The world club of francophone countries will meet in Tunisia from Saturday for talks aimed at economic cooperation, more than a year after President Kais Saied began an internationally criticized power grab.
About 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 International Organization of La Francophonie (OIF) summit on the southern Tunisian holiday island of Djerba.
While the two-day summit and an accompanying economic 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 criticized what they see as a lack of international solidarity in the face of crises on their continent, in stark contrast to European countries’ rapid support for Kiev.
The summit coincides with the final phase of UN climate talks in Egypt, and comes just days after G20 leaders met in Indonesia for a meeting dominated by the war in Ukraine, an OIF observer state.
The meeting, normally held every two years, was postponed in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and last year after Saied dismissed the government and suspended parliament, later dissolving the legislature completely.
Hosting the summit is a “success” for Saied, said French political researcher Vincent Geisser.
It will see him “exit his isolation – at least temporarily,” Geisser told TUSEN, after Canada, France and other developed countries last year called on Saied to restore “constitutional order”.
The summit will belatedly celebrate the 50th anniversary of the now 88-strong group whose members, like Armenia and Serbia, are not all francophones.
The world’s francophone community has a population of approximately 321 million and is expected to more than double to 750 million by 2050.
Rwanda’s Secretary-General Louise Mushikiwabo, who is up for re-election, said the bloc is “more pertinent than ever” and is able to add value to “most of the world’s problems”.
She told TUSEN she would ask member states to “redouble their efforts” in the face of a decline in the use of the French language in international organizations, recalling that promoting “peace, democracy and human rights” is also part of the mission of the OIF. .
Alioune Tine from Senegalese civil society instead criticized the OIF’s track record in international crisis mediation.
The group has shown itself “totally impotent in the face of fraudulent elections, third mandates (from African leaders) and military coups” in Mali, Guinea, Chad and Burkina Faso, he said.
Top coordinator Mohamed Trabelsi told TUSEN the meeting was “a recognition of Tunisia’s role in the francophone space and of its regional and international diplomacy”.
It is also an opportunity to “strengthen economic cooperation,” Trabelsi said.
But an OIF heavyweight Canada official said Ottawa wanted to reiterate “concerns” 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 that has driven a growing number of residents to try to reach Europe.
To draw deputies’ attention to the issue, hundreds of protesters on Friday tried to draw attention to the disappearance of 18 Tunisians aboard a boat that departed in September. The police prevented them from reaching Djerba.