Mr. Olivier Garro
Director of the International Institute for La Francophonie at Jean Moulin University Lyon 3
Mr. Olivier Gallo shares his views with the journal JAPAN and the WORLD on the emergence of a francophone economic space, the interest of Japan for la Francophonie and why the future of Africa matters for the French language.
—How do you define a global economic space for the French language?
Originally, La Francophonie was involved in cultural spaces. It built itself with organizations working in the field of culture. Then, it became an actor in political spaces. The International Organization of la Francophonie was set up to become an international operator, playing a role across member states on the political scene in several conflicts, and through international negotiations. The third dimension of la Francophonie now focuses on geo-economic space.
Mr. Olivier Garro is the Director of the International Institute for Francophonie at Jean Moulin University Lyon 3. The Institute is unique for its research studies of la Francophonie as a player in international relations with countries, international organizations and NGO’s. The Institute’s goal is to profoundly transform the image of la Francophonie and take up the challenges, which globalization currently represents for French speakers.
Did you know?
Conakry named World Book Capital for 2017.
Conakry, the capital of the Republic of Guinea, has been named World Book Capital for 2017. The decision was made by an international committee of experts on 30 June during a meeting at UNESCO’s Headquarters in Paris.
The concept of linking an economic space to a linguistic space can be problematic. For example, an investor will not decide to invest because of language itself, but rather after reviewing many factors related to each country, including its economic opportunities, skilled workforce, political stability, etc. Language may be one of many criteria.
The concept of a francophone economic space emerged quite late as a priority for la Francophonie. Even now, its definition is unclear. In the meantime, the digital technology revolution has opened up networking possibilities via the Internet and social media. As it grows, language can take some importance for a host of business activities and online services. From that standpoint, a linguistic space may serve as a virtual platform offering new and exciting economic opportunities to cultural industries.
In reference to cultural industries, I am thinking about cinema and conventional industries, but the possibilities go far beyond. Let me give an example. We are in Liège, in the heart of the Belgium comic book industry. It belongs to three cultural spaces in terms of being a major center of production. Indeed, Japan is known for manga, the U.S., Belgium and France for their comics. This represents a global market and potential profits for this industry.
We can expect digital mutations to accelerate intercultural linkages in the future. This example is significant because nearly a quarter of the comic book productions reaching the French-speaking market worldwide are Japanese manga translated into French. In reality, interpenetration in each of these market segments exists. This is presumably occurring for Franco-Belgian and American comics being translated into Japanese too. Therefore, we realize that major centers of production, reflecting their own cultural features, are capable of reaching the whole planet.
—Will Japan become an observer of la Francophonie?
Recently, the International Organization of la Francophonie was criticized because of the arrival of Qatar and Mexico as new observers, because none of them are French speaking countries. Moreover, some positions taken by Qatar were against values promoted by La Francophonie.
There are two ways of looking at this situation. On the one hand, it is up to the member states of an international organization to make decisions. For instance, if France, Canada, Morocco and Congo want Qatar to join the organization, this will be done and nobody can do anything about it.
With the role and influence that la Francophonie is trying to achieve in the arena of international relations, the basic rule is simple; the more members join the organization, the more in power it grows. Nowadays, this is an ongoing trend in international organizations and it explains why increased membership may be inevitable. This looks favorable for La Francophonie because none of its member states has ever resigned. It shows a level of vitality and a sense of vision of La Francophonie.
Japan is questioning itself in looking at la Francophonie. This is positive, because it recognises the organization’s capacity to attract many nations. It’s also appealing for several reasons. One of them is globalization, which is built on a Anglo-Saxon/Liberal model. In contrast, la Francophonie brings a different vision. The fact is that it can increase its attractiveness.
On the other hand, as a francophone, I do not have the same affinities when working with individuals from member countries not fluent in French. As a French-speaking citizen of the world, I prefer to work and make a contribution in French. Nonetheless, La Francophonie is not without its own geopolitical realities. For example, Algeria does not belong to it, despite the fact that the country has many French speakers. This country will soon have the highest number of French speaking students in the world, even ahead of France.
Israel is another country that does not belong to la Francophonie, although 20% of its population speak French. For the short term, it may skip its participation in La Francophonie because of problems with the Arab nations.
In a nutshell, any increase in members of La Francophonie is not easy.
—Why is Africa important for the future of la Francophonie?
These days, Africa is often described as the “last frontier,” in a positive sense. Japan is already present in Africa, through the activities of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). Many schools, health centers and other facilities have been established over the years. Japan’s open policy and support for African countries is well recognized through the Tokyo International Conference of African Development (TICAD). Clearly, it is solidarity in action—a fundamental value shared by la Francophonie.
In terms of languages, English is seen as the language of economics. The language of commerce is used by clients. As Africa’s French-speaking zone is the area with the highest growth in the world, it is attractive from a purely economic standpoint. Many foreign countries have shown an interest, namely major powers such as Japan and Germany, as well as emerging nations such as China, India, Brazil and Russia.
Undoubtedly, the competition between these foreign nations is increasing in Africa. What is happening provides reasons to rejoice. Over the last 15 years, there has been a major shift in the perceptions of Africa. Following China’s interest and its heavy investments, suddenly, the world has paid more attention to Africa. The perspective on African countries has changed completely. This happened in France and it was welcomed.
Africa may be the key to the future of la Francophonie. Already, its population represents 53% of French speakers worldwide. With 96.2 million Africans speaking French at the moment, the International Organization of la Francophonie believes that rising rates of literacy and birth mean there can be 700 million French speakers in the world by 2050. In this case, four out of five French speakers might be from Africa.
The future of the French language and La Francophonie depends on what is being done to help the development of Africa. There are reasons to be optimistic. If Japan wants to increase its presence in Africa, if the Japanese are willing to learn French, as the Chinese and others already do, to be active in Africa, this may be promising because Africans can learn Japanese. This process should lead to a greater respect for cultural diversity, which means better understanding reality from somebody else’s perspective.