Wed. Dec 7th, 2022

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrived in Africa for a gathering of French-speaking countries grappling with chaos in Haiti, soaring food prices and anxiety over the role of language in the digital age.

Members of the International Organization of La Francophonie are gathering this weekend in Tunisia to assess a turbulent period in geopolitics and seek closer ties.

Like the Commonwealth, Francophonie holds annual meetings that touch on everything from human rights to cultural exchange to France’s international role.

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The summit is the fourth and final stop on a 10-day trip that included three major summits in Asia, including the G20 leaders’ meeting.

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This weekend’s summit follows cancellations in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It comes as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is sending food prices soaring across Africa, which makes up a growing percentage of the French-speaking world.

This issue is of particular concern in North Africa, where the price of bread was among the grievances that exploded in the Arab Spring protests of 2010-2012.

“There will be very important geopolitical issues,” University of Alberta political scientist Frederic Boily said in a French-language interview.

“The food problems on the African side are pretty obvious.”

Click to play video: 'Trudeau defends lunch with Saudi Arabia's Mohammed bin Salman at APEC summit'

Trudeau defends lunch with Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman at APEC summit

The Arab Spring protests began in Tunisia, which led to the overthrow of then president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and the establishment of democratic elections.

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But the country that hosted this weekend’s summit backslid, as Tunisian President Kais Saied suspended parliament in 2021, concentrating power and attacking key institutions.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have expressed concern that Saeed’s government is imprisoning journalists, firing judges and giving religion a prominent role in the military.

Ottawa wanted the event postponed because of those concerns, while the Quebec government considered a boycott before deciding it was better to use the summit to forge deeper ties with African nations.

On Friday, Trudeau said he would emphasize the importance of human rights during the summit.

“I will express my concern about the democratic backsliding we are seeing in many parts of the world and our concern about what is happening in Tunisia,” he told reporters in French at the closing of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Bangkok.

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The clash with Xi remains in the spotlight as Trudeau heads to Thailand for APEC

Moments later, Reuters reported that Tunisian police fired tear gas to disperse protesters in the town of Zarzis, which is linked by a long bridge to the resort of Djerba, where the summit will be held.

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The protests may have been linked to the recent upheaval over the Tunisian government’s response to the deaths of its citizens in shipwrecks as migrants attempted to cross the Mediterranean Sea.

The ongoing turmoil in Haiti is likely to be a frequent topic of discussion at the summit, with the Caribbean country rocked by brazen gangs that have choked off supplies of fuel and basic necessities.

The country’s government has requested a foreign military intervention to restore order, but the idea is controversial among Haitians, and no country has expressed willingness to lead such an intervention _ despite the United States government rejecting Canada as a possible candidate.

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Meanwhile, the organization’s main event, the Games of Francophonie, is reportedly in disarray.

The Games are scheduled for next summer, but Radio-Canada reported this week that officials have warned the Democratic Republic of Congo that missed deadlines and cost overruns could make it impossible for the country to host the event.

The summit includes a Sunday plenary session on “citizen distrust” and how institutions can restore their credibility.

But his main themes surround the promotion of French in the digital age. The group’s leader, Louise Mushikiwabo, recently complained that international bodies seem to be using French less and less, despite the rise in the number of French speakers globally.

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Click to play video: 'Trudeau on tense moment with Chinese President Xi at G20:

Trudeau on the tense moment with Chinese President Xi at the G20: “Not every conversation will be easy”

The summit will also consider improving French-language education, especially in African countries that lack stability.

Trudeau plans to meet in Tunisia with leaders from several countries, just weeks after hosting an African Union delegation in Ottawa aimed at strengthening Canada’s ties with the continent.

He will also speak at the summit with Quebec Premier Francois Legault as the two spar over health care transfers.

“Certainly, a big priority at the Francophonie summit is the protection of the French language, in Quebec and everywhere,” Trudeau said in French.

The organization celebrates its fifth decade this year and counts 88 regions, including Canada, Quebec and New Brunswick, as full members, with Ontario listed as an observer.

© 2022 The Canadian Press