The future of the Francophonie goes through Africa

This text is part of the special Francophonie booklet

The world’s French-speaking population is increasing thanks to population growth in Africa, according to the most recent data from Francoscope, an initiative of Laval University and the International Organization of La Francophonie (OIF).

There are 327 million French speakers in the world in 2023, according to the new edition of Francoscope. This web platform has been disseminating since 2020 estimates of the number and percentage of French speakers in more than a hundred countries. It is produced by researchers from the Demographic and Statistical Observatory of the Francophone Area (ODSEF) of Laval University and the French Language Observatory of the OIF.

This increase of six million French speakers compared to 2022 is mainly linked to the growth of the African population, where the number of French speakers has increased to 167 million, or 7.4 million more than last year.

This significant jump stems from the fact that reality proved wrong some demographic projections made by the United Nations (UN) in 2019. The UN indeed carries out an exercise of estimates and projections of world populations every four years. ODSEF and OIF researchers use it to compile data from Francoscope and their flagship work, The French language in the worldpublished every four years.

“The United Nations projections in 2019 had underestimated the demographic growth of the African continent and overestimated that of Europe, indicates the director of the ODSEF, Richard Marcoux. The 2023 data therefore presents a slightly different picture of the Francophonie. »

Support the African Francophonie

Europe is losing 830,000 French speakers. It would have 135 million in 2023. If France remains in the lead for the number of speakers of the language of Molière (there are more than 63 million within metropolitan France, without its overseas components), it is the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) which ranks second, with more than 52 million speakers, or about half of its total population. We also find Algeria, Morocco, Cameroon and Ivory Coast in the top ten.

For a dozen years, Richard Marcoux has been closely following the evolution of a space he calls the planet “Naître ou vivre en français”, that is to say countries and territories where people are exposed to this language on a daily basis. “Between 2010 and 2023, the population of this set increased by 61 million people, and 93% of this increase occurred in Africa”, he underlines.

Canada and Quebec would therefore do well to take an interest in this space where the survival of the Francophonie faces several challenges. In particular, they should further support education, a major vector for maintaining the French language on the continent. “Several countries lack the means to offer quality education to all their citizens in a dynamic of demographic explosion, and Quebec and Canada must play a role in consolidating these efforts”, believes the researcher.

Richard Marcoux adds that Africa is far from being monolithic and that French evolves there in several different contexts. In countries like Mali, Senegal and the Maghreb states, the language of Molière coexists with another strong national language such as Bambara, Wolof and Arabic. Other countries, such as Gabon, Benin and Côte d’Ivoire, share French as the sole national language.

The Canadian Francophonie is evolving

Canada, the only American country in the top ten, ranks sixth, with nearly 10.9 million French speakers, the majority of whom live in Quebec. In addition to the five African states mentioned, Belgium, Madagascar and Tunisia complete this list.

Slightly more than a quarter (27.63%) of the Canadian population would be French-speaking according to the definition of Francoscope, that is to say that they can speak or understand French. Nearly 92% of Quebecers and more than 40% of the population of New Brunswick meet this criterion, as do just over 10% of Ontarians and nearly 10% of residents of the Northwest Territories.

According to Richard Marcoux, Bill 101 and Bill 14 (resulting from Bill 96 adopted in 2022) help Quebec preserve the French language, but its situation remains more fragile in the other provinces. Especially since the portrait of the Francophonie outside Quebec tends to change.

“Alongside the traditional Francophonie of French-Canadian and often rural origin, a Francophonie resulting from immigration, which is very urban, is developing,” he says. We have to build bridges between these two groups and ensure that these newcomers can live in French in these provinces. »

This special content was produced by the Special Publications team of the Duty, relating to marketing. The drafting of Duty did not take part.

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