La Francophonie: history, issues and statistics

Definition of Francophonie

The first use of the term “francophonie” dates back to 1880, in a work by the geographer Onésime Reclus: France, Algeria and Colony. He did not give a precise definition, but noted the existence of peoples outside the hexagon who spoke French as a mother tongue or to communicate in society.

The first meaning of the word “francophonie” with a lower case letter is linguistically oriented, i.e. it refers to the language and the use of the French language. Little by little, the notion of Francophonie will give rise to a more political concept, that of “Francophonie” with a capital letter, which acquires a geopolitical connotation: it is rather a question of considering the organizations and the powers resulting from the collaboration of countries having French in common.

Xavier Deniau, a politician who died in 2011 and who, by the way, witnessed the famous”Vive le Quebec libre!” launched by de Gaulle in Montreal, pointed out the four ranges of the expression “francophonie”:

  1. The French language as a common point, as originally used by Onésine Reclus.
  2. The geographical dimension, therefore specific to the space and the situation of the countries on the globe.
  3. The community of values, notably among the learners of French in Asia, who appreciate this connection with the French spirit.
  4. Finally, the institutional scope, which implements cooperation within the Francophonie.

Statistics on the Francophonie Today

  • Speakers: It is estimated that a little less than 300 million people in the world speak French.
  • To give an idea, about 235 million people would use it as a daily language, and 65 million as a foreign language.
  • Evolution: The trend is on the rise, thanks in particular to Africa, which accounts for 59% of French speakers in the world, and whose population is constantly growing.
  • Institutions: French is the official language of 32 states. The International Organization of the Francophonie (OIF) brings together 88 States, of which 54 are members (the others are mainly observers).
  • Economic and demographic weight: these 88 member states of the OIF (thus observers counted) have a proportionally equivalent demographic and economic weight, amounting to a little more than 15% of the world income and population.
  • Youth: 60% of the people concerned by the Francophonie are under 30 years old.

Geography of the Francophonie

Geographical distribution of the Francophonie (OIF)

It is possible to identify several degrees of importance of French within a country. This is the work done by this table, taken from the IOF report dated 2019, which proposes several sets of countries according to the value given to French in these countries.

Thus, the group Canada-Quebec, Wallonia-Brussels (Belgium), France, Monaco, and a little further French-speaking Switzerland, the one that promotes French as a language for life stands out from the rest of the globe with still more than 80% of their population French-speaking.

History of the Francophonie

The project of the cooperation of French-speaking countries (1,960s)

The seed planted by Onésime Reclus in 1880 did not germinate until 1962, with the publication of the magazine Esprit, especially thanks to the article by Léopold Sédar Senghor which we have outlined in this study on the Francophonie.

In addition to the richness of its cultural diversity, the qualities of precision of the French language, the strong pressure exerted by English at the world level, both politically and commercially, provokes by reaction to the defense of an international francophone community.

Léopold Sédar Sengor drew up the project of an equivalent of the commonwealth for the French-speaking world during a summit of the Conference of the African and Malagasy Union, and said he wanted to “propose to General de Gaulle a conference of heads of state”. It was Hamani Diori who was charged by this same conference four years later (1966) to present this project to General de Gaulle.

Thus, until the end of the 1960s, the founding fathers of the Francophonie tried to unlock the locks. Resistance was great, whether because of the cold reception of President de Gaulle, or because of the delicate situation of Quebec in Canada.

The 1970 Turning Point Institutionalizing the Francophonie

In the end, a Conference of Francophone States was organized in 1969 and led to the creation on March 20, 1970, of an organization linking 21 countries: theAgency for Cultural and Technical Cooperation (ACCT), whose essential goal was“multilateral cooperation in the fields of education, culture, science and technology, and thereby to bring peoples closer together” (ACCT Charter, Article 1). It is this agency that will become the current International Organization of La Francophonie.

However, the participation of Quebec remained a political problem, which was only resolved in 1986 at the Versailles summit: from then on, the province of Quebec had the status of “member government”, while Canada had the status of member state.

The Quebecer Jean-Marc Léger, who plays a central role in the promotion of a multilateral Francophonie and in the success of the ACCT, although still far from the ambitions of the founding fathers, is responsible for developing this cooperation. In 1986, the first Summit brought together 42 countries in Versailles. It was notably about economic solidarity, the forum between the North and the South, and the instruments to reinforce cooperation between countries having French as a common language.

This summit is only the first of a long list, with a regularity of about every two years. In 1997, a summit in Hanoi marked the history of the Francophonie by revising the charter of the Agency. This revision gives the role of “supreme authority” to the Conference of Heads of State and Government, and establishes the Secretary General as the spokesperson of this institution of the Francophonie, as well as a consultative body.

A reinforced decision-making power oriented towards political issues (1997 – present)

With a new name, Agence de la Francophonie, a change of nature is also taking place: the institution is turning more and more towards a political objective, as desired by the heads of state in this post-Cold War period.

This political turn – which, moreover, arouses critics regretting the dispersion outside of cultural issues – becomes visible by the Declaration of Bamako in the year 2000, which makes democracy an “indissociable” criterion of the Francophonie. This leaves no room for coups d’état, and aims at the establishment of a state of law respectful of human rights, by guaranteeing reliable elections. In this respect, the secretary general acquires a preventive role, but also a reactive one in case of violations by one of the member countries. These political objectives were reaffirmed six years later in the Saint-Boniface Declaration.

Called Agence intergovernmental de la Francophonie since 1998, the central institution of the French-speaking community was then given its current name ofOrganisation Internationale de la Francophonie, following a charter adopted by the ministerial conference held in November 2005.

The assumption of the office of Boutros Boutros-Ghali as the first Secretary General of Francophonie from November 1997 to December 2002 already foreshadowed important value links with the United Nations. In 2014, the Dakar Summit reinforces the position of La Francophonie in favor of the principles of the United Nations Charter, and introduces a dimension of economic development focused on Africa. The Canadian Michaëlle Jean takes over from Abdou Diouf as Secretary General. In 2019, she will hand over to the Rwandan Louise Mushikiwabo, elected at the Yerevan summit in 2018.

The Founders of La Francophonie

La Francophonie, as an institutionalized cooperation of countries with French as a common language, emerged thanks to figures from all continents. The four founding fathers of the Francophonie recognized by history are.

  • Hamani Diori (1916–1989) in Niger: a figure of independence in sub-Saharan Africa, he promoted an international vision of French.
  • Habib Bourguiba (1903–2000) in Tunisia: first president of Tunisia (for 30 years), he met Senghor and saw in the French language a way to modernize his country, rather than a return to colonialism.
  • Léopold Sédar Senghor (1906–2001) in Senegal: his conception of the Francophonie, whose role will have been preponderant, is detailed below.
  • Norodom Sihanouk (1922–2012) in Cambodia: as Cambodian head of state, he continually called for the political institutionalization of a French-speaking community.

Among these four fathers of the French-speaking world, we have chosen to give you more details on the thought of Léopold Sédar Senghor, a politician of the 20th century, first in France, then especially in Senegal where he was the first president in 1960.

The thought of Léopold Senghor

Intellectual and poet, Senghor is also known for having given a new definition to the expression “négritude”, an expression which designates for him a “whole of the cultural values of the black world”.

To understand his thoughts on the French-speaking world, it is his article “French, language of culture” published in 1962, two years after he became president of Senegal, that we must look at. Senghor reports his observations for the magazine Esprit on the development of the use of French in the world: according to him, French is a language with a rich vocabulary, with a syntax that allows for conciseness, and which has conquered the elites beyond their mother tongue. Its harmonious style is a“symbiosis of Greek subtlety and Latin rigor”. More importantly for the moral and political aspect of the Francophonie, he retains“French humanism” with the character of universality conveyed by this language, which allows them to counter the weight of individualism.

Thus Léopold Sédar Senghor concludes this testimony for the magazine Esprit with the idea that the eminently poetic language that is French has broken through to black writers because it made them as free as possible creative. The last words of the article: “French, Soleil qui brille hors de l’hexagone” (French, Sun that shines outside the hexagon) only express poetically an ideal of universality and respect for cultures such as Négritude, Arabism, even in France.

In this way, he will not cease to work for a wider world collaboration within a French-speaking community, as in his project presented to the African heads of state within the framework of the Common African and Malagasy Organization (OCAM) in June 1966. Wishing to transcend “the old North-South oppositions”, thus the gap between developed and developing countries, he called for joint initiatives in the fields of“culture or economics, science or technology, or even politics“.

General knowledge: Migration