Why do Togo and Gabon, French-speaking countries, want to join the Commonwealth?

On June 24, Gabon and Togo will be inducted into the Commonwealth. A symbolic act above all. But these two countries rely heavily on their membership in the organization.

At the beginning of the year, [le président gabonais] Ali Bongo Ondimba announced a “major geopolitical turning point by the need to belong to another multicultural space in a globalized world”. The President of Gabon then mentioned his country’s application for membership of the Commonwealth [littéralement, la “Communauté des nations”, le Commonwealth est une organisation intergouvernementale composée d’États qui sont presque tous d’anciens territoires de l’Empire britannique].

A process that took time: it’s June 24, at the summit of heads of state [Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting ou CHOGM] in Kigali, Rwanda, which will be inducted Gabon, who have been eyeing a place in the British organization for years now.

For Togo, on the other hand, it went much faster. It was on April 22 that the small West African country saw its National Assembly pass a resolution which “expresses its support for the process of Togo’s accession to the Commonwealth”. Because Ali Bongo’s approach has, it seems, inspired [le président togolais] Faure Gnassingbe. Togo will also be inducted [cette semaine].

Two memberships that raise questions: if Togo has a rather original colonial history – first a German protectorate, then jointly occupied by France and the United Kingdom – Gabon has little to do with the British Empire .

Be that as it may, today these two French-speaking countries have decided to turn to the Commonwealth. If they do not leave the Francophonie, Libreville and Lomé nevertheless send a fairly clear message to Paris: France no longer shines as much as before and they want to open up to the English-speaking world.

Cultural or political reversals?

What benefits will Gabon and Togo derive from their membership, accepted on June 12, to the Commonwealth? In fact, this should not bring anything in terms of economic exchanges or reduction of customs duties.

These two memberships are above all symbolic: for the Ivorian political analyst Sylvain N’guessan, “no French-speaking colony has been able to develop so far, unlike the Anglo-Saxon countries, which have been able to take off somewhat”.

And if the Commonwealth does not make it possible to establish trade agreements, it will undoubtedly be interesting to see how Gabon and Togo will evolve after their entry into the organization.

The Commonwealth is a market of more than 2 billion consumers. Despite the absence of customs facilities, the English language will allow the two countries to reach other markets.

Togo, for its part, clearly states that it wants “the international recognition of a historico-political renewal”. In terms of politics, this could therefore change the relationship with the two new member countries.

But if there are to be immediate repercussions, they will undoubtedly be cultural: Ali Bongo dreams that English will become one of the most spoken languages ​​in Gabon. He would like the language of Shakespeare to be learned from primary school.


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