Gabon, a French-speaking country in Africa, has decided to knock on the door of the Commonwealth, almost all of whose members are the former territories of the British Empire.
Gabonese President Ali Bongo Ondimba said last Tuesday that his country plans to join the Commonwealth in a short time. Speaking of a “historic turning point,” he made this major announcement in London after a meeting with Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland.
Gabon’s willingness to join the Commonwealth is not a decision that comes out of nowhere.
Ali Bongo, a perfect English speaker who spent part of his childhood in the United States, has never hidden his intention to lead Gabon into the Anglosphere, in order to realize modernization.
Though international, the French language, the official language of Gabon, is not the most spoken in the world, while English is still the language of business, a shared opinion among the Gabonese officials.
“Gabon wants to develop and offer itself the best opportunities. When you leave the French-speaking zone, if you don’t understand English, you are almost handicapped. It is about ensuring that Gabonese people are better armed,” said Alain-Claude Bilie-By-Nze, former spokesman for the Gabonese presidency.
In October 2012, the Gabonese president paid a short visit to Kigali to “examine the experience of English-French bilingualism” in Rwanda, a French-speaking community that also belongs to the Commonwealth.
The president had followed the example by sending a group of teachers to Ghana to learn English teaching. But his plan to make room for English in schools had failed when the country had sledded in a severe economic crisis following the fall in commodity prices in 2014.
In his major announcement last week, the Gabonese president said the goal is to diversify Gabon’s economy. His spokesman, Jessye Ella Ekogha, added that it was a choice aimed at “sustainable development of the country.”
In Africa, there has been an opinion among observers that economic development tends to be more dynamic in English-speaking countries than in most French-speaking countries. Libreville intends to vary its development choices based on the development models of the English-speaking countries, according to the Gabonese Foreign Ministry.
The option of making Gabon a bilingual country was also in line with the country’s ambition to develop the tertiary sector as part of the diversification of an economy that is overly dependent on oil, wood and mineral sectors.
Since 2012, Gabon with Chinese support has invested heavily in the construction of stadiums, hotels and other infrastructure with the goal of turning itself into a tourism hub.
A DECISIVE SUMMIT
Libreville is now patiently waiting for its candidacy to be validated at the next Commonwealth summit in Kigali, Rwanda.
However, the summit, scheduled for June, was postponed indefinitely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to a source close to the Gabonese Foreign Ministry, Gabon had already applied for several months and the Commonwealth had sent a delegation to Libreville for an assessment to determine whether Gabon is eligible for its criteria.
Gabon, for example, has adopted in March a revision of the civil code to defend gender equality and combat domestic violence, a cause supported by Patricia Scotland. If all goes well for Libreville, it would become the third non-English speaking country to join the organization, after Mozambique in 1995 and Rwanda in 2009. Enditem