To go simply by declarations at the weekend summit of the International Organisation of the Francophonie, the 70-member body of fully or partially French-speaking nations or communities could be on a new path. Delegates to previous summits are familiar with the same rhetoric around the necessity to have the body occupy bigger ground in world governance. But this time, there seemed to be some new arguments which suggest an optimistic posture. First, is the commitment of the French President Nicolas Sarkozy to take up issues concerning the Francophonie when his country takes up the presidency of the G-20 next month in Seoul and later, that of the G-8. The presence of another influential member of this exclusive club of rich nations – Canada – at the Montreux summit was also reassuring, especially as Mr Stephen Harper, the Canadian Prime Minister told summit participants that “Canada will never let down the poorer nations”. Another important gain from the summit is the pledge by Mr Sarkozy to take up the matter of Africa’s membership of the United Nations Security Council.
These are coincidentally, issues the President of the Republic, Paul Biya has been very concerned about. He has never missed any opportunity given him to address the international community to speak out against the injustices suffered by the poorer countries and more specifically Africa. His positions on the unfavourable terms of trade, poor remuneration for raw materials, lack of international solidarity and the absence of Africa in the world’s decision-making caucuses are very well known. The President of the Republic was certainly well comforted in his views when he heard several other world leaders express the same concerns at the Montreux summit on Saturday. For President Biya, the “Francophonie, through its institutions, is one of the privileged forums within which a new model of international relations which reconciles opportunities for globalization and the exigencies of the general interest, especially those of the most vulnerable groups.”
Some of the important concerns at the summit included food security and climate change.The President told the summit that Cameroon was very much in the debate especially as drought, the reduction of sources of water and pasturages, the advancing desert, the reduction of agricultural production and the irregular production of hydro-electricity are the problems confronted on a daily basis. As a world actor in its own right, Cameroon has not only taken internal measures such as the introduction of the “Green Sahel” project to stem the advance of the desert, but has also signed all the major international instruments on food security and on climate change. In Montreux, it was very clear that Cameroon was in tone with the movement by the Francophonie to properly address these issues. The IOF Secretary-General Abdou Diouf was particularly concerned about the need to invest more in education and seemed to minimize what many saw as a threat by the English language to the French language. Here, Cameroon, more than many other countries, has some good positive experiences to share with other Francophonie members because of its successful bicultural situation within which the two languages thrive mutually. The two subsystems of education in Cameroon are admired for their ability to produce some of the best trained people, be they Francophones or Anglophones, acknowledged internationally. Here, the President of the Republic could only be a proud defender of such a system.
Beyond these institutional issues, the President of the Republic also availed himself of his stay in Montreux to make some useful contacts which could only go a long way to making Cameroon better known or simply building new bridges of cooperation and friendship. At the congress centre, the President of the Republic was seen on several occasions exchanging warmly with his peers from all over the world. Back at his hotel, and before leaving Montreux, he received the Presidents of Georgia and the Swiss Confederation in separate audiences. If Cameroonians are quite familiar with Switzerland, the same cannot be said of Georgia, one new friend indeed.