France: A Republic that will soon become African again

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Twenty-six out of 577 deputies is still very little. Populations from an immigrant background remain under-represented in the National Assembly, but it must be recognized that the deputies of “African origin” have never been so numerous there. In any case since 1958.

“I remember our return to parliament when Huguette Tiegna made her first speech in the Hemicycle, laughs Saïd Ahamada, MP La République en Marche (LREM) from Marseille. I was sitting right behind her and facing Marine Le Pen. I can tell you that the president of the National Front was stuck! A member of the Black Lot, and speaking with the accent of Burkina… ”

A pause, smiling, and Ahamada continues: "That said, in 2017 everyone was stunned when we landed. Including the staff of the Assembly. We talked about opening a day care center because many of the neo-people had young children. And the bar had to stock up on soda, which was not really the custom. We can say what we want from LREM, but it brought diversity into the Assembly. "

Low rate of "visible minorities"

Macronist MP and member of the majority group (with 303 deputies on 577, plus the elected 46 of its MoDem allies, En Marche! Left only crumbs to the Republicans and the Socialist Party, who dominated French political life for ages Ahamada, of course, preaches for his parish. But the numbers prove him right. Ten years ago, sociologists Sébastien Michon and Étienne Ollion, authors of 2018 Sociography of parliamentarians *, the French deputy was "a man of middle age, belonging to the middle and upper classes, having a good level of education and becoming more and more a professional of politics". He was also white, with very few exceptions.

In 2017, the situation changed significantly. In a report devoted to “visible plurality” in the Assembly published after the election **, the sociologist Éric Keslassy puts forward figures: the Macron version lower house has 39% women and 54,35% first deputies; his average age is 48,8 years (compared to 55,1 years and 54,6 years respectively during the two previous terms); and 6,18% of its members belong to "visible minorities".

A figure still very low, but to compare with that of the assemblies elected in 2007 and in 2012: respectively 0,54% and 2%! However, it should be noted that Éric Keslassy's figure includes elected officials from French overseas territories, while Young Africa retained here only the deputies having African origins (that is to say born in Africa; and / or binational; and / or born of parents arrived from Africa shortly before their birth). According to these criteria, we arrive at 26 names, or 4,5% of all deputies.


Insufficient and too slow progress - visible minorities represent around 10% of the French population - but real, and which it is difficult not to credit to the En Marche! Movement, created to bring Emmanuel Macron to the presidency. "The head of state campaigned saying he wanted an assembly more representative of society," said Fadila Khattabi, Macronist MP for Côte-d'Or and former PS. He said it and he did it. While the left has said it for a long time but never did. "

After a visit with François Bayrou's centrists, the Marseillais Saïd Ahamada added: “At MoDem, I stayed“ Saïd, des quartier Nord ”. I was always put on the floor on themes like “the suburbs” or “immigration”. I wouldn't say that I was instrumentalized, but I was confined to certain subjects related to my origins. Nothing like this at LREM, where recruitment is done on the CV and where you are asked according to your real skills. "

Sébastien Michon and Étienne Ollion stress for their part that the renewal of the Assembly is due to the way the macronist movement built its lists and selected its candidates in 2017: presence of many elected officials who never exercised political responsibilities (due to the fact , also, of a tightening of the legislation on the cumulation of mandates), desire to open up to “civil society”, refusal of the left-right divide…

French specificity?

Can we therefore speak of French specificity? Difficult to answer this question since, in the European countries which authorize them, there are few, if any, "ethnic" statistics. Based on the groups in the European Parliament, however, it seems that France and the United Kingdom are the two countries that elect the most "minority" deputies. The European Network against Racism (Enar) lists 30 of them, 20 of which are "colored", which remains very little in an assembly of 751 members. It goes without saying that the political leaders representing “diversity” are not all of African descent, that is far from it.

The French National Assembly in the colors of France, a week after the Paris attacks, November 22, 2015.

In the UK, elected officials "Black and Asian" most often come from India, Pakistan or the West Indies. In Germany, there are 34 diversity deputies out of 630, but most are of Turkish origin. There are, however, exceptions, such as the German-Senegalese deputies Karamba Diaby and Charles Huber, the German-Senegalese MEP Pierrette Herzberger-Fofana and, in regional parliaments, the German-Malian Aminata Touré and the German-Congolese Elombo Bolayela.

Spain has a handful of local elected officials from the continent (Cape Verde, Equatorial Guinea). In Belgium, on the other hand, it is elected officials of Moroccan origin who constitute the largest contingent, but, again, especially in regional parliaments. The most “multicultural” area in the country, the Brussels metropolis has mayors and councilors of Congolese, Rwandan and Togolese origin. But in Wallonia as in Flanders, we would look in vain for even a black mayor.


Coming back to France, the existence of deputies of African origin is not entirely new, but the precedents were set in a very different context. Under the Third Republic, the most famous of African parliamentarians was the Senegalese socialist Blaise Diagne, who sat continuously from 1914 to 1934.

In 1946, the Constitution of the Fourth Republic reserved seats for representatives of the colonies. In particular from Algeria, which had up to 52 deputies divided into two "colleges", one Muslim, the other European. As for what was then called "black Africa", it counted (in 1951) up to 33 elected on the benches of the Assembly, among which another Senegalese: Amadou Lamine-Guèye, who was also, briefly , senator (1958-1959). All this ended with independence. The starting point of a new career for some, the most illustrious of whom were undoubtedly Félix Houphouët-Boigny and Léopold Sédar Senghor.

Going back to 2017, the main lesson from the election, insists Éric Keslassy, ​​is that French voters are quite ready to vote for candidates from minorities. And that, by claiming the opposite, the big parties were only "projecting their own conservatism on the voters". Many of the deputies whom we paint on these pages confirm that they have not been confronted with rejection or racism, or only in a very marginal way, even in constituencies where African immigration is low.

"And yet, for a long time, we were told that we were closing the lists," says Fadila Khattabi. And whatever the political obedience, confirms Danièle Obono: "To be a black woman, or Muslim, is to be in the minority everywhere, in a meeting of the left as in Parliament. In reality, this is more or less virulent, but access to certain elected positions is always more complicated. Bullying and suspicion persist, even in positions of power. The difficulties encountered by Saïd Ahamada to win the LREM nomination for the municipal elections in Marseille and the "default" choice of Rachida Dati to wear the colors of the Republicans in Paris confirm that the game is still far from won.


Do these common difficulties create between the elected representatives of diversity a form of proximity, of collusion? Yes and no, they assure. Some chart their course and devote themselves primarily to the commission in which they sit and to their constituency. Others devote more of their time to international relations, often with a predilection for Africa, but this is not systematic. In the end, each course is different.

“There is always a moment when you want to blend in with the crowd, not to be seen first as a black or as an African, summarizes Laetitia Avia, a Parisian elected representative of Togolese origin. But then, for my part at least, there is an evolution. I no longer want to deny what I am, I want to assume it. It involves real psychological work, but then, I think it becomes an asset which I also played during my campaign. There are a lot of second generation immigrants in France, you have to talk to them. "

A speech very distant from that of Hervé Berville, elected Breton born in Rwanda: “I would not say that there is a natural proximity between deputies of African origin. I would say that perhaps meeting other people makes us aware of what we represent for the people of the continent. But, frankly, I don't get up every morning telling myself that I'm black! "

Same difference of opinion in the debates on immigration within the LREM group, in the controversies about the wearing of the headscarf or in reaction to the interview granted by the president to the very right-handed magazine Current values. If Fadila Khattabi, Belkhir Belhaddad, Naïma Moutchou or Laetitia Avia are annoyed by the discussions on the veil, evoking "a lot of misunderstanding", and if the French-Madagascan MP Aina Kuric allowed herself to vote against the Asylum-immigration bill brought by the government, most elected officials are content to note that their group is representative of all the sensitivities of French society and that it is simply necessary to ensure that the discussions do not get bitter .


So, more French than the French, the Africans of the Republic? Cautious, in any case, and, when they reach the middle of their mandate, reluctant - at least for those who belong to the majority - to criticize the person or the action of Emmanuel Macron.

Aware also, even if some prefer to evacuate the subject, to be still regarded as symbols, which Laetitia Avia assumes without detour: "We know what we represent for many little girls and little boys, in France and in Africa . When I travel around the country, the first people who come to see me are always Africans. It is obvious that to see black women, of African origin, in positions of responsibility remains unusual. "

And rare: once again, there have never been so many deputies of African origin in the Assembly, but they constitute only 4,5% of the national representation, far from the 10% of people from the diversity within the French population. Mustapha Laabid, elected LREM from Ille-et-Vilaine, prefers to be positive: “It's still a historic level. Now, it is to be hoped that younger people will follow the example and become involved. I want to believe it, even if it is not won. It is never won. "

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