French blacks demand for politics shake-up
Fired up by Obama's historic victory, black voters in France are
demanding for a wind of change
5 November 2008
PARIS - Black voters in France vowed Wednesday "nothing will be the
same" after Barack Obama's historic White House victory, fired up by
demands for a racial shake-up of French politics.
France is home to one of Europe's largest black communities as well as a
five-million strong Arab-Muslim minority, but the US presidential race
has held up an unforgiving mirror to its overwhelmingly-white ruling
"Nothing will be the same after this," said Herve Moussakanda, a French
businessman of Congolese descent and one of dozens of black supporters
who packed a Paris club overnight to watch history being made across the
"The bar will have been raised and all those excuses about how you can't
do this or don't have the right skills just won't hold," he said,
surrounded by cheers of "O"-"BA"-"MA" and a French version of his "yes
we can" slogan.
President Nicolas Sarkozy made waves in 2007 by appointing three
ministers from ethnic minorities to his cabinet, but France's main
political parties, the right-wing UMP and the Socialists, are accused of
blocking the rise of powerful black and Arab figures.
There is only one black deputy from mainland France in the National
France's main black advocacy group, the Representative Council of Black
Associations (CRAN), is to march on the offices of the two leading
parties Wednesday, to demand they give minority candidates a boost in
next year's European elections.
"Barack Obama is not going to change the lives of the black community in
France," said the CRAN's head Patrick Lozes. "But I do want to ask
President Sarkozy to offer a response to this election."
A tribute rally is also planned at Paris city hall Wednesday to thank
Obama for giving new hope to young French blacks.
Human Rights Minister Rama Yade - France's only black government member
- said Obama's victory marked "the end of one world and the start of
another," and a challenge to France's "conservative" elite to let the
new generation in.
"This morning we all want to be American. To channel a small part of the
American dream playing out before our eyes," the Senegalese-born Yade
told France-Info radio.
"Barack Obama's election should sound a call for us to mobilise too. It
is a challenge set to a large part of the world. Now it is up to us to
rise to it."
France, which abolished slavery nearly 20 years before the United
States, prides itself on being a colour-blind nation that welcomes
anyone who wants to be French and blend into the mainstream.
Like other European countries, France has had large and growing
immigrant populations since its long retreat from global empire in the
aftermath of World War II.
But in practice, promoting ethnic diversity is a political minefield
with politicians on both the right and left chafing at the idea of
special treatment for minorities through affirmative action or quotas.
Christiane Taubira, a black left-wing deputy from French Guiana -
"exhausted but happy" by Obama's triumph - was under no illusions on the
immediate prospects for diversity in France.
Taubira said the election of a French Obama was still unthinkable,
arguing neither of France's main political parties "has really come to
terms with the colonial heritage, and neither has a clear stance on
"It is not about helping people up. It's about stopping preventing them
"We still need to unlock our society, to end the old boy's networks, the
discrimination, the exclusion."
[AFP / Expatica]