Interview: Hugues Nordi, chargé d’affaires of France to The Gambia: “I am optimistic for the future of the country!”

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Appointed as chargé d’affaires of France in The Gambia last November, Mr. Nordi’s mission is to reopen the Banjul diplomatic branch, closed four years earlier. This antenna is attached to the French Embassy in Dakar. Four months after taking office, His Excellency received The Point to discuss bilateral relations between Banjul and Paris. In this interview, he talks about the reasons for the reopening of the closed diplomatic branch under Yaya Jammeh, the business opportunities of The New Gambia, the assistance that France brings to The Gambia in the judicial and security fields.

Thank you for receiving us, four months since your arrival in Banjul, where are you on the relaunch of bilateral cooperation between Banjul and Paris?

Hugues Nordi: you know that France was present in The Gambia until 2013, when the decision was taken in the political context of the time to close our representation here in Banjul. The recent developments in The Gambia, the election of December 1st, 2016 with the victory of President Adama Barrow and the return of The Gambia to democracy, which we have welcomed, prompted my government to reopen its diplomatic branch, attached to our embassy in Dakar. Our first contribution focused on a very important area for this country, that of transitional justice.

What interest does France have to get back to Gambia?

I believe that this interest is multifaceted. First, we want to fully support The Gambia in its new democratic trajectory. What happened more than a year ago in this country is remarkable in more ways than one. Remarkable because we did not expect this victory of the opposition. I do not think anyone expected, the Gambians themselves were taken by surprise. And above all, it is a magnificent example for the rest of the continent, of a perfectly successful democratic transition without a drop of blood being paid.

France also has interests in The Gambia?

Yes! We have a small community which, for the moment, has only 130 members, I hope it will grow. But there is already a shudder, an interest of a number of French companies for the Gambian market in various fields, including infrastructure, and may also be in the future, in the distribution.

The New Gambian political context offers a lot of opportunities that are reasons for French companies to take an interest in this country which opens the door to a very large market, constituted by the Sahel countries.

France also intends to contribute to the reform of the security sector. That is why we have assigned a colonel of the Gendarmerie to the Minister of the Interior: he brings his expertise to carry out this very delicate task, but essential for the long-term stability of the country.

Since your arrival, in what stage are you in the process of conciliating with Gambia?

I was extremely busy during the first weeks of my stay by purely material and logistical problems to install the antenna. The building that housed it until 2013 is no longer really habitable or it would require major renovations. We had to turn to another solution. I am still more or less in the preliminary phase of setting up our antenna, which, once operational, will allow me to devote myself fully to strengthening relations between our two countries. You know that we have supported the Gambia in various forms. President Adama Barrow was invited on 14 and 15 January 2017 at the France-Africa summit in Bamako, then to officially go to France in March 2017. The reopening of a diplomatic representation is a very strong signal. In October 2017, we organized a workshop on transitional justice at the Alliance Française, which will be extended on April 16 and 17 in the form of cultural meetings devoted to the same theme. These meetings will take place mainly at the Alliance Française with concerts, film screenings, but also in schools and the University of The Gambia.

France is in Gambia in different forms, there is an Alliance, a French school. What can France do to help to revive the Gambian economy which is experiencing a lot of difficulties?

It is true, France has always remained present in The Gambia: even when our diplomatic antenna was closed, the Alliance and the French School have always worked. We will soon be celebrating the 70th anniversary of this Alliance. I think it’s a popular place for Gambians for its sustained cultural activity. It is a place of welcome for Gambian artists: painters exhibit, musicians give concerts. The quality of the teaching provided at the French School, whose majority of students are of third nationalities, is recognized. Thus, the presence of France in The Gambia rests on several pillars: political, cultural and linguistic.

His Excellency how do you see the future of this country and the continent in general?

I do not have the ability to pronounce on the continent in general. On the other hand, with regard to The Gambia, I am resolutely optimistic. Certainly, it is not easy to get out of 22 years of political glaciation. No government, even with the best will, can do everything in a few months. But I am optimistic because a considerable path has already been traveled. The anchoring of democracy, the repeated commitment to the respect of the rule of law, of which we have tangible proofs, are to the credit of this government and this is extremely encouraging. In addition, the Gambian authorities pursue an active policy to attract foreign investors.

They have drawn up a National Development Plan which has been formally presented and which concretely sets out a number of objectives to be achieved in order to put the country back on track for growth, which is accelerating. The outlook for 2018 and for the coming year is encouraging as the Gambian Central Bank is forecasting growth of 4.5-5%. I sincerely hope that the Gambia donors’ conference, scheduled for May in Brussels, will be a great success, and allow the Gambian government to assemble the necessary aid to boost the country’s economy and catch up with the situation in time of infrastructure especially. 

Author: Amadou Barry
Source: Picture: Hugues Nordi , French diplomat