First coined in 1880 by the geographer Onésime Reclus to describe the linguistic and cultural community which France was building with her colonies, the French term "francophonie" has today rid itself of that colonial connotation. It now embraces two different but complementary realities. In its broadest meaning, it encompasses all efforts to promote the French language and the values it conveys regardless of the countries in which these are made. In the institutional sense - in French it then has a capital "F" - it is the term used to describe the Francophone Community, the international organization bringing together the 56 States and governments which have chosen to subscribe its Charter.
The French language continues in fact to occupy an important place in the world. French, with English, is the only language spoken on the five continents, remains a working language in the international organizations, in Europe as in Africa where for example it has a special place in the Organization of African Unity (OAU). French is the mother tongue of nearly 181 million people, the eighth most spoken language in the world (out of over 2,000 languages). Finally, there are estimated to be over 250 million people "capable of using French from time to time". Going beyond those figures, investigations conducted in many countries show that French retains a positive image not just of a useful language - an essential one in some sectors - but also of a language indissociably linked to values, a culture, to universal goals for society. The French language has the privilege of being recognized all over the world as a great language of civilization. It is because of this status that French has spread far and wide and is present in education systems and taught on every continent. Around 57 million pupils and students are learning French or studying in French abroad, involving some 900,000 teachers.
Institutional Francophony is a recent development. Its founding act was the creation on 20 March 1970 in Niamey of the Agency for Cultural and Technical Cooperation (ACCT), which has since become the Francophone Agency. The Francophone Agency, whose thirtieth birthday was celebrated in 2000, had five symbolic statesmen as godparents: the Tunisian Habib Bourguiba, Cambodian Norodom Sihanouk, Nigerian Hamani Diori, Lebanese Charles Hélou and Senegalese Léopold Sédar Senghor. They felt it important to keep very much alive the bonds created by a common history and cultural references through the medium of a language. This project rapidly extended beyond the borders of the old French empire, with new countries coming to join the founder members.
An organization with a universal calling, the Francophone Community is by nature open to the world and to its constituent peoples and cultures. Basically, its goal is to rally around the values of fraternity, tolerance and universality, countries with very different histories, cultures and levels of development, but which all want to affirm their identity in the globalizing world of today. So the Francophone Community must not be confused with all the
efforts to promote the role of the French language in the world. It is not immutable. Unlike the Commonwealth, for example, its membership criteria are not dependent on a common colonial history. Nor is it necessary for French to be the official language in its member States.
In thirty years, the Francophone Community has seen the number of its members rise from 22 to 56. It now brings together over a quarter of the world’s countries (49 full members, 2 associate members and 5 observers) [see www.francophonie.org for list of countries].
Present on five continents, with 10% of the planet’s population, carrying out 11% of world trade, the Francophone Community is a mosaic of peoples who, over and above their differences, nurture a common political and cultural ambition: to build States genuinely governed by the rule of law and to promote linguistic and cultural diversity. Its brief has also radically changed. It is now far more than a simple linguistic community and, while the French language remains its common denominator, it carries world-wide values and a message of universality and democracy. It is a recognized player in the field of development. In total, its agencies allocate over 200 million Euros a year, of which France contributes two thirds. Programmes focus on some priorities : language, culture, education, democracy, the reduction of the digital divide. Nowadays, the Intergovernmental Agency for Francophony emphasizes on the aid to define policies aimed at facilitating an access for the countries from the South to a financing by the International institutions ; aimed also at allowing the member-states to better defend their interests in discussions with the international organization where world regulations are defined. It also keeps abreast of the great international changes as evidenced by its breakthrough in Eastern Europe since the fall of the Berlin wall.
The objective is to forestall the risks of globalization exacerbating inequality and destroying identities and ensure that, on the contrary, it contributes to development and the dialogue of the cultures. The Francophone Heads of State and Government take the view that cultural goods can’t be reduced solely to their economic or commercial dimension and that States and governments have the right freely to establish their cultural policies, and that this includes the means and instruments needed to implement them. It confirmed French-speaking countries’ willingness to participate in drafting an international judicial tool which could promote a cultural diversity, as well as their opposition to any commitment to liberalize their cultural goods and services sectors. For the same reason, since the WTO ministerial conference in Seattle, the Francophone movement has been actively engaged in a consultation process which has reaffirmed member countries’ determination to promote cultural and linguistic diversity.
This mobilization of the Francophone Community and the other great linguistic - Arabic-, Spanish-, Portuguese-speaking - families who share their concern has helped alert the Southern countries to the very concrete interests they need to defend when it comes to protecting their heritage, promoting their cultural productions and the performance/exhibitions of their artists abroad, and also persuaded them that the Francophone Community can assist them in this task.