Issues at the Francophonie Summit: chaos in Haiti and soaring food prices


Dylan Robertson and Caroline Plante, The Canadian Press

DJERBA, Tunisia — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has arrived in Africa for a gathering of French-speaking countries grappling with chaos in Haiti, soaring food prices and anxiety over the role of language in the digital age.

Members of the International Organization of La Francophonie (OIF) are meeting this weekend in Tunisia to take stock of the turbulent times of geopolitics and seek closer ties.

Like the Commonwealth, La Francophonie holds annual meetings on everything from human rights to cultural exchanges to the role of French internationally.

The summit is the fourth and final leg of a 10-day trip for Justin Trudeau, which included three major summits in Asia, including the G20 leaders’ meeting.

The 18th Sommet de la Francophonie therefore marks a return after cancellations in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The event comes as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sends food prices skyrocketing in Africa.

The issue is of particular concern in North Africa, where the cost of bread is among the foods whose prices skyrocketed during the Arab Spring protests from 2010 to 2012.

“There will be very important geopolitical issues,” said University of Alberta political scientist Frederic Boily in an interview.

« Food problems on the African side are glaring, » he said.

Arab Spring protests began in Tunisia, leading to the overthrow of former President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and the establishment of democratic elections.

However, the summit host country appears to be backtracking, with current Tunisian President Kais Saied suspending parliament in 2021, concentrating power and attacking key institutions.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have raised concerns about the Saied government’s imprisonment of journalists, dismissal of judges, and giving religion a prominent role in the military.

Canada wanted the event to be postponed due to these concerns, while the Quebec government considered a boycott before deciding that it was better to use the summit to forge closer ties with African nations.

On Friday, Trudeau said he would stress the importance of human rights at the summit.

“I will share my concerns about the democratic backsliding we are seeing in many parts of the world and our concerns about what is happening in Tunisia,” he told reporters after the summit. of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation in Bangkok.

Moments later, Reuters reported that Tunisian police fired tear gas to disperse protesters in the town of Zarzis, which is connected by a long bridge to the resort island of Djerba, where the summit is taking place.

The protests may have been linked to the recent uprising over the Tunisian government’s response to the deaths of its citizens in shipwrecks as migrants attempted to cross the Mediterranean.

The ongoing turmoil in Haiti is likely to be a frequent topic of conversation at the summit, as the Caribbean country grapples with gang violence that affects supplies of fuel and essentials.

The Haitian government has requested foreign military intervention to restore order, but the idea is controversial among Haitians. No country has expressed a willingness to lead such an intervention, although the name of Canada has been mentioned by the United States.

The summit will also look at improving schooling in French, especially in African countries that lack stability.

Prime Minister Trudeau plans to meet with leaders from several countries in Tunisia, just weeks after hosting an African Union delegation in Ottawa to strengthen Canada’s ties with the continent.


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