Stephanie Rivoal, the new French Ambassador to Uganda presented her credentials to President Yoweri Museveni on Oct. 21. She later spoke to the press at her residence in Nakasero on Nov. 18 about France’s ties with Uganda.
This is Rivoal’s first posting as a diplomat and, she says, it is Uganda’s geopolitics, business prospects, and the humanitarian aspects that made her choose Uganda.
“We have economic interests in the country. We would like to promote French companies that are already here in Uganda but also attract more that would like to come in,” says the non-career diplomat who started out as a banker working with Goldman Sachs in London in the 1990s. Her decades’ long stay in the UK helped her perfect her English which also played an important part in her choice of Uganda.
Rivoal says political stability and security of the Great Lakes region is at the heart of her country’s permanent interests in Uganda.
Rivoal says besides promoting French culture, France is looking forward to increasing her business presence in Uganda as much as possible while at the same time contributing to Uganda’s economic development.
There are already 40 French companies of various sizes; from big ones Total Oil and to the cement maker Lafarge to small ones which are involved in agriculture and tourism. She thinks political stability coupled with the growing population will attract the French companies here.
In the area of security, Rivoal says her government working in collaboration with its American and British counterparts has been training the Ugandan army preparing them for the pacifying mission in Somalia. Over 6000 UPDF soldiers have been equipped with the latest military skills, she says.
The French army, she says, have also initiated another project where they are training Ugandan soldiers in mountainous warfare. She says France and Uganda somehow share the same geography. France is also keen on helping Uganda in her quest to develop in a sustainable manner. In the era of climate change, that matters a lot.
In recent years, France has increasingly become an important player in Uganda’s economic development with the oil major, Total, showing interest in developing the country’s oil and gas resources.
The French development agency (AFD) which has been in Uganda for close to 20 years has also more than doubled its interventions in Uganda over the last three years, concentrating on sustainable and equitable development projects in three main sectors; infrastructure including water and sanitation, energy, environment and climate change, as well as the private sector. In 2015, AFD committed over € 73m and that figure rose to € 121.5m in 2016.
Rivoal says AFD’s support is consistent with the main Uganda government priorities and private actors. It is also in line with the sustainable development goals and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
Rivoal’s early life
Rivoal whose family is originally from the north-western French region of Bretagne was born an only child in a middle-class family on Oct. 9, 1971 in Montreuil in the district of Seine Saint Denis, on the outskirts of the French capital.
Her parents were civil servants—her mother a teacher while her father was a policeman. She says her parents; especially her mother took her education seriously. Rivoal’s education success even became more important when her parents got divorced earlier in her life.