Gabon and Togo, West African countries, join the Commonwealth

Gabon and Togo joined the Commonwealth on Saturday, becoming the latest nations without historical ties to Britain to enter the English-speaking club led by Queen Elizabeth II.

The 54-nation group, mostly made up of former British colonies, accepted Togo and Gabon’s membership application on the last day of its leaders’ summit in Rwanda.

“We have admitted Gabon and Togo as new members, and we welcome them all to the Commonwealth family,” Rwandan President Paul Kagame said at the closing press conference.

Francophone West African states are the first new members to join the Commonwealth since Rwanda in 2009.

Togolese Foreign Minister Robert Dussey said membership opened the door to 2.5 billion consumers in the Commonwealth realm, offered new education opportunities and sparked a “craze” for English among his compatriots.

“Togo’s membership is motivated by the desire to expand its diplomatic, political and economic network (…) as well as to get closer to the English-speaking world,” he told AFP.

It has also allowed the small developing nation of 8.5 million people to redefine bilateral relations with the UK outside the European Union following Brexit, he added.

French-speaking states have also sought Commonwealth membership in recent years to distance themselves from France, analysts said.

Togolese political scientist Mohamed Madi Djabakate said the move would be popular as French influence in Togo was often blamed for its economic difficulties.

“Togo’s membership in the Commonwealth is better for many people than sharing French language and culture, which ultimately has not helped development,” he told AFP. AFP.

Rwanda’s accession came at a time of immense tension between Kigali and Paris, and the East African state has forged close ties with the UK in the years since its admission, including including a controversial migrant deal reached this year.

Gabonese President Ali Bongo said his country was “making history” by joining the group.

“Sixty-two years after its independence, our country is preparing to break through with a new chapter,” Bongo said in a statement on Twitter.

“It’s a world of opportunities for Gabon economically, diplomatically and culturally.”

Their admission is a boon to the Commonwealth at a time of renewed discussion about its relevance and purpose.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said interest from new members showed the organization was alive and well.

But it could also raise questions about the Commonwealth’s commitment to good governance and democracy as core values ​​in its charter.

Oil-rich Gabon, a former French colony on the Atlantic Ocean, has been ruled by the Bongo family for 55 years.

Ali Bongo took over after the death of his father and was returned to power in 2016 following an election marred by deadly violence and allegations of fraud.

Togo, a former German and then French colony, has also been under dynastic domination for more than half a century.

General Gnassingbe Eyadema ruled with an iron fist from 1967 until his death in 2005, when his son Faure Gnassingbe took power.

He won re-election in polls that were all contested by the opposition.

Born out of the British Empire, the Commonwealth represents a third of humanity and spans nations in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas.

Mozambique – a former Portuguese colony – became the first member of the Commonwealth without historical ties to Britain when it joined in 1995.

(AFP)

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