Spotlight: Dedication to French earns award for ISS senior researcher


Institute for Security Studies’ Senior Researcher Liesl Louw-Vaudran was named Chevalier de l’Ordre national du Mérite (National Order of Merit) by French President Emmanuel Macron in recognition of her dedication to the French language and its national and cultural development.

Louw-Vaudran is respected in African political and diplomatic circles for her knowledge, experience and objective views as an advisor and consultant. She is editor of the ISS’ monthly report on the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council (in English and French), and an ISS specialist on South African foreign policy, southern Africa, the AU and African peace and security.

She is also a regular commentator on African politics for South African media, Radio France International and the French services of the BBC World Service, Voice of America and Deutsche Welle.

‘Liesl’s award is a tribute to the calibre of people working for the ISS,’ says ISS Executive Director Anton du Plessis. French is an official language in nearly half of Africa’s 54 countries, and France an important player on the continent and in global forums dealing with African issues.

Louw-Vaudran is respected in African political and diplomatic circles for her knowledge, experience and objective views

‘French is my secret weapon and my career is thanks to the French language,’ says Louw-Vaudran. ‘It has enriched my personal and professional life and helped me to bridge the political, linguistic and cultural divide between French and English-speaking Africa.’

‘Straddling two language and two cultures has helped me to appreciate the diversity and complexity of the continent. Language helps to overcome narrow national identities and exercise tolerance.’

She studied French at Pretoria University and secured a philosophy Honours from Stellenbosch University. Her two years at Afrikaans newspaper Beeld had already given her a taste for what she describes as the ‘reflection and analysis’ required by a career in journalism.

With South Africa opening up to the world after the 1994 democratic elections, Louw-Vaudran set off for Paris to study journalism at the Centre de Formation et de Perfection des Journalists, thanks to a bursary from the French government. She then spent six years as a correspondent for South African media.

‘I discovered in Paris an Africa I didn’t know existed,’ says Louw-Vaudran. She found herself in the rich melting pot of francophone African exiles and politicians, exploring the political and economic links that bind France and its former colonies. Louw-Vaudran then spent three years in Senegal before returning to South Africa, where she became Africa editor of Media24 newspapers, setting up bureaus and correspondents across the continent.

She joined the ISS in 2008, covering South African foreign policy, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the AU, becoming a specialist in Morocco’s bid to join the AU. Louw-Vaudran is a regular at AU and SADC summits, and still frequently travels the continent to countries including Ethiopia, Mozambique, Botswana and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

She was until 2017 the president the Johannesburg branch of the Alliance Francaise, the body promoting French culture and language internationally, and hosted its high-profile 2015 meeting of all African branches. 

Louw-Vaudran is completing a Masters in international relations at the University of Pretoria, and is a non-executive board member of In Transformation Initiative, a non-profit organisation that assists democratic transition and conflict resolution in Africa and around the world.

She has lectured at the University of Stellenbosch School of Journalism and is one of the judges for the prestigious Standard Bank Sikuvile Media Awards in South Africa. She is the author of the book South Africa in Africa – Superpower or Neocolonialist?

For more information contact:

Liesl Louw-Vaudran, ISS: +27 827766874;

Picture: French Embassy South Africa/Twitter

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