Louisiana to seek full membership in La Francophonie
On Tuesday, Gov. John Bel Edwards announced Louisiana’s intent to become a full member of the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie, committing to work with Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser to finalize the application.
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POINTE-AUX-CHÊNES — Gov. John Bel Edwards announced on Tuesday Louisiana’s intent to become a full voting member of the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie (OIF), a status that could open the door to millions of dollars in grants and investments, in addition to elevating the state’s status in the francophone world.
Edwards, whose administration increased state funding for French educational and economic projects from under $200,000 in 2015 to $4 million this year, said full membership is “critical to securing Louisiana’s seat at the table of French speaking countries.”
The OIF is composed of 88 member states and countries where French is an official language or plays an important role in the region. In 2018, Louisiana made history when it became an observing member, the only U.S. state to belong to the organization. Since then, Louisiana’s status has highlighted it as a francophone region on the global scale, while offering the chance to attend some of the organization’s meetings as a non-voting member.
Louisiana’s membership in the OIF set the stage for Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser to host the secretary general of the organization, Louise Mushikiwabo, for an official visit in April 2022. “My office has worked diligently to take full advantage of Louisiana’s observer membership in the OIF since 2018,” he said. “In my role overseeing the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana (CODOFIL), the partnerships we have made support our francophone programs.”
A few months later in December, French President Emmanuel Macron visited Louisiana and met with Edwards, Nungesser and other local officials to discuss strengthening economic, environmental and cultural ties. This year, under the OIF’s auspices, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette joined its higher education network l’Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie (AUF), Louisiana hosted the Americas division of its parliamentary assembly L’Assemblée parlementaire de la Francophonie (APF), and Télé-Louisiane and Louisiana Public Broadcasting developed partnerships with the global French-language TV channel TV5Monde.
Full membership status would likely continue these sorts of relationships with France and other francophone countries. It would also include the ability to vote on official resolutions, strengthen international economic and diplomatic ties, and provide the governor with direct access to the heads of state of France, Canada and other French-speaking countries that belong to the OIF.
With more funding resources available to Louisiana, the state’s French immersion programs could also see a boost. Under Edwards and Nungesser, the number of immersion programs has reached 36, the highest in history. In an October interview on the podcast Le Louisianiste, which is produced by Télé-Louisiane, Nungesser noted the state needs to do more.
“I want to see all of our French immersion programs bringing in more students, so we can bring teachers here to teach our kids and so our students can travel abroad,” he said. “I think it’s one of the greatest things Louisiana has done. It opens our doors to the world, and it makes us work better with [French-speaking countries].”
In October, Edwards sent a letter of intent to Mushikiwabo. His team is now working with Nungesser and the Consul General of France in Louisiana Rodolphe Sambou to finalize and submit the application, which will be reviewed by Mushikiwabo and her team. The OIF will coordinate with Louisiana officials on fact finding before the candidacy is brought for a vote before OIF member states at the Summit of OIF Heads of States in Villers-Cotterêts, France in November 2024.
“We’re delighted with this announcement, because Louisiana has a rightful place in the Francophonie family,” Sambou said. “This was clearly demonstrated by the visit of the President France last December, when he announced the opening of the Cité Internationale de la Francophonie in Villers-Cotterêt last week, where Louisiana will naturally be represented.”