West African nations Gabon and Togo join Commonwealth
Gabon and Togo joined the Commonwealth on Saturday, becoming the latest countries with no historical ties to Britain to join the Anglophone club led by Queen Elizabeth II.
The group of 54 countries, mostly former British colonies, accepted the application for membership from Togo and Gabon on the last day of the leadership summit in Rwanda.
“We have welcomed 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.
The French-speaking West African states are the first new members to join the Commonwealth since Rwanda in 2009.
Togo Foreign Secretary Robert Dussey said membership opened the door to 2.5 billion Commonwealth consumers, opened up new educational opportunities and sparked a “craze” for English among his compatriots.
“Togo’s membership is motivated by a desire to expand its diplomatic, political and economic network…and to get closer to the English-speaking world,” he told AFP.
It also enabled the small and developing country of 8.5 million to redefine bilateral relations with the UK outside the European Union in the wake of Brexit, he added.
Francophone states have also sought Commonwealth membership in recent years to turn away from France, analysts said.
Togolese political scientist Mohamed Madi Djabakate said the move would be popular because French influence in Togo was often blamed for the economic problems.
“Joining Togo in the Commonwealth is for many people better than sharing the French language and culture, which in the end did not promote development,” he told AFP.
Rwanda’s own membership 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 a controversial migrant deal signed this year.
Gabonese President Ali Bongo said his country is “making history” by joining the group.
“Sixty-two years after independence, our country is getting ready to break through with a new chapter,” Bongo said in a statement on Twitter.
“It is a world of opportunity for Gabon on an economic, diplomatic and cultural level.”
Their admission is a blessing to the Commonwealth at a time of renewed debate about its relevance and purpose.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the interest from new members proved the organization was alive and kicking.
But it could also raise questions about the Commonwealth’s commitment to good governance and democracy as fundamental values of 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 his father’s death and returned to power in 2016 after an election marred by deadly violence and allegations of fraud.
A former German and then French colony, Togo has also been under dynastic rule for more than half a century.
General Gnassingbe Eyadema ruled with an iron fist from 1967 until his death in 2005, after which his son Faure Gnassingbe took power.
He was re-elected in polls, all of which were contested by the opposition.
Born of the British Empire, the Commonwealth represents a third of humanity and includes countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas.
Mozambique – a former Portuguese colony – became the first Commonwealth member with no historical ties to Britain when it joined in 1995.