Gabon, a French-speaking country in Central Africa that has been seeking membership in the Commonwealth, is awaiting the final decision made at the Commonwealth summit currently held in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital.
Gabonese Foreign Minister Michael Moussa Adamo affirmed in a recent briefing with the press that Libreville aims to boost economic diversification by joining the Commonwealth while maintaining its relations with France.
Gabon’s willingness to join the Commonwealth is not a decision taken lightly. Gabon’s President 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.
“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, a 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 later also sent a group of teachers to Ghana to learn English teaching. His plan to make room for English in schools, however, had failed after the country was plunged into a severe economic crisis following the fall in commodity prices in 2014.
Gabon’s process of joining the Commonwealth formally started about five years ago. The General Secretariat of the Commonwealth dispatched several evaluation missions to Gabon to assess several standards, in particular the democratic process, good governance, respect for human rights, and gender equality.
“It is the culmination of a long process,” said Michael Moussa Adamo in front of the press before his departure for the Kigali summit Thursday. “It is at the end of this consultation of the Heads of State and Government of the Commonwealth that the decision will be taken. It is these Heads of State and Government who will decide whether Gabon is accepted or not, or whether it is postponed to a later date.”
A small Central African country with a population of more than 2 million, Gabon had long been considered an Eldorado in Central Africa because of its enormous oil revenues between the 1970s and 1980s. In his major announcement in 2021, the Gabonese president said the goal of joining the Commonwealth is to diversify Gabon’s economy.
His spokesman Jessye Ella Ekogha also said that it was a choice aimed at “sustainable development of the country.” “We are going to have a lot from the Commonwealth, from the Commonwealth countries as they are going to share our experiences as well. And I confirm, and I affirm and I continue to say that the Commonwealth is a vibrant community with a future and values shared by Gabon,” said Michael Moussa Adamo, the Gabonese foreign minister.
Michael Moussa Adamo, who speaks fluent English, served as head of Gabon’s diplomatic mission in Washington, D.C., the United States, for seven years. He flew to Kigali Thursday for the decisive summit to file Gabon’s application for membership.
Libreville intends to adjust 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 drive to diversify 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.
Gabon, a founding member of the Francophonie, has decided to join the Commonwealth, somewhat to the general surprise of several French-speaking nations. “We are joining the Commonwealth for Gabonese interests, for sharing,” affirmed the Gabonese foreign minister, stressing that Gabon is a sovereign and independent country that cooperates with the whole world.
Gabon obtained its independence in 1960. It has maintained good relations with France as its primary partner in international diplomatic affairs. “We have special and strong relations with France,” admitted the foreign minister, while emphasizing “but we are also an autonomous, independent country.”
“The Commonwealth and the U.K. are not coming to replace France,” said the foreign minister at the press briefing when answering a question raised by Xinhua about the future of relations between Gabon and France pending the approval of Gabon’s accession at the Commonwealth summit in Kigali.
SOURCE: Xinhua News Agency