YEREVAN, Armenia – Michaelle Jean lost her bid for a second term as secretary general of la Francophonie on Friday, as member nations opted for Rwanda’s foreign minister to take up the mantle going forward.
In a closed session at the organization’s biennial summit in Armenia, members of the organization of French-speaking nations chose Louise Mushikiwabo to replace Jean.
The appointment was confirmed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office, which said there was “consensus” for the Rwandan lawmaker.
Mushikiwabo had the support of France and several African Union countries going into the summit and both Canada and Quebec said they would back the “consensus candidate,” pulling their support for Jean earlier this week.
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Jean, appointed to the post in 2014, was the only secretary general to not hail from Africa since the post was created in 1997.
After a four-year term marked by controversy, the former governor general was considered a long shot for a second stint but Jean refused to withdraw her candidacy as support dwindled.
On Thursday, she made a final plea to member nations to hold onto the post without naming her Rwandan rival, warning them that rights and democracy shouldn’t take a back seat to partisan ambitions.
“At a moment when we march toward the 50th anniversary of la Francophonie, let’s ask ourselves here in Yerevan, in all conscience and in all responsibility, on which side of history do we want to be,” Jean said.
“Are we ready to accept that international organizations are used for partisan purposes?” Jean asked. “Are we ready to accept that democracy, rights and freedoms are reduced to mere words, that we make them meaningless in the name of realpolitik?”
The Rwandan government, of which Mushikiwabo is a high-ranking member, has been accused by various humanitarian groups of flouting democratic rights and press freedoms.
Also in 2010, French was replaced by English as the national official language in Rwanda, particularly in the education curriculum.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame pushed back against the criticism in an interview with The Canadian Press on Friday, saying that Jean’s comments came across as bitter and angry, given consensus had formed around Mushikiwabo.
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“I think it was outright wrong,” Kagame said of Jean’s message. “To tell people who’ve made a choice that they are wrong – that it should be her and not everyone else – in that way, I think it displays the problem.”
Observers say Canada made a geopolitical calculation in choosing to abandon Jean in favour of the African camp, as Ottawa eyes a seat at the U.N. Security Council in 2020.
African countries make up the bulk of the 54 states and member governments that voted Friday. At the United Nations, they represent more than a quarter of the member countries.
Canada also had to consider its relationship with France – President Emmanuel Macron had backed the Rwandan bid in a move widely seen as increasing that country’s influence in Africa.
Macron said Thursday that the future of la Francophonie goes through Africa.