The French-speaking bloc focuses on development at the Tunisia summit

The French-speaking bloc focuses on development at the Tunisia summit


The world club of French-speaking countries meets in Tunisia starting Saturday for talks on economic cooperation, more than a year after President Kais Saied began an internationally criticized seizure of power.

Around 30 heads of state and government, including French President Emmanuel Macron, his Senegalese counterpart Macky Sall and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, will attend the summit of the International Organization of Francophonie (OIF) on the southern Tunisian holiday island of Djerba.

While the two-day summit and related business forum will officially focus on the role of digital technology in development, it will also be an opportunity for Western and African leaders to discuss issues such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Many African countries have denounced a lack of international solidarity in the face of crises on their continent, in sharp contrast to the swift support of European nations for Kiev.

The summit coincides with the final stages of the UN climate talks in Egypt and comes just days after a meeting of G20 leaders in Indonesia that was dominated by the war in Ukraine, an OIF observer state.

The meeting, which normally takes place every two years, was postponed in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic and then last year after Saied sacked the government and suspended parliament and later dissolved the legislature entirely.

The hosting of the summit was a “success” for Saied, said the French political scientist Vincent Geisser.

He will “come out of his isolation — at least temporarily,” Geisser told AFP after Canada, France and other developed nations last year called on Saied to restore “constitutional order.”

– Economic Cooperation –

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

The world’s French-speaking community has a population of around 321 million and is expected to more than double to 750 million by 2050.

Secretary-General Louise Mushikiwabo of Rwanda, who is running for re-election, said the bloc was “more appropriate than ever” and able to add value to “most of the world’s problems”.

She told AFP that she would ask member states to “redouble their efforts” given the decline in the use of French in international organizations, recalling that promoting “peace, democracy and human rights” is also part of the mission of the French government OIF be .

Instead, Alioune Tine, representative of Senegalese civil society, criticized the OIF’s track record in international crisis mediation.

The group has proved “completely powerless in the face of fraudulent elections, third mandates (African leaders) and military coups” in Mali, Guinea, Chad and Burkina Faso, he said.

Summit coordinator Mohamed Trabelsi told AFP the meeting was “a recognition of Tunisia’s role in the francophone space and its regional and international diplomacy.”

It is also an opportunity “to strengthen economic cooperation,” said Trabelsi.

But an official with OIF heavyweight Canada said Ottawa wanted to express “concern” about “democratic participation” following Saied’s rise to power in the only democracy to emerge from the Arab Spring uprisings more than a decade ago.

Tunisia is facing a deep economic crisis, prompting a growing number of its population to try to reach Europe.

To draw delegates’ attention to the issue, hundreds of protesters on Friday tried to draw attention to the disappearance of 18 Tunisians aboard a boat that set sail in September. The police prevented them from reaching Djerba.

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