A summit of French-speaking countries is being held in Tunisia this weekend, with 30 leaders focusing on economic cooperation in an event seen as a success for Tunisian President Kais Saied, more than a year after he took power in a coup.
While the two-day summit will officially focus on “digital as a development vector”, it will also be an opportunity for Western and African leaders to discuss topics such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, where there is a gap in views.
Many African countries have criticized what they perceive as a lack of international solidarity with the continent in the face of its own crises, noting that Europe was able to mobilize quickly to come to Ukraine’s aid.
This 18th summit of the International Organization of Francophonie (OIF) on the island of Djerba will also be an opportunity to celebrate the belated 50th birthday of the organization founded in 1970 with 88 members — not all of whom are French, including Armenia, Egypt, Moldova, the United Arab Emirates and Serbia.
The summit coincides with the final phase of COP27 on climate in Egypt and follows the G20 meeting in Indonesia, which was dominated by the war in Ukraine, an observer country within the OIF.
A total of 89 delegations, seven international organizations and more than thirty leaders are present, including French President Emmanuel Macron, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, European Council President Charles Michel and Senegalese leader Macky Sall.
The re-election of the OIF secretary-general – Rwanda’s Louise Mushikiwabo was the only candidate – is also on the agenda for two days of meetings of representatives from an area of 321 million French speakers that will more than double to 750 million in 2050, thanks to African demographics.
Ahead of the summit, Ms Mushikiwabo told AFP she wanted to ask member states to “redouble their efforts” in the face of the decline in the use of French in international organisations.
Despite critical voices denouncing the “silent” Francophonie, Mushikiwabo considered her organization “more relevant than ever” and able to “bring a little added value” to “most of the world’s problems”, citing COP27.
According to an official from Canada, a heavyweight in the Francophone world, the organization “can be a positive force” on issues such as “peace, economic prosperity and the consolidation of democracy.”
This official indicated that Canada also wanted to express, during the summit, “concerns” about “democratic participation” in Tunisia since President Saied assumed full powers in July 2021 and is going through a serious socio-economic crisis.
Emmanuel Macron calls for greater support for Ukraine
Emmanuel Macron will not give a speech at the La Francophonie summit in Tunisia, but plans to raise the Ukraine issue behind the scenes to try to win support at the end of a long diplomatic tour.
After the G20 in Bali and the Apec meeting in Bangkok, the French president called on more countries to join the “growing consensus” against the war.
And several French-speaking leaders have made it clear they want to talk about the war in Ukraine.
During his visit to Djerba, Macron will have a series of bilateral meetings, including with the Tunisian president and the Armenian prime minister.
The French president lamented that “less French is spoken in the Maghreb countries than 20 or 30 years ago”, citing “quasi-political forms of resistance”, the ease of using English and the difficulty of accessing books in French at affordable prices.
He went on to say that “we must have a project of reconquest”, calling for the French language to be made “hospitable” again by showing that it is possible to speak a French that is “not necessarily academic”, but a language that facilitates commerce.
For the African continent, “it is a real universal language”, “Francophonie is the language of pan-Africanism”, he added.
Emmanuel Macron leaves Tunisia on Saturday night, while the summit formally ends on Sunday.