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FRANCOPHONY: AN UNNECESSARY EVIL?

On 12-14 October 2012, Kinshasa, DRC capital, will host the 14th Summit of Francophony. It will arguably be the single biggest event of Kabila’s second term of office and the largest gathering held in DRC since long ago. More than 25 million dollars have already been spent by the government in the preparations of the event. Whether this will yield any benefit for the country remains to be seen. But the majority of the Congolese people, living under poverty line, see all the expenses and efforts being invested in this summit as an unnecessary evil.

So what is Francophony?

Better known as the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF) or the International Organisation of Francophony, Francophony is an institution created on 20 March 1970 in Niamey, Niger, with a view to uniting countries having the French language in common.  Far beyond this linguistic commonality, Francophony is also a set of values upheld by these countries inter alia democracy, good governance, solidarity, human rights, cultural diversity and access to education.
The organisation comprises 75 member states representing over one-third of UN member states and accounting for a population of over 890 million people, including 220 million French speakers. It is headquartered in Paris with representations at the United Nations and the African Union.
It is currently led by former Senegal President Abdou Diouf.
DRC is, after France, the second largest French-speaking country, with an estimated 24 million speakers.
A dream come true for the DRC: Is Kinshasa ready?
DRC has always dreamt of hosting the Francophony summit. Last time it was scheduled to take place in Kinshasa was in 1991. That was the fourth summit. However, due to Mobutu’s violent crack-down on students’ protests at Lubumbashi University in May 1990, the summit was eventually moved to Paris.
Unlike in 1991, the fourteenth summit will be held in Kinshasa. An estimated 3,000 participants are expected to attend.
The Gombe ambassadorial neighbourhood and other areas of the city are therefore bustling with preparations. The former Congo International Trade Centre, after decades of dereliction, has been transformed into l’Hôtel du Fleuve, a flashy 5-star hotel. Hundreds of ad hoc street-sweepers have been hurriedly recruited by the government to maintain the roads around main venues tidy.  However, works to transform the road connecting the airport to central Kinshasa into a high-way are moving rather slowly, with the summit only three weeks away now.  
Francophony and DRC flags are visibly waving along Boulevard du 30 juin, Kinshasa Main Boulevard, and other avenues.
Kinshasa seems to be poised for the event.
Highly politicised fourteenth summit
Kinshasa hosting the summit is of critical political significance to Kabila, in particular, and the regime, in general. As mentioned above, it will arguably be the single biggest event of Kabila’s second term. It will help him partly regain international credibility after a disputed re-election in 2011 smeared with massive irregularities according to most observers’ missions. This is the reason why the attendance of French President François Hollande, confirmed only recently, was such a decisive factor to the regime.
Of equal political significance to DRC opposition was relocating the summit from Kinshasa to another country. Opposition heavyweights have fought tooth and nail to impress upon Francophony “not to condone Kabila’s irregular re-election by allowing Kinshasa to host the summit”. Hollande’s attendance or boycott was therefore a matter of life or death to the opposition.
However, French President has officially announced on 27 August 2012 he would attend, contingent upon concrete actions towards democracy and human rights to be taken by Kinshasa. The regime seems to have heeded Hollande’s demands, conducting a restructuring of the Electoral Commission and accepting that a movie on the assassination of prominent human rights defender, Floribert Chebeya, be aired. The movie was previously banned in the DRC and its producer denied entry into the DRC.
Overall, the population in Kinshasa and other major cities in the country think that the summit plays into the hands of Kabila, whose inauguration last year was boycotted by most heads of state; with only Zimbabwe’s Mugabe attending.
Many also think that fear of losing the second largest Francophony member to “Anglophony” is the only reason why France and Francophony are keen to have the summit held in Kinshasa, despite the regime not being fully compliant with the organisation’s values.
Francophony vs. Commonwealth
Events in DRC history since 1997, with former Francophone President Mobutu being toppled by a rebellion with thinly-veiled Anglophone ramifications seem to have set the stage for a competition between English and French.
This competition goes far deeper than language territorial occupancy. To some it translates the ambition by Commonwealth to take over what was previously regarded as Francophony or France reserve in Africa, known as the Françafrique. To others it appears that the Commonwealth, though promoting values quite similar to those of Francophony, offers greater economic benefits and should eventually co-exist with Francophony in the country.
Either way, the Anglicisation of the DRC is now an irreversible process. DRC has over the past two decades witnessed a significant interest in and use of English by its population. English is increasingly being promoted as a language of education on par with French.
Whether this will culminate in the country joining Commonwealth remains to be seen.
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