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Faure Gnassingbé and Ali Bongo, one foot in Djerba, the head in London

The presidents of Gabon and Togo will be present tomorrow in Tunisia on the occasion of the Summit of the International Organization of La Francophonie, a few months after expressing their desire to join the Commonwealth.

After many adventures, the 18th Summit of the International Organization of La Francophonie (OIF) will finally begin in Djerba, Tunisia, on November 19. Many distinguished African guests will make the trip, including the President of the African Union and of Senegal Macky Sall, the Central African Faustin-Archange Touadéra, Comorian Azali Assoumani or even the presidents of Madagascar and Niger, Andry Rajoelina et Mohamed Bazoum. At a time when France is losing more and more ground in Africa, this meeting is of capital importance.

Two other presidents are also eagerly awaited: Ali Bongo Ondimba and Faure Gnassingbé. The Gabonese and the Togolese have, in recent months, makes eyes at the UK to join the Commonwealth. Enough to keep the two former French colonies away from Paris. Their presence is therefore symbolic.

A major political upheaval

Because the scheduled accessions of Gabon and Togo to the Commonwealth have caused a lot of ink to flow. Last April, the Gabonese Head of State also had to clarify his approach: "This is a major geopolitical turning point for our country which wishes, in a globalized world, to open up and adhere to another multicultural space that is also promising for our country”, he affirmed before specifying that “Gabon will not abandon its 'French-speaking identity'”.

However, French risks being increasingly neglected in these two countries. Bongo already warned, a long time ago, that he wanted to make English the language of education. Beyond languages, the accessions of Gabon and Togo to the Commonwealth are a real "major geopolitical upheaval taking place in the French-speaking world", assures the former Gabonese minister Jonathan Ndoutoume Ngom to the DW site.

Indeed, he says, “a certain enmity has developed between France and some of its former colonies. We see it with the Central African Republic and Mali. It is a serious message, a message of warning which is sent to Paris. Other countries are looking to the Commonwealth. France should reorient its African policy”.

Especially since before these two countries, another former French-speaking colony - Belgium had torn the country from Germany -, Rwanda, had joined the Commonwealth in 2009. Something to give ideas to other French-speaking African states , who would not be against penetrating a market estimated at more than two billion consumers.

Two complementary approaches?

This 18th OIF summit is therefore very important. While English undeniably remains the language of business, the Francophonie must continue to attract, while the English-speaking area seems much more dynamic economically than the French-speaking area.

And the growing disinterest of some countries for the Francophonie is extremely worrying. In June 2021, the boss of the OIF, Rwandan Louise Mushikiwabo, had traveled to Libreville to meet Ali Bongo. She had not publicly expressed her concern about Gabon's application for Commonwealth membership. But the subject had been put on the table and Bongo had, on social networks, assured that "Gabon intends to combine its full and entire membership in the great family of the Francophonie" despite its application for membership of the Commonwealth, specifying that " these two initiatives are in no way opposed”.

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