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What does Gabon have to gain by joining the Commonwealth?

Ali Bongo, the Gabonese president, has promised that his country will join the Commonwealth in 2022. A symbolic or really beneficial action for Gabon?

During his speech of greetings, Ali Bongo, the president of Gabon, warned that his country, in 2022, "should integrate the great family of the Commonwealth, a strong family of 54 States". If the information is still combined with the conditional, the Head of State already sees it as "a major geopolitical turning point for our country which wishes, in a globalized world, to open up and join another multicultural space which is also promising for our country. ".

A choice that surprised. Because if Mozambique and Rwanda are not former British colonies, the members of the international organization all have in common that they were once under the thumb of the United Kingdom.

For several years, France and Gabon are no longer the best friends in the world. And in 2020, Ali Bongo's country has therefore decided to start its process of joining the Commonwealth. During his speech for the new year, the Gabonese president made it clear that he did not wish "to abandon his 'French-speaking identity'". But, if membership of the Commonwealth is confirmed, there is no doubt that France and Gabon will move further apart.

If Gabon has managed to make good progress on this issue, it is above all thanks to its environmental policy. “Gabon has many assets to join the Commonwealth. In particular the commitment to climate change and sustainable development policies, the stability of the country for many decades and its commitment to the stability of the sub-region and the continent, as well as Gabon's commitment to human rights. 'man and gender equality', indicated, without any irony, the Gabonese government last May.

Ali Bongo was then returning from an official visit to London. There he had met the Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Baroness Patricia Scotland, as well as Prince Charles. Everything seemed complete for Gabon to be integrated into the Commonwealth a month later, at a summit in Kigali, which finally had to be postponed to 2022. Unless it was surprised, Ali Bongo should therefore achieve his goals this year.

Ango-Saxon autonomy vs. French condescension

But what interest does Gabon have in joining the Commonwealth? First of all, the country knows, like all the member countries of the Francophonie, that Paris does not shine as brightly as before. Opening up to the English-speaking world has almost become a necessity in a context where French influence is reduced to its bare minimum.

But for all that, Commonwealth membership brings nothing in terms of economic trade or reduction of customs taxes. The attraction of the Commonwealth is based on a myth: the one which, in French-speaking countries, "says that you have to be an Anglo-Saxon country to be able to develop", summarizes the Ivorian political analyst, Sylvain Nguessan, at the BBC . And the expert added that "no French-speaking colony has been able to develop so far, unlike the Anglo-Saxon countries which have been able to take off a little."

The example of Rwanda, which accompanies Ali Bongo in his approach, is not unrelated to the creation of this myth. The country, after joining the Commonwealth, has indeed turned into a true model of economic miracle.

If it does not bring direct economic benefits, the Commowealth would in reality be a way for member countries to free themselves from a French “yoke”. For Sylvain Nguessan, “some say to themselves that there is a way of thinking about the Francophone and a way of thinking about the Anglo-Saxon. And that when you are Anglo-Saxon, you are more inclined to take charge, you are more focused on entrepreneurship ”. Above all, assures, always to the BBC, the analyst, the Commonwealth makes it possible to bring "a minimum of autonomy", where France always wants to control everything.

“The French,” concludes journalist Bacary Domingo Mané, “are people who had a style of domination, even to the limit, they had a kind of condescension in relation to colonized countries, while the English style obviously grants a certain freedom and importance to countries ”.

Still, Gabon, if it joins the Commonwealth, will have a lot to do. On the one hand, he will have to spare French sensibilities. The Elysée indeed loses a new ally and will inevitably lower its aid and investments in Gabon. But Ali Bongo must, if he wants to emancipate himself, show that his country is capable of moving forward in complete autonomy.

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