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France

Francophonie summit of 50 world leaders kicks off in Yerevan

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Workers hang a sign for the forthcoming XVII Francophone countries summit to be held in Yerevan. KAREN MINASYAN / AFP

The 17th Francophonie summit kicks off on Thursday in the Armenian capital of Yerevan in the presence of 50 world leaders including French president Emmanuel Macron and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The International Organisation of La Francophonie holds the summit every two years. According to author Marie Laure Poletti, who is an expert on French-speaking countries, these summits are important as strategies for the next two years are discussed and defined at these events.

The two-day summit is also an occasion to elect the Secretary General of the organisation. This year two candidates, the incumbent Michaëlle Jean from Canada and the Rwandan foreign minister Louise Mushikiwabo, are in the running.

Mushikiwabo, who is backed by France and the African Union, is the strong favourite especially after Canada announced it will support a consensus candidate.

Poletti explained why Canada did not support Jean’s candidacy.

“In 2014, Canada and France supported Jean as there was no unique candidate proposed by Africa. At that time, France did not want to weaken the organisation.”

“Traditionally, there is no vote to choose the secretary general but it needs a broad consensus,” she added.

Unlike 2014, there is a unique candidate chosen by the African Union this time.

The second reason she feels is because of the importance of Africa in the Francophone world.

“If you look at the last report on French Language that the La Francophonie organisation presented on Tuesday, you see that French increased 17 per cent in Africa and that about 60 per cent of francophones in the world live in Africa.”

“Most of the politicians, especially in France, think that the center of gravity of La Francophonie has to shift from Paris, or Ottawa, to Africa. That is the reason why Emmanuel Macron supports an African candidate,” she said.

She said that the choice made by Canada and Quebec is guided by political pragmatism.

Professor Bruno Bernard, a Belgium-based economic expert on Francophone countries, feels the summit’s focus should be on investment in education in Africa.

“The future of the French language is in Africa, not in Europe. We must invest more money in education in Africa, but not just in schools but also on internet education.

“As you have now more and more people in Africa who have smart phones and computer and are able to learn French and use French in homes, schools or streets to grow the French-speaking population in the world,” he said.

The choice of Armenia as the host is interesting given French is not its official language.

However, as RFI’s Elena Gabrielian explains, Armenia has a strong French connection. “Armenia joined the La Francophonie organisation in 2012. Armenians are not Francophone but they admire the Francophone culture. The relations between Armenia and France are also very particular as there is a huge Armenian community living in France.”

She said that during the Soviet era, many Armenians from France went back to Armenia and brought back the French culture. “So for example, French schools were opened in Armenia to satisfy the demand of learning French.”

According to her, another reason is “because of French celebrities with Armenian origins like Charles Aznavour who played a huge role in the development of relations between the two countries.”

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