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The New Face of la Francophonie

Michaëlle Jean.

Hopefully that name rings a bit of a bell.

Former Governor General of Canada. A special envoy in Haiti for UNESCO. Our very own Chancellor here at the University of Ottawa. And now she has another prestigious title to add to her list of astounding achievements: the new Secretary-General of La Francophonie. 

La Francophonie is an organization that is made up of 57 French-speaking states around the world. Their work and effort goes towards goals of advocating the French language on the international stage and promoting economic cooperation, preservation of cultural diversity, and progression of democracy among states.

While largely made up of African states, Canada, Quebec, and New Brunswick also hold membership to this organization. Quebec and New Brunswick are considered to be individual governments within the group.

Jean is the very first Canadian as well as the very first woman to hold this position of Secretary-General of la Francophonie. Her term will last for four years as she takes over from Abdou Diouf, the former president of Senegal. Her bid for this position was backed by Canada along with New Brunswick and Quebec. Four other candidates dropped out of the running for this post and a consensus was made to name Jean to this role.

However, this is not to say that Jean did not have to work to earn this position. She lobbied ardently, even travelling to the countries themselves to try and garner their support.

In the coming years, Jean will put a greater emphasis on furthering economic development, generating a shift from the organization’s traditional focus on conflict. To accomplish this, she plans make more progressive strides in advocating the role of youth and women as well as the use of French language among the Francophone and the global community.  

Despite everything, Jean’s being named to this leadership position is not without some speculations and doubts about her capabilities. One of the biggest concerns was the fact that Jean is not from Africa. A large majority of the members of la Francophonie are from Africa, and there have been skepticisms regarding whether or not a North American would be able to adequately address the needs and interests of Africa.

Jean’s background and extensive experience is quite notable though, and her work and efforts to gain this position are unquestionable and genuine.

In a statement, Prime Minister Stephen Harper remarked that “Ms. Jean is the ideal person to promote French and the values of the Organization. She will embody the renewal and modernity that La Francophonie of the 21st century needs, and will listen to heads of state and government and their citizens.”

In Jean’s taking up of this position, Canada is greatly rewarded as well. It will allow Canada the ability to strengthen diplomatic relations with other countries and refine its current foreign aid strategy.

On the whole, Jean’s appointment to Secretary General of la Francophonie is a very notable and illustrious occasion; it touches a variety of people, whether it be on the level of a Canadian, a francophone, a female, or a uOttawa student.

As our university’s President, Allan Rock, expresses in his statement, “This a remarkable distinction of which the entire University of Ottawa community can be proud.” Moreover, it is an honour of which the entire Canadian community can be proud. 

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An undergraduate student in her final year of study at the University of Ottawa, Melissa Poon is studying English and French as a Second Language with the hopes of working in publishing in the future. She has a passion for storytelling and finds it supremely fulfilling to bring the stories of others to life with a selection of choice words, a dash of character, and a touch of light humour. 
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