‘La Francophonie’ organisation of nations has signalled a change of course at its most recent 15th summit in Dakar, Senegal, electing Michaëlle Jean, a Canadian stateswoman of Haitian descent, as secretary-general amid calls for greater economic cooperation among members.

Formerly the Governor General of Canada, Jean will officially take office on 1st January 2015 as the third person and the first woman to hold the position, but she took the occasion of her nomination at the summit to call for a restructuring of the group’s collective priorities.

“One of the most ambitious and daring objectives that la Francophonie has ever set for itself is the idea of an economic Francophonie,” she told press after being named by consensus; asserting that an economic strategy would provide “renewed relevance” to the gathering.

Michaëlle Jean replaces Abdou Diouf, the Secretary-General of La Francophonie since 2003 and previously Senegal’s second President, who notably both came to power by peaceful succession and left willingly after losing the 2000 presidential election to Abdoulaye Wade.

As host, Senegalese President Macky Sall, reinforced that, “La Francophonie of the People is a common language and a culture of peace and security, democracy, and human rights.”

However, he also focused throughout on West Africa: “This summit is happening when the region has been affected by Ebola. I am calling on the region to come together to fight Ebola.”

Jean reinforced the issue of cooperation on crisis and cooperative development objectives in couched terms, noting that just as all “countries want growth, prosperity and development”, they should work together in the knowledge “that a crisis in Mali is not just a Malian crisis.”

French President François Hollande also took to the stand to complement Burkina Faso’s people in the wake of their mostly peaceful uprising against the 27-year rule of President Blaise Compaoré in October, warning against leaders violating their constitutional limits.

African Union welcomes interim Burkina Faso president

“This could serve as a lesson to many heads of state, and not only in Africa, not to change the constitutional order for personal gain,” Holland told France 24, calling the Burkinabé revolt “a sign that Africans are committed to democracy and to the constitutional order”.

However, the true theme of this year’s summit was youth and women, as Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper noted: “Between 2004 and 2014, 100 million girls will have been forced to marry before they have reached adulthood. When girls cannot achieve their full potential, everyone suffers: the girls, their children, their communities, and their countries.

“The family is the foundation of any society, but how can the unity and harmony of the family be preserved when it is formed in constraint, in inequality?”

In all, the summit was attended by 77 countries, made up of the 57 state members of the International Organization of La Francophonie (IOF) and delegates from 20 visiting countries.

The 57 member states are comprised of 720 million people (220 million francophone), generating a combined GDP of $7.2tn in 2012, while over the past five years, the average growth of the francophone area has risen by 3.2%, in spite of the 2008 global economic crisis.

Paris investors pledge $7.7bn towards Macky Sall’s emerging Senegal

Critics of the summit pointed to the extravagance of the $108.3m conference hall built for the event, nestled in the town of Diamniadio, a satellite metropolis being built 27km from Dakar, but the naming of the centre of after former President Diouf drew a standing ovation.

Senegal’s spending reflects the new-found optimism of this alliance of francophone nations, as they look to re-forge old ties, rally and transform into a veritable economic community.

As the grudges of colonialism fade further into the past, today’s francophone leaders are increasingly inclined to look back with a renewed interest their natural cultural and human synergies, though only time will tell whether the negotiations going on behind closed doors will yield real fruit.

Meanwhile, the world will watch for the next gathering of La Francophonie, which will take place in 2016 in the care of the on-off OIF member and island nation that is Madagascar.

Prince Alwaleed makes Saudi presence felt at La Francophonie