French-speaking leaders gather in Tunisia for Francophonie summit

Some 30 leaders of French-speaking countries met on a Tunisian Djerba island on Saturday to discuss debt relief, migration, food and energy shortages, amid soaring living costs across Africa, Europe and the Middle East due to the war in Ukraine.

French President Emmanuel Macron, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the presidents of six African nations were attending the 18th annual meeting of the 88-member International Organisation of La Francophonie on the island of Djerba in southern Tunisia.

European Council President Charles Michel was also in Tunisia for the two-day summit. This is the first gathering of the organisation for three years, following pandemic-related blockades and travel restrictions. The meeting is normally held every two years.

Louise Mushikiwabo, the group’s secretary-general and Rwanda’s former foreign minister, said participants plan to issue a final declaration on key political, social and economic issues at the end of the summit on Sunday.

They will also focus on “ways to boost the use of the French language in Europe and in international institutions, as its use is declining compared to English,” Mushikiwabo said.

The presidents of Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Mauritania, Niger and Burundi represent more than 320 million French speakers on the African continent, including Tunisia, organisers said.

While the two-day meeting and an associated economic forum will officially focus on technology and development, it is also an opportunity for Western and African leaders to discuss issues such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

French President Emmanuel Macron said the International Organisation of the Francophonie (OIF) should be “a space of resistance and re-conquest” and called for it to reclaim its role.

The bloc has been criticised for not using its influence to resolve crises. Macron noted that in North Africa, the use of French has declined in recent decades.

“English is a new common language that people have accepted,” he said. But, he added, “(French) is the universal language of the African continent.”

Some 30 heads of state and government, including Senegalese President Macky Sall and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, are attending the summit on the island of Djerba in southern Tunisia.

Many African countries have denounced what they see as a lack of international solidarity in the face of crises on their continent, in stark contrast to the prompt support of European nations in Kiev.

The summit coincides with the final phase of the UN climate talks in Egypt.

It also comes days after leaders of the G20, a group of major developed and emerging economies, met in Indonesia for talks dominated by the war in Ukraine, which is an OIF observer state.

The summit will belatedly celebrate the 50th anniversary of the group, now made up of 88 countries, not all of whose members, like Armenia and Serbia, are French-speaking.

The world’s French-speaking community numbers about 321 million people and is expected to reach 750 million by 2050.


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