La Francophonie: from linguistic space to institutional organization

The French-speaking countries, whose official language is French, and the member countries of the International Organization of La Francophonie (OIF) share the same affection for the language of Molière and French culture. The organization brings together 88 states or governments, representing approximately 900 million inhabitants spread over five continents. Each year, March 20 is celebrated as the International Day of La Francophonie and the Francophonie Summit brings together its members every two years.

French is the fifth language the most spoken in the world with approximately 300 million speakers. Some 36% of French speakers live in Europe and more than 54% in Africa. On this continent, the French language represents a formidable asset in the field of education, business or in daily life for information or in personal relations. The French language is also the official language in 29 States and 19 regions, departments or communities in the world. But how did the Francophonie become an institution?

The genesis of a French-speaking organization

It was in 1880 that the word “Francophonie” appeared for the first time in books. The French geographer Onésime Reclus describes by this term all the people and countries using the French language. From this shared linguistic space begins to emerge the idea of ​​a mutual aid community based on the use of the same language.

It is in this spirit of association and wishing to propagate the French language abroad that the Alliance française was created in 1883. The first establishments abroad to learn the French language and culture opened in 1884 in Barcelona. , Mexico City, Dakar and Mauritius. At the beginning of the 20th century, other associations which have French as a common base were born: the Belgian writers of French language, the pediatricians of French language or the Society of colonial writers which later became the Association of writers of French (Adelf) in 1926.

From the 1950s, journalists and the media came together in the International Union of Journalists and the French-language Press (Union de la presse francophone, today). In 1955, a community of French-speaking public radio stations was created with Radio France, Radio Suisse Romande, Radio Canada and Belgian French-speaking Radio. These radios still produce joint programs and contribute to the strengthening of French on the airwaves all over the planet.

But in the political and institutional sense, it was in 1960 that fifteen French-speaking countries founded the Conference of Ministers of Education (Confemen), whose secretariat is based in Dakar. A year later, the African countries that had recently gained independence formed the Common African and Malagasy Organization (Ocam). At the summit of this organization in 1966, the President of Senegal, Leopold Sedar Senghor, proposes the constitution of a spiritual community of nations that use French “.

The advent of Francophone cooperation first came with the first Intergovernmental Conference of Francophone States in February 1969 in Niamey, Niger. At the end of the same year, the Ministers of Sports of sixteen countries founded the Conference of Ministers of Youth and Sports of French-speaking countries (Confejes) whose headquarters are in Dakar.

This birth of La Francophonie, with a capital F this time, paradoxically happened thanks to decolonization and was desired above all by men who led African countries towards independence. It was precisely one of the founding fathers, Léopold Sédar Senghor, who pointed out that ” …in the rubble of colonialism, we found this marvelous tool, the French language “.

Finally, on March 20, 1970, during the second Intergovernmental Conference in Niamey, 21 member countries signed the creation of the Agency for Cultural and Technical Cooperation (ACCT). This organization, founded around the sharing of a common language, has evolved constantly: in 1998, the name changed to the Intergovernmental Agency of La Francophonie, to finally become in 2005 the International Organization of La Francophonie (OIF).

Quickly after its creation, La Francophonie, now an institution, gained many members with the first common point being the sharing of the French language. But other countries, whose official language is not French, join the Organization as observer countries or associate members. The arrival of non-French-speaking countries, but appreciating French culture, also testifies that politics plays an important part in the evolution of the OIF. With only 21 members when it was created in 1970, the OIF now has 54 full member countries, seven associate members and 27 observers, most of whom are located in Central and Eastern Europe, as well as on the American continent.

Organization chart and institutions of La Francophonie

The International Organization of La Francophonie is headed by a Secretary General, who is the political spokesperson for La Francophonie on the international scene. He is elected at the OIF summit and placed under the authority of the authorities with a four-year mandate. It ensures a link between the authorities and the operational system which are the direct actors of La Francophonie (the Agence universitaire de la Francophonie AUF, TV5 Monde, Senghor University in Alexandria, the International Association of French-speaking Mayors, the Ministerial Conferences permanent). The summit takes place every two years and the head of the host state is also the president of the OIF until the next summit. It defines the actions to ensure the influence of the Francophonie in the world and adopts the resolutions necessary for the realization of the projects and the objectives set.

The Ministerial Conference is another important body in the mechanism of La Francophonie. It prepares the summits and ensures its political continuity. This Council meets at least once a year and monitors the process of implementing the decisions taken at the summit.

Finally, the Permanent Council is made up of representatives designated and accredited by the various states and governments. This Council prepares the meetings of the two bodies mentioned above.

The objectives of the OIF

Originally, the Francophonie turned to the culture and dissemination of the French language. But in recent years, it has also seen itself as an economic area. Promoting the language is an economic opportunity because, according to economists, sharing the same language can significantly increase trade and exchanges.

In the field of ecology and sustainable development, the Objective 2030 initiative is a system set up by the OIF through the Institut de la francophonie pour le développement durable (IFDD) to support the implementation of the objectives sustainable development in the French-speaking world. Dedicated to non-state actors, it aims to promote concrete progress through information, support for innovative actions and solutions that combine social inclusion, economic progress and protection of the planet, as well as the sharing of good practices.

French President Emmanuel Macron's speech, by far the longest of the opening ceremony of the Yerevan summit, this Thursday, October 11, 2018.
French President Emmanuel Macron’s speech, by far the longest of the opening ceremony of the Yerevan summit, this Thursday, October 11, 2018. REUTERS/Melik Baghdasaryan/Photolure

Perfectible operation?

Precisely, at the level of good practices, the OIF has been frequently criticized for shortcomings in terms of human rights. Despite the priority objective of the OIF, several member countries of the organization are still not governed democratically and do not respect human rights.

Moreover, the constant increase in the number of States and governments within the organization (from 21 in 1970 to 88 in 2019) is often theobject of criticism, because more than half have little or no connection with the French language. In 1997, former UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali was elected head of the OIF at the summit in Hanoi, Vietnam. During his tenure, there was a gradual increase in the number of memberships. According to Jacques Legendre, the rapporteur on the Francophonie for the Senate’s Cultural Affairs Committee, ” at this rate, the organization may become a mediocre duplicate of the UN General Assembly “. Despite calls to cease with the membership of non-French-speaking states, each OIF summit generally brings new memberships.

La Francophonie: from linguistic space to institutional organization