Michaëlle Jean, Canada’s first Black governor general, has again broken new ground.
Last Sunday, she became the first Canadian and the first woman to be chosen as secretary-general of La Francophonie, an organization representing countries and regions around the world where French is the dominant language.
The organization has 57 members or associate members while another 20 jurisdictions have observer status.
Jean succeeds former Senegal president, Abdou Diouf, who held the post for 11 years.
“I am very excited to work with all these women and all these men who make and live the Francophonie daily,” said Jean in a written statement following the announcement.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who attended the summit with Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard and New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant, said that Jean is the ideal person for the job.
“She will embody the renewal and modernity that la Francophonie of the 21st century needs and she will listen to heads of state and government and their citizens,” said Harper.
Governor General David Johnston also congratulated Jean.
“We are confident that she will fervently and passionately defend not only the French language and culture, but also respect for the shared values of peace, democracy and human rights that have solidified the belonging of each nation in la Francophonie,” he said.
Jean, who served as Canada’s 27th Governor General for five years until September 2010, is the United Nations Economic, Scientific & Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) special envoy for Haiti and co-chair of the Michaëlle Jean Foundation, which supports citizens across Canada through the arts and culture as a means of social transformation and youth mobilization.
Born into poverty in Haiti, she and her family moved to Montreal in 1968 to flee the regime of then president François Duvalier. Jean studied Comparative Literature at the Universite de Montreal, taught Italian in that university’s Department of Modern Languages and Literatures and worked in shelters for female victims of domestic violence. She also helped establish a network of emergency shelters in Quebec and across Canada before enjoying an outstanding career as a television journalist, anchor and host of news programs on Radio-Canada and CBC Newsworld (now CBC News Network).
In March 2009, the Michaëlle Jean Canadian Chair in Caribbean and African Diasporic Studies was launched at the University of Alberta. The chair aims to conduct research into the Caribbean and African Diaspora’s historical and contemporary experiences in Canada, offer study abroad opportunities in Africa and the Caribbean and recruit world-class scholars, top undergraduate and graduate students.
Jean is the recipient of 10 honorary degrees, including one from the University of Ottawa, which appointed her its 13th chancellor in November 2011.