KIGALI (CU)_The Commonwealth is a voluntary association of 54 member states, or so it was until Saturday (25 June) which is when the Commonwealth Secretariat admitted two former French colonies as its 55th and 56th members. It marked the first time new nations have been added in more than a decade. The last country to join the Commonwealth, in 2009, was Rwanda, where this year’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) was held with the participation of over 5,000 state leaders and delegates. At the closing session of the 2022 CHOGM, applications made by Gabon and Togo to join the Commonwealth were accepted by the leaders.
“The Commonwealth, which began as eight nations in 1949, is growing to 56,” Commonwealth Secretary-General the Rt Hon Patricia Scotland, QC, said following the announcement. “Our continued growth, beyond the scope of our history, reflects the advantages of Commonwealth membership and the strength of our association. I am thrilled to see these vibrant countries join the Commonwealth family and dedicate themselves to the values and aspiration of our Charter.”
With the two countries gaining independence from France in the 1960’s, neither of them has an historic association with the Commonwealth. They are reportedly weary of France and therefore hope these renewed ties with the UK through their membership of the Commonwealth would usher in a new era of development. “I’m very excited about the Commonwealth because our relationship with France is not very good,” young Gabonese student, Darcy Nkongo Ekwamata, told The Telegraph. “They don’t consider us as equals, they see us as a country that they can just exploit. They don’t want us to industrialise. We need something new and we think that Britain can help us.”
With a sparse population of just over 2.2 million people, Gabon is bordered by Cameroon, a Commonwealth member-state, as well as Equatorial Guinea, and the Republic of Congo. Togo, on the other hand, has a population of about 8.2 million people. It is also bordered by a Commonwealth member, Ghana, on the West, while Burkina Faso is on the Northern Border and Benin on the Eastern border.
The government of Gabon hopes that its membership of the Commonwealth will enable the country to move away from the influence of Paris and form ties with a new set of partners, strengthening its opportunities for development. According to Foreign Minister Michael Adamo, the central African nation has missed out on opportunities worth billions of dollars, since the perception that the government only does business with France has deterred British and American investors. Accordingly, he believes Britain is a better partner than France in offering opportunities for development to African countries. “The two colonial powers have very different ways of managing their former colonies,” the Minister said. “We can see very clearly how former British colonies have moved forwards and how the former French colonies have moved forward – the relationships are very different”.
Commenting on the country’s decision to become a Commonwealth member, Minister Adamo’s Togolese counterpart, Robert Dussey, said the move opened the door to 2.5 billion consumers. New education opportunities were also among the many benefits, he added. “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,” Minister Dussey told AFP.