Rwanda's Mushikiwabo in formal bid to lead Francophonie

Saturday July 14 2018

Rwanda’s Foreign Affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo at the African Union summit in Mauritania on July 1, 2018.

Rwanda’s Foreign Affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo at the African Union summit in Mauritania on July 1, 2018. She is seeking to head the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie. PHOTO | AFP 

By EDMUND KAGIRE
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Rwanda’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Louise Mushikiwabo, has formally entered a bid to head the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF), a bloc of French-speaking countries and former French colonies.

Ms Mushikiwabo, who is contesting to become the secretary general of the 84-member body, last week submitted her credentials to the President of Madagascar, Hery Rajaonarimampianina — the current OIF chairman.

Ms Mushikiwabo’s bid contained her resume, a statement of consent as well as income and property declarations. She was accompanied by one of Rwanda’s top diplomat, Donald Kaberuka.

Her bid received support from the African Union during the recent AU summit in Nouakchott, Mauritania.

Rwanda’s bid has been buoyed by the backing of French President Emmanuel Macron, despite frosty relations that have existed between Kigali and Paris since the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi.

Observers say that Kigali’s decision to downgrade the use of French as a language of instruction since 2006 after a diplomatic falling out with France, and applying to join the Commonwealth, could be the biggest undoing for the bid to lead the French-speaking bloc.

President Paul Kagame on a recent visit to France said that Rwanda never actually left the Francophonie.

“Rwanda has always been a member of the Francophonie, we never stopped. When asked to contribute and given the context of new times we are happy to participate by providing leaders like Mushikiwabo as long as this has the support of members,” President Kagame said during a press conference with President Macron at the end of May.

Ms Mushikiwabo was fronted by President Kagame, who is also the current AU chairman.

Tough race

Political observers say that the race for the OIF leadership will not be an easy one for the Rwandan diplomat who is expected to face off against the incumbent, former Canadian governor general Michaëlle Jean, who has also expressed interest in seeking re-election.

Ms Jean has in recent weeks successfully defended herself against allegations of mismanagement at the body, terming the accusations a “smear campaign,” and affirming her interest in retaining the position.

Meanwhile, Ms Mushikiwabo has been shuttling between countries seeking support. She formalised her bid to embark on a campaign ahead of the elections scheduled for October 11-12 in Yerevan, Armenia.

Her bid received a boost from the unanimous support of African countries, 30 of which are among the 54 countries in OIF with voting rights.

Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo were expected to oppose the bid due to existing diplomatic tensions between the two countries, but sources say they did not block the unanimous resolution to support the bid in Mauritania.

Despite the animosity existing between Kigali and Bujumbura since 2015, Rwanda formally wrote to Burundi seeking support for the bid but it is not yet clear whether President Pierre Nkurunziza’s government responded in the affirmative.

Burundi’s Foreign Affairs Minister Ezéchiel Nibigira attended the meeting in Mauritania where he submitted the African Continental Free Trade Area documents. Burundi boycotted the summit in Kigali in March which saw countries approve the free trade area.

Despite the recent border skirmishes, Burundi’s signing of the trade deal signalled eased tensions at the diplomatic level. Both countries maintain embassies in their respective capitals.

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BIO

Louise Mushikiwabo was born in 1961 in Kigali.

Education

  • 1984: Obtained a bachelor’s degree in English from the National University of Rwanda (now the University of Rwanda).
  • 1986 -1988: Studied Master’s degree in languages and interpretation at the University of Delaware in the US, specialising in French.

Work Experience

  • She worked for lobby organisations in the US and later the African Development Bank in Tunis as its communications director.
  • 2008: Ms Mushikiwabo returned to Rwanda upon the invitation of President Paul Kagame and was appointed Minister of Information.
  • 2009 to date: Foreign Affairs Minister and Government Spokesperson.

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