Commonly, “francophonie” carries three meanings: linguistic (those who have French in common); geographical (the peoples whose mother tongue, fluency, or administrative language is French); and a more mystical meaning, signifying membership of a collective community. But “Francophonie” (capital F) designates the movement and institutions initiated by French authorities after World War II in favor of the French language, in the context of its former colonies’ independence. France tried to promote a French “commonwealth” and a special relationship with ex-colonies to protect the language. France was very often accused of maintaining neo-colonial relationships, but the movement for Francophonie was also supported by leaders of the new independent states as a means to build new relations with the former colonizer. Were these, then, actions to support the French language worldwide, or to protect French political and economic interests in its former colonies? This debate has been at the core of the history of Francophonie. Nowadays, through its institutions and agents, Francophonie strives to propose an alternative to a homogenizing globalization process, by promoting cultural diversity.
History Of Francophonie
Invented at the end of the nineteenth century by French geographer Onésime Reclus in his book France, Algérie et les Colonies, to categorize French speakers on the national territory and in the colonies, the term immediately bore ambiguity: “We consider as Francophone all who are or appear destined to remain here, everyone who seems to stay or to become participants in our language: Bretons and Basques of France, Arabs and Berbers of Tell, of whom we are already the Masters.” However, even if the movement was initiated by the French state in the 1950s to contain its colonies’ demands for independence, its founding fathers were predominantly political leaders of the new African states.
Indeed, during the 1950s, France elaborated various projects to establish a French Commonwealth (such as the project of a French Community in 1958), which failed because of the strong desire for emancipation in the colonies. Concurrently with these state initiatives, numerous nongovernmental associations emerged to assemble French language specialists in various disciplines. In 1952 the International Association of French Speaking Journalists was created in Paris, and in 1954 the French Cultural Union. In 1961, the Association of Partly or Totally French Speaking Universities was founded in Montreal, which extended Francophonie beyond linguistic disciplines and marked Canada’s entrance into Francophonie (Quebec proclaimed itself during the provincial elections of 1960 as a “French speaking nation”). In 1962, the French review Esprit published a special issue on “Francophonie,” which consecrated the African continent to Francophonie through its herald, the poet and president of Senegal, Léopold Sedar Senghor. An institutionalization process then got under way, with international conferences of ministers of French-speaking countries (on education, sport, and youth), and the creation of administrative bodies (such as the High Committee for Defence and Expansion of the French language).
But the true foundation of the political project of Francophonie is due to the initiatives of three African political leaders who strove to foster close cooperation first within the African French-speaking area, then beyond Africa. In 1960, Léopold Sedar Senghor (Senegal), Habib Bourguiba (Tunisia), and Hamani Diori (Niger) proposed to gather together the newly independent countries wishing to keep relationships based on cultural and linguistic affinities with France. But this project was not welcomed by all the countries (Morocco and Algeria were reluctant or refused). In 1967 the International Association of French-Speaking Parliament Members (AIPLF) was created (the future Parliament of Francophonie). Finally, thanks to the initiative of the three African leaders, plus Prince Norodom Sihanouk (Cambodia), the Treaty implementing the Cultural and Technical Cooperation Agency was signed on March 20, 1970, the first intergovernmental organization of Francophonie. Yet the very first international “Francophone Summit” took place in Versailles only in 1986, which brought together 42 participants and set up the institutional basis of Francophonie.
The Institutions Of Francophonie
The Heads of State and Government Conference, with French in common, is called the “Summit” and is the highest authority of Francophonie. The Summit is held every two years. At the Quebec Summit (1987) five sectors were defined: agriculture; energy; culture and communication; scientific information and technological development; and language. The next summit added three additional axes of cooperation: education and training; the environment; and democracy and the rule of law. Succeeding summits were held in Dakar (Senegal) in 1989, Paris in 1991, Mauritius in 1993, Cotonou (Benin) in 1995, Hanoi (Vietnam) in 1997, Monckton (Canada) in 1999, Beirut (Lebanon) in 2002, Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso) in 2004, and Bucharest (Romania) in 2006. Quebec was scheduled for 2008. The summits establish the orientations of Francophonie, decide on admission of new members, and elect the Secretary-General of Francophonie.
The International Organization of Francophonie (IOF) is the key multilateral institution under the authority of the Secretary-General and acts through the Francophone Agency. The IOF implements the intergovernmental cooperation of Francophonie, supports the member states in elaborating or consolidating their national policies regarding Francophonie, and implements multilateral cooperation projects. The IOF acts also in favor of peace, democracy, and human rights among the Francophone members. As of 2007, it included 53 member states and 10 observer states on all continents. French (spoken by around 200 million people) is the official language, on its own or combined with other languages, in 32 IOF member states. In 2005, the IOF budget was a83 million, to which the main contributors were France (54.5 percent), Canada (21.5 percent), Quebec (4.1 percent), Belgium (8.6 percent), and Switzerland (6.6 percent). The IOF headquarters are located in Paris (with 367 agents of 36 different nationalities), but it has four permanent representatives, in Addis-Ababa (at the African Union, and the UN’s African Economic Commission), in Brussels (at the EU), and in New York and Geneva (at the UN); and three regional desks (West Africa, Central Africa, and Indian Ocean).
The other institutions of Francophonie are the Permanent Council, in charge of preparing and following up the summits, chaired by the General Secretary and composed of representatives of member states; and the Conference of Ministers, which maintains policy continuity between the summits, composed of the Foreign Affairs or Francophonie ministers of member states. There are four additional Francophonie agencies: (1) the University Francophonie Agency (AUF), which aims to build academic cooperation in French by supporting faculty and student exchange programs among over 600 research centers and universities in 70 countries on all continents; (2) TV5 Monde, a multilateral TV channel based in Paris, which diffuses cultural programs, movies, and news in French in 202 countries, 24/7; (3) Senghor University in Alexandria, Egypt, an international French-language postgraduate university to educate top executives to work in development priority fields; and (4) the International Association of French-Speaking Mayors, which promotes decentralized cooperation, good governance, and the strengthening of local democracy.
Debates And Controversies: Neo-Colonialism Or Cultural Diversity?
Mainly initiated by pro-independence African leaders, Francophonie emerged as a large movement associating former French colonies and partially or totally French-speaking states across all continents. But the relationship between France and its former colonies was not unidimensional.
Since independence, their relationship has been ambiguous, where under cover of a special relationship involving privileged cooperation and technical assistance, political and economic interests were sought to be secured by playing the part of Africa’s policeman. Development cooperation was not simply to preserve past advantages. It took place in a strong political project of power and influence urged by President de Gaulle. France used its aid policy and also its culture to transform a sovereign area into a zone of influence. Thousands of technical aid workers and French teachers were posted to the former colonies to diffuse the language. But the intention was also to educate French-speaking elites who could become potential partners and clients for the future. These actions encouraged the newly independent states to adhere to French culture. Thus, French global cultural influence was a major instrument of its political influence.
But at the same time, it is interesting to point out that de Gaulle remained aloof from the Francophonie project, probably in order to avoid giving ammunition to those who attacked France’s African policy as neo-colonialist. For over 40 years, this policy was maintained by hidden interests and clientelist networks, using Africa as France’s “gamepreserve,” stigmatized by the term “Françafrique” (Verschave 1998). At the end of the twentieth century, France’s Africa policy, with its involvement in episodes such as the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, was fiercely criticized. Those attacks led to formal institutional change in 1998, with the absorption of the ministry of foreign aid (for Africa) into the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In the following years, Franco-African relationships lost their specificity with the decline of a specific development budget and a rise in multilateral projects. Cultural cooperation was also transformed in the same direction, with the emergence of new actors, such as nongovernmental organizations or local associations, which sought to promote different forms of cultural exchanges (Visier 2003).
The movement in favor of Francophonie has been influenced by the evolution of Franco-African relations and more broadly by the international context. The dynamics of globalization have generated new anxieties prompted by the growing decline of French language influence and the inexorable rise of English in global communication and international organizations. While the promotion and defense of French remain clear goals for the IOF, its new target has become to defend cultural diversity. The problem is not that English is imposing itself as an international language, but to protect and promote other living languages around the world. The Francophone authorities made this goal their chief priority. They strongly supported the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (adopted in 2005). This Convention is a binding international legal instrument (since March 18, 2007) which aims to reaffirm the sovereign right of states to draw up cultural policies, to recognize the specific nature of cultural goods and services as vehicles of identity, values, and meaning, and to strengthen international cooperation and solidarity so as to favor the cultural expressions of all nations. Francophonie supported the Convention because it shared the same principles (IOF 2006). For some authors, Francophonie is a unique chance for globalization to encourage cultural diversity against the threat of standardization or cultural domination (Wolton 2006).
Along the same lines, Francophonie began a dialogue with other linguistic areas, notably Hispanophone, Lusophone, and Arabophone, to develop concerted initiatives to promote cultural and linguistic diversity in their own territories. At the national or subnational levels, IOF seeks to support the global south in elaborating cultural policy in favor of traditional music forms, or training lawyers specializing in anti-piracy efforts. The IOF also supports the valorization of vernacular languages that coexist with French. Following sociolinguists’ analyses, it supports states which wish to develop and protect the use of dialects or creoles, termed “partner languages,” to facilitate their engagement in written forms in harmony with French (Calvet 1999). These initiatives take the form of publishing journals in vernacular languages or of French/Partner-Language dictionaries. Recently, French-speaking novelists adopted a manifesto “for a world literature in French,” but freed of its exclusive pact with France (Rouaud & LeBris 2007).
From the postcolonial project of promoting French to the protection of cultural diversity, the Francophonie project has sought to renew its philosophy while developing its institutions. However, the means remain limited and dependent on contributions from richer member states of Francophonie. M. Abou Diouf, Secretary-General of Francophonie, commented sourly in an interview with Le Monde in March 2007 on the paradox of lukewarm interest in Francophonie among the French. At the same time, current French immigration policy was perceived in Africa as an ongoing disjuncture between the theory and the reality of Franco-African cooperation (Politique Africaine 2007).
- Barrat, J., & C. Moisei (2004). Géopolitique de la Francophonie: Un nouveau souffle? Paris: La Documentation Française.
- Calvet, L.-J. (1999). La guerre des langues. Paris: Pluriel.
- Dumont, P. (2001). L’interculturel dans l’espace francophone. Paris: L’Harmattan.
- Forsdick, C., & Murphy, D. (2005). Travel in twentieth-century French and Francophone cultures: The persistence of diversity. London: Oxford University Press.
- IOF (2006). Rapport du XIème Sommet de la Francophonie. Bucharest, September 28 –29. Paris: IOF.
- Politique Africaine (2007). France-Afrique. Sortir du Pacte Colonial, no. 105 (March).
- Rouaud, J., & Le Bris, M. (2007). Pour une “littérature-monde.” Paris: Gallimard.
- Verschave, F.-X. (1998). La Françafrique: Le plus long scandale de la Vème République. Paris: Stock.
- Visier, C. (2003). L’état et la coopération, la fin d’un monopole: L’action culturelle française au Maghreb. Paris: L’Harmattan.
- Wolton, D. (2006). Demain la Francophonie. Paris: Flammarion.