The Commonwealth, which is made up of 54 countries, most of which are former British colonies, accepted Togo and Gabon’s membership application on the last day of its summit in Rwanda.

“We have admitted 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.

Gabon and Togo, French-speaking countries in West Africa, are the first new members to join the Commonwealth since Rwanda in 2009.

Togolese Foreign Minister Robert Dussey said membership in the Commonwealth and its 2.5 billion consumers offered new economic and educational opportunities and sparked a “craze” for English among his compatriots.

“Togo’s membership is motivated by the desire to expand its diplomatic, political and economic network (…) and to get closer to the English-speaking world,” he told AFP. It also allows the small developing nation of 8.5 million people to redefine bilateral relations with the UK outside the EU after Brexit, he added.

The two French-speaking countries have also applied for Commonwealth membership in recent years to distance themselves from France, analysts have said.

For the Togolese political scientist Mohamed Madi Djabakate, this decision will be welcomed because the French influence in Togo is often criticized.

“The accession was not discussed with the Togolese people. It is a unilateral decision of the government”, which is however not unpopular with the Togolese who “gradually see in the foreign policy of France the reasons for the stagnation of the country,” he said.

“Togo joins Commonwhealth which for many is better than sharing French language and culture which at the end of the day does not promote development,” according to the analyst.

– “New chapter” –

Rwanda’s entry into the Commonwealth came at a time of great tension between Kigali and Paris. Kigali has forged close ties with London in the years since its admission, not least of which was evident this year with the conclusion of a controversial migrant deal.

For his part, Gabonese President Ali Bongo declared that his country was writing “history” by joining the Commonwealth.

“Sixty-two years after its independence, our country is about to open a new chapter in its history,” Bongo said in a statement on Twitter. “Many opportunities are available to us economically, diplomatically and culturally.”

The admission of Togo and Gabon to the Commonwealth comes amid ongoing debates over its relevance and objectives.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said interest from new members proves the organization is doing well.

But it could also raise questions about the Commonwealth’s commitment to good governance and democracy, core 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 succeeded his father after his death as leader of Gabon and was returned to power in 2016 following an election marred by deadly violence and allegations of fraud.

Togo, a former German and then French colony, has also been under dynastic domination for more than half a century.

General Gnassingbe Eyadema ruled the country with an iron fist from 1967 until his death in 2005, when his son Faure Gnassingbe took power. He was re-elected in polls that were all contested by the opposition.

Born out of the British Empire, the Commonwealth represents a third of humanity and spans nations in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas.

Mozambique, a former Portuguese colony, became the first member of the Commonwealth without historical ties to the UK when it joined in 1995.