particular a better freedom of meeting and expression, and a more pluralistic media landscape. HE the President calls for it, more and more. May he be heard.
France, for the first time, will contribute to the United Nations Basket Fund supporting the 2021 elections, so decisive for the country.
I wish the best to Zambian people, who deserves it, and successfully managed so far to contain the spread of the covid-virus, thanks to a pragmatic policy of the authorities, and a sufficient discipline of the population.
I hope to be able to come back soon, as an ordinary tourist, to meet again my friends, and see further progresses of the country.
Meanwhile, I will try to be a second ambassador of Zambia in Paris, if and when Mrs Christine Kaseba Sata, with whom I worked very well, needs me.
Long live Zambia, and long live French-Zambian relations!
Thanks again, dear Zambians, stay safe and farewell!”