France welcomed the first steps of the Government of National Unity via mutual visits (visit by the Minister of State for Foreign Trade, Ms Anne-Marie Idrac in May 2009, the first ministerial visit since 1996). Zimbabwe’s Prime Minister, Mr Morgan Tsvangirai, made an official visit to France on 24-26 June 2009. In October 2011, the Minister of Education, Sport and Culture of Zimbabwe, Mr David Coltart, travelled to France for the UNESCO General Conference. The two countries’ determination to resume political dialogue was recently shown via political consultations at Secretary-General level in Harare on 5 June 2015, followed by the visit to Paris of Ms Oppah Muchinguri, Minister for the Environment, Water and Climate, for an informal ministerial meeting to prepare COP21 and her meeting with Ms Ségolène Royal. President Mugabe attended the Paris climate conference under the aegis of the UN (as the European sanctions regime did not prevent him from doing so).
Although limited, economic relations between France and Zimbabwe are developing. About ten French companies, including Total and Lafarge, are established in the country. Trade between the two countries has been limited since the economic crisis, and dominated, in terms of French exports (€20.4 million in 2015 compared to €51 million in 1999), by mining equipment, while imports (€57.2 million in 2015 compared to €29 million in 1999) mainly involved commodities (Customs).
Investments, which for a long time had been non-existent or very low, are beginning to increase (e.g. Limagrain acquired a US$40 million stake in SeedCo in 2014 and Lesaffre bought a US$8 million stake in Anchor Yeast in 2015, all Total service stations in the country were renovated and in 2015 a contract was signed between Bureau Veritas and the Zimbabwean government to carry out compliance checks on imports). Many French companies are showing an interest in the country, whose strengths (skilled workforce, mineral resources, natural resources) offer attractive opportunities once the “politically-rooted economic crisis”, as it is known in Zimbabwe, has been resolved and the appropriate policies implemented. A large business delegation, led by Medef International, travelled to Zimbabwe in January 2015 and was met by the President, demonstrating the Zimbabwean government’s desire to increase trade with France.
The growth sectors are infrastructure and urban services (water, transport, energy, waste, etc.), food, consumer goods, tourism, telecommunications, the mining sector and, more generally, modernizing an industrial sector which in many cases dates back to the1970s.
The economic and political crisis in the country since the end of the 1990s led to a recalibration of international assistance, including from France. Humanitarian assistance, including food, was a priority until 2010.
France is now the second-largest contributor to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, annually contributing US$23 million via the Global Fund and US$1.5 million via UNITAID.
The HIV prevalence rate fell from a high of 29.7% in 1997 to 14.7% in 2012 (according to UNAIDS) due to improvements in treating patients on antiretroviral therapy, prevention and screening.
French assistance to Zimbabwe is mainly through multilateral and European channels. UN institutions also played an important role (WHO, UNDP, etc.). France’s annual share in EU assistance to Zimbabwe is approximately €20 million. When combined with UN contributions, total annual French assistance to Zimbabwe is between €22 million and €25 million.
Despite the country’s significant debt (about $400 million owed to France), in 2011 assistance from Proparco to telecommunications operator Econet was agreed in the amount of US$20 million, followed by two further signed agreements in 2013 with banks (NMB and CABS) totalling US$20 million (AFD Group may resume operations in Zimbabwe in the non-sovereign, non fossil energy sector, based on three priority areas: water, energy and medium- to long-term credit).
France is contributing to sustainable development and environmental protection through CIRAD (French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development), via projects on the ground and academic research. The FSP-RenCaRe project, launched in December 2012, aims to limit the negative effects of interactions between men and wildlife on the edge of protected areas.
Culturally, the Alliances françaises in Harare and Bulawayo are our main support bases for spreading the French language and culture.
France is also involved in major local cultural events (Harare International Festival of The Arts, Shoko Festival, Quinzaine de la Francophonie (see the French Embassy website).
Updated: 9 March 2016