The Fate of la Francophonie

Do we still need an organization of France's former colonies? Whose interests does it actually serve?

Francois Hollande. Image by European Parliament. Via Flickr Creative Commons Licensed.

The 15th Summit of the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF) was held in Dakar last month. The organization, which boasts a membership of 57 countries (mostly former French colonies) has as a primary objective, “to promote the French language and cultural and linguistic diversity.”  However, both as an institution and as a concept, Francophonie is rooted in French colonial history and Françafrique murky political and economic dealings.  So, what does Francophonie means anyway?

The Francophonie summits, which are held every two years, are idiotic gatherings that border on the ridicule and grotesque and makes one wish that leader like Thomas Sankara were still around. The summits usually display African artists entertaining their French guests, despite the fact that those same guests would invariably deny them visas to go perform in Europe.

Francophonie is mainly concerned about increasing the use of the French language around the world, especially holding its ground in Africa, its last frontier. In fact, by the year 2050, 80% of the people speaking French will be Africans. As President Francois Hollande said at the 2012 Francophonie summit in Kinshasa, “French is an African language…” with the unspoken caveat that Africans should stay home and speak it there. It goes without saying that African migrant workers are not welcome on French soil, no matter how sophisticated how well they mastered the French subjunctive.

Francophonie is France telling Africans “we share a common (ugly) history. Feel free to teach it to your children, but our kids need not know.”  It’s France telling African immigrants, we love hearing you speak French, but we would prefer not having to see you on our shores.

Francophonie means also African presidents dying in French hospitals because they never cared to build good hospitals at home. If you grew up in an African francophone country, such hospital names as “La Pitié-Salpêtrière” or “Les Invalides” became common parlance.

Francophonie means France going the extra mile to make sure that the Secretary General of OIF is not French but Francophile enough to enforce the French government’s agenda. At the Dakar summit, outgoing OIF SG and former Senegalese president Abdou Diouf passed the baton to the Canadian Michaëlle Jean, amidst complaints from African delegations.

At the institutional level, Francophonie functions as a network of political support for African lifelong presidents. Francophonie means the outgoing OIF SG Abdou Diouf prefacing a book titled “Compaoré: Stateman and Man of Action”, published only a couple of weeks before Compaoré was chased out of office by Burkinabe women with wooden spatulas. It also means Hollande airlifting Compaoré to safety to Cote d’Ivoire, before a permanent exile in Morocco, another hot spot of Francophonie. Compaoré’s exit route is eerily similar to that of Mobutu, another staple of Francophonie, a couple of decades ago.

Francophonie means ensuring that Bongo replaces Bongo in Gabon and Faure inherits Gnassingbé’s mandate.  It means also keeping Biya on life support at the helm of Cameroon, and using French troops to stop the rebels from taking over N’Djamena in 2008, saving private Déby. Francophonie means the outfitting of the African continent with French bases, from Djibouti to Dakar. Francophonie means Sarkozy delivering an infamous speech at the University of Dakar and saying the “tragedy of Africa is that the African hasn’t still entered history”… and getting a standing ovation. The African man “never launched himself towards the future. The idea never came to him to get out of [the] repetition and to invent his own destiny,” Sarkozy said, without flinching. Achille Mbembe’s response to the Dakar speech is a must read.

As the Senegalese writer Adama Gaye eloquently in this debate, at the end of the day, Francophonie means business. Literally. For the French economy.

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