End of the Djerba summit: the invisible Francophonie?

The XVIII Francophonie Summit ended with the reappointment of Secretary General Louise Mushikiwabo as head of the Organization de la Francophonie for a second term. Although French is increasingly used around the world, Ms. Mushikiwabo’s first term seems to have coincided with the invisibility of her organization’s action internationally. Critics call for the refoundation of the French-speaking space.

I have searched in vain, but I have trouble remembering some strong and significant initiatives taken by the Organization of La Francophonie (OIF) in recent years. I have the impression that the Francophonie has not drawn much attention since the retirement in 2014 of the Secretary General at the time, Abdou Diouf, who himself had exercised a real judiciary of influence on the countries of the French-speaking area “, confided recently to the microphone of RFI, the Mauritian politician and diplomat Jean-Claude de L’Estrac.

Jean-Claude de L’Estrac is not unknown in the world of institutional Francophonie. Many still remember this great French speaker who ran for Abdou Diouf in 2014. But it was his main competitor, the Canadian of Haitian origin Michaëlle Jean who was finally appointed to the post of secretary general. She had been dubbed by the French president at the time, François Hollande, who imposed his candidacy on the other member states of the organization, in particular on the Africans. Since then, in an essay rich in anecdotes and reflections on becoming French-speaking, entitled Francophonie: from Hanoi to Dakar, the broken pact (1), the Mauritian returned at length to the reasons for his defeat, despite a campaign of great content and prestigious support for his candidacy.

Today, Jean-Claude de L’Estrac is not the only one to point out the lack of dynamism and ambition of the Francophone movement. Other personalities have expressed themselves in this direction, in particular the Senegalese poet Amadou Lamine Sall, who castigated in a recent column published in a Canadian daily the ” painful lethargy of the OIF and its invisibility », for lack of adequate leadership at its head.

Louise Mushikiwabo in Djerba (Tunisia) on November 18, 2022.
Louise Mushikiwabo in Djerba (Tunisia) on November 18, 2022. © F24 / RFI

Paradoxically, Michaëlle Jean, who had to give up her seat at the end of her first term four years ago to the current Secretary General, the Rwandan Louise Mushikiwabo, has also joined the ranks of those disappointed by La Francophonie, and pleads for its refoundation. In a long article published in the monthly Diplomatic world (2), on the occasion of the summit of heads of state which ended this Sunday on the island of Djerba, in Tunisia, the former secretary general criticizes the orientations taken by the OIF since his departure and notably accuses France, the organization’s main funder, of wanting to relegate the Francophonie to the defense and illustration of French, denying the organization the right to take an interest in geopolitical or environmental issues.

Birth of La Francophonie

The history of the Francophonie goes back to colonial times, more precisely to 1880, when the French geographer Onésime Reclus introduced the term ” Francophonie » in his book France, Algeria and colonies, consecrating the durability of the French colonial empire. In the mind of the geographer, this neologism designated all the speakers of French throughout the world, with the language as the main cement of the imperial project. But the imperial project did not resist the wars and tragedies that punctuated the first half of the 20th century.

The first refoundation of the French-speaking idea thus dates from the end of the 1960s, marked by the collapse of the French colonial empire and the entry on the scene of independent countries in Asia and Africa. It was on the initiative of a quartet of enlightened leaders from new countries, including the Senegalese Léopold Sédar Senghor and the Tunisian Habib Bourguiba, that the first institutional Francophonie agency was born on March 20, 1970, with 21 Member States. , referred to as the Agency for Cultural and Technical Cooperation (ACCT). For the founding fathers of La Francophonie, as Senghor wrote, as early as 1962, in a famous article published in the magazine Esprit, ” French, the language of culture » « wonderful tool, found in the rubble of colonization was intended to consolidate links and exchanges between French-speaking countries. The ACCT, the ancestor of the future OIF created in 2006, then fell the task of imagining the conditions and operational modalities of these exchanges.

Political reconfiguration

Undated photo of Léopold Sédar Senghor, President of Senegal between 1960 and 1980.
Undated photo of Léopold Sédar Senghor, President of Senegal between 1960 and 1980. AFP

The years 1980-90 represent a new turning point for the institutional Francophonie with the affirmation of the political dimension of the movement. This dimension was already present, if not in the text, in the subtext of the Niamey Convention founding the ACCT in 1970. According to the provisions of this convention, solidarity between the French-speaking States was based both on the sharing of language and common values ​​such as democracy, human rights and peace, which contribute, according to Senghor, to the emergence of this “ integral humanism » which he called with all his wishes in his article in the magazine Spirit.

From 1986, with the holding at regular intervals of summits of French-speaking Heads of State, followed by the appointment of a Secretary General at the head of La Francophonie, on the model of United Nations organizations, the political dimension of the movement French-speaking community has gradually been strengthened, giving credibility to its actions aimed at promoting and implementing democratization processes in its Member States.

However, despite its successes in the areas of democracy and human rights, the OIF has seen its image blur, particularly in Africa where it is often perceived as ” an instrument of French influence, even an avatar of colonialism “, points out Antoine Glaser, specialist in Africa. “ Perceived as the Trojan horse of Françafrique and integrated into the political, military and financial system of France in Africa, continues the political scientistLa Francophonie has been the subject of criticism, even recently for having been absent subscribers during the fraudulent elections for the third terms of African leaders or even in the face of military coups in Mali, Guinea, Chad and Burkina Faso. . »

The preponderant role of France and Canada, the two main donors of the Francophonie, in the appointment of the secretary general of the OIF, are also regularly pointed out by critics. ” During my tour of Africa in 2014 to publicize my ideas and my proposals as a candidate for the post of Secretary General, my interlocutors kept asking me what France thought of my candidacy. “says Jean-Claude de L’Estrac not without a certain bitterness.

The former general secretary, Michaëlle Jean, declares to have been the victim, for her part, of ” political negotiations ” and of ” small strategic arrangements carried out behind the scenes to deprive her of a second term that she believed she fully deserved and to ” offer the OIFwrites Ms. Jean in her article in The diplomatic world, to none other than the President of Rwanda Paul Kagame, who cares neither for democracy nor for rights and freedoms, and moreover has even expelled the French language from the administration and all the institutions of his country, including academic. The appointment four years ago of Ms. Mushikiwabo to the post of Secretary General, everyone remembers, was much commented on in the media and at the time it gave rise to a great many misunderstandings and controversies.

Calls for refoundation

We are now very farlaments Jean-Claude de L’Estrac, of the beautiful and great project of the founding fathers who had imagined the Francophonie as a space of solidarity and exchanges between member countries placed on an equal footing. If we have moved away from this ideal, it is because the Francophonie has for several decades become a political and diplomatic tool in the hands of the merchants and financiers who govern us. And the former senior Mauritian official to call for the refoundation of La Francophonie. A refoundation which for him passes essentially through the economy. The man also campaigns for the industrialization of Africa, an objective which was already part of the twelve proposals on which he had built his campaign for his candidacy in 2014 to lead the OIF.

The economic Francophonie is an ambition that the Mauritian Jean-Claude de L’Estrac shares with the founding fathers of the movement. An old sea serpent, this idea regularly surfaces in debates and meetings around the future of the French-speaking world. Focused on culture, La Francophonie also sees itself, and this from its first charters, as an economic space which has made the question of solidarity for development one of its main challenges.

It is in sub-Saharan Africa that the French language is most widely spoken.
It is in sub-Saharan Africa that the French language is most widely spoken. © RFI Studio

Achieving this challenge does not seem out of reach today, given the formidable strike force of La Francophonie, as described in the 2022 report on The French language in the world (3). According to this document, French, the official language of 29 countries, is the fifth language on the planet, with 321 million speakers worldwide. It is the fourth language of the Internet, the third for economic exchanges, the second for the media and international organizations. In 2050, the world will have 750 million French speakers, and 90% of young French speakers will live in Africa.

The figures in the report remind us of the need to rebuild the Francophonie around the axes of education, co-development and respect for diversity which, in my opinion, constitute the conditions sine qua non the advent of a peaceful and prosperous Francophone future », underlines the Mauritian Jean-Claude de L’Estrac.

Was it this awareness of the importance of the economic Francophonie that led the OIF to extend its 2022 summit in Djerba by one day with an Economic Forum, with the themes of connectivity and digital as engine of development? It turns out that the development of digital with more content is one of the flagship projects of Secretary General Louise Mushikiwabo, who has just been reappointed to head the OIF for a second term.

(1) Francophonie: from Hanoi to Dakar, the broken pact, by Jean-Claude de L’Estrac. Editions Le Cherche-Midi, Paris, 2016

(2) “ Between France and Francophonie, the misunderstanding », by Michaëlle Jean, in The diplomatic worldNovember 2022

(3) The French language in the world, 2019-2022, coordinated by Alexandre Wolff, head of the Observatory of the French language. Editions Gallimard/International Organization of La Francophonie, 363 pages, Paris, 2022

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