Heads of state and other representatives from more than 70 French-speaking countries are expected in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, for the annual summit of La Francophonie or the French-speaking world, to be held October 12-14. Among them will be French President Francois Hollande, who is expected to deliver a message that may be taken as critical of the host country.
As a former colonial power, France created La Francophonie, and Hollande's predecessors were often accused of trying to perpetuate a French empire through murky deals with undemocratic African leaders.
The current French president, a socialist, has said he wants to break with that past and do more to promote democracy on the continent. When he took office this year, Hollande immediately faced the question of whether to mark French disapproval of flawed elections in the DRC last year by boycotting the summit in Kinshasa.
He has decided to attend but this week described the situation in Congo as unacceptable in terms of rights and democracy. At a news conference in Paris Tuesday he was asked what his message would be in Kinshasa.
Hollande told journalists he would say that French is not just a language of France - it is a language of Africa, and it is also supposed to be a language of values and principles, among them democracy, good governance and the fight against corruption. He said he would deliver this message while in DRC, which he described as a country marked by a certain number of democratic difficulties, but also by difficulties on its borders, a reference to neighboring countries' alleged support for rebels in eastern Congo.
In response, DRC government spokesman Lambert Mende told media in Kinshasa on Wednesday that democracy is more advanced in Congo than elsewhere in central Africa, and that people would come to Kinshasa and see the country is not a failed state but a state like any other.
For French-speaking Africans in general, the French president has a more positive message, which he said he would deliver in Dakar on his way to Kinshasa.
Hollande said he will carry a message of France's confidence in Africans' future, of solidarity with their development and of friendship, because France needs a dynamic Africa. He added that he will tell Africa's young people they are an asset and in no way a burden, and that he would deliver this speech in Senegal which, he said, had shown in the past few years its ability to make democracy a reality.
The opposition in the DRC had called for a general strike on Tuesday to signal its dissatisfaction with the state of democracy in the country but cancelled it at the last moment and there has been no announcement of any large demonstration planned during the summit.
However, police trucks with water cannon are standing by. Political observers do not expect any major issues to be resolved at the Francophone summit but the situation in Mali will likely dominate discussions among West African leaders.