Cameroonian immigrant challenges male dominance in Francophonie

Paris- France (PANA) -- Calixthe Beyala says she has seen her stars rise.
From being an active supporter of minority rights, she is aspiring for the most coveted seats in the Francophonie Organisation.
The 41-year-old Cameroonian immigrant in France is vying for the secretary general's post in the Francophonie Organisation which groups French speaking countries worldwide.
The incumbent holder of the seat, former UN Secretary- General Boutros Boutros Ghali (79) is seeking re-election for a five-year term while Congo's ambassador in Paris, Henri Lopes (64) has an eye to the same post.
Former Senegalese President Abdou Diouf was reportedly interested in the job, but his candidacy was not endorsed by his successor, President Abdoulaye Wade.
Though Beyala has no backing of Cameroon President Paul Biya, she believes the Francophonie itself can offer her the required number of votes to take the seat.
Election of the secretary general will take place during the ninth summit of the 55-member grouping to be held 26-28 October in Beirut, Lebanon.
Keeping with the francophone spirit, French authorities who are the icons of the Francophonie, have not demonstrated their preference among the candidates.
Beyala's candidacy has solicited mixed feelings in France as it is the first time a woman is challenging what many consider as "seasoned international diplomats".
But to Beyala, what matters is the vision one has for an organisation that could become a source of reference in the daily lives of its members.
According to her, the Francophonie suffered the shortcoming of being perceived as "too institutionalised" and therefore "alienated" from the needs of the common man.
The organisation "must relate to the ordinary problems facing francophone people within its space for it to be meaningful to the lives of people it portends to serve", she told PANA.
She says problems such as "francophone sans papiers", meaning undocumented francophone immigrants, should not be affecting francophone immigrants within a francophone country.
"Equality of chances should enable francophone citizens to enrich the organisation in various ways, including entrenchment of human rights principles, democracy and education opportunities, given its immense multicultural dimension", she argues.
Some of Beyala's supporters liken her to Baroness Margaret Thatcher of Kesteven (former UK Conservative prime minister).
They say she would provide a link that was missing in an organisation expected to meet the aspirations of its member states, within the context of globalisation, particularly those affecting women.
"For us in Africa, for instance, we need a Francophonie which does not barricade itself against African immigrants or students wishing to come to France or other francophone Western countries to study.
"We cannot understand the paradoxes of a Francophonie whose frontiers are tightened against francophone African immigrants", says Florence Dini, a journalist from Brazzaville.
"If elected, I intend to promote a Francophonie whose multi-cultural diversity becomes a source of strength and where equality of chances ensures there are no francophone sans papiers", she said.
Many women in Paris see in Beyala a woman's perception of issues being brought forward to the benefit of the Francophonie Organisation.
"Before her candidacy was announced, the Francophonie has been viewed as a man's domain.
It is, therefore, encouraging to other women who would wish to compete for top flight posts", said Dini.
Dini works for an international women's magazine, 'Amina', which is devoted to promotion of black women.
She was convinced that Beyala's candidacy provides an occasion to reflect on various issues affecting francophone women, including HIV/AIDS, conflicts and human rights abuses.
"We welcome her candidacy as her election may translate to increased focus on problems facing francophone women who represent a mere 2 percent in terms of access to new communication technologies," Dini added.
In France, Beyala heads a civil society association known as 'Collective Egalité' which has been instrumental in pushing for the rights of minority groups.
She dismissed suggestion that her "militancy" would weigh heavily against her candidacy in an organisation perceived to prefer low-key diplomacy.
"We have open-minded African and global leaders today within the Francophonie who understand the pertinence of issues in the 21st century.
My perceived militancy stance within Collective Egalité should not be seen as a wedge or the link between my candidacy and the vision I have for the Francophonie," she emphasized.

24 september 2001 21:42:00




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