An office in Quebec to stimulate the American “Francophone potential”

“It was not normal that this part of the Francophonie no longer had visibility. The general secretary of the International Organization of the Francophonie (OIF), Louise Mushikiwabo, will be in Quebec on Tuesday to inaugurate the new Francophonie office. An office whose mission will not only be to represent the Francophonie of North America, but also to centralize the action of the OIF on everything related to the evolution of French in the world.

From this summer, the Paris-based French Language Observatory, which follows the evolution of the French language and publishes a voluminous report every four years, will move to Quebec. “When in 2019, in Munich, the responsible ministers of La Francophonie asked me to rethink the organization’s presence in the world, I immediately thought it was not normal that La Francophonie was not represented politically and diplomatically in North America. To be honest , the Francophonie of the Americas is Quebec. But we also have a large community of Francophiles and Francophiles in Canada and the United States “, explains Mushikiwabo, in an interview with The dutybefore leaving for Quebec.

This former Rwandan Foreign Minister, who succeeded former Governor General Michaëlle Jean in 2018 under tumultuous circumstances, knows what she’s been talking about since studying with our American neighbors. At the time, Louisiana had also just been admitted as an observer to the OIF.

“I know the Francophone potential in this part of the world,” he says. The Quebec City office will be responsible for contacting French speakers in America. I am for a Francophonie that goes out to meet people, beyond the routine of international organizations. This is her way, she says, of understanding what she calls this “new Francophonie”.

“Modernizing” the OIF

Once it is not customary, Louise Mushikiwabo is not the type to sink into bombast. Her sober and sober style contrasts with the often emphatic character of the one who had preceded her in this post and who had been criticized in particular for her excessive spending. During his interview with The dutyMs. Mushikiwabo repeated on several occasions that the OIF was a “modest” organization and that it “cannot do everything”. This does not mean that with its 54 Member States and 27 observers it has no influence in the world, she points out.

“In 2018 I received the mandate to rethink and modernize this organization, which turned 50 in 2020. We have been involved in everything: the French language, cooperation, support for women entrepreneurs, young people, expired drugs, etc. It’s only if we weren’t in nuclear power! “

So choices had to be made. The 400 projects she worked on in 2018 were grouped into about twenty major missions. The Secretary General chose to focus OIF action on girls’ education, women’s empowerment, digital technology and young people, he said. Without forgetting of course the defense of the French language, which is at the origin of everything.

What Louise Mushikiwabo describes as a simple “grooming” sometimes resembles a major cleansing. After an audit by KPMG, around twenty positions were eliminated. Not without causing friction. Without certain offices, says the secretary general, we have still filled out handwritten forms for the financial statements. A new financial regulation was put in place and the contribution of states, some of which had several years of backlog, was improved by 20%.

The secretary general admits that the OIF hasn’t been talked about much for two years. That didn’t stop him, he says, from turning around quickly during the pandemic. We had to go digital. For example, the Institut de la Francophonie pour l’éducation et la formation (IFEF), based in Senegal, had to find tricks to reach young people who were confined but who did not have access to the Internet.

“We have also advocated equal access to vaccines in partnership with the WHO, the European Union and the African Union. We have also monitored the delivery of vaccines in some countries. On February 28, Louise Mushikiwabo was in Moldova with the President of the Council of Europe, Charles Michel, to encourage vaccination as part of Operation Covax.

“Not in war”

But, he does not hide it, in Africa where France does not have a good press when it has just withdrawn from Mali under the scorn, it is not always easy to explain that the OIF n is not France and vice versa. “Yes, France has small problems in Africa, especially at the youth level. But at the same time, I have no problem saying it, there are many difficulties that come from us Africans. France has its flaws, as a Rwandan, I know. But France is not responsible for all of Africa’s woes. If we are honest with ourselves, we Africans also have some things to change. “

Although the number of French speakers in Africa has increased by 7% since 2018, according to the latest report by the Observatory of the French language, the general secretary is not shouting victory. “We are not at war with English, says Louise Mushikiwabo, but we are concerned that the French language will not lose its place. The Francophone Initiative for Distance Teacher Education, which trains hundreds of teachers, could be a real success even in non-OIF member countries such as Ghana, it is necessary “to move to the ‘upper ladder’, says the Secretary General.

Even this former translator does not hide her frustration at seeing that English occupies more and more space in the European Union, even if the United Kingdom is no longer part of it. “I know we will not stop the progress of the English language. But there is no reason for French speakers to capitulate. It is also up to the Member States to make an effort. “

Are you going to Djerba?

All these questions should be raised at the next summit, which will take place next November in Djerba, Tunisia. At least if everything goes as planned. We know that if the summit was postponed last year, it wasn’t just for logistical reasons and the epidemic. At the time, the Tunisian president, Kaïs Saïed, had just assumed full powers and suspended the parliament dominated by the Islamist party Ennahdha. However, on April 22, the right was also given to appoint the director of the electoral authority who will have to oversee the constitutional referendum to be held next July and the legislative elections in December.

“For the moment, I have no worries, but I am following very closely what is happening,” said Louise Mushikiwabo. She won’t say more. What image would a Francophonie summit held in a country that does not respect its own constitutional rules give? Above all, this summit, which was to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the OIF, should not be postponed again. Especially since the Secretary General takes his mandate from the Assembly of Heads of State and Government. “I don’t want to become a permanent secretary like at the French Academy,” she jokes.

Meanwhile, Louise Mushikiwabo doesn’t want to say she’s “interested” in a future term. Carefully weighing her words, she simply says that she is “available”. “The potential of this organization is enormous,” she concludes. While hurrying to add “at our level and with the means that exist”.

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