The Commonwealth has been found wanting of late. Its ineffectiveness over Zimbabwe has been particularly disappointing but since it is an organisation of some 50 nations that works by consensus there is not a lot that can be done if its membership lacks the will to act. However, the Commonwealth does good work in developing professional and other co–operation between its member states – the recent Commonwealth Games at Manchester was an example.

Of the three European nations which ran the great 18th and 19th century empires only Britain devised an organisation to retain structural links between itself and its former colonies. Yet it is often said that French were “better” colonialists than the British and Spanish and that they put down deeper cultural roots in their colonies. One of the things that binds France to its former colonies is its language and last week leading figures from 55 francophone countries met in Beirut and confirmed their belief in French as an international language of equal importance and utility as English. La Francophonie – as it is called – represents 80 million mother–tongue speakers and also twice as many regular users of French. A clear distinction between the Commonwealth and La Francophonie is that the latter makes no attempt to discuss or take positions on international issues. Given the enormous disparity in outlook on many issues now apparent among the members of the Commonwealth it may be permissible to wonder whether the French approach may have something to be said for it.

Ray Fleming

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