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Emmanuel Macron or Marine Le Pen: Africans in France face tough choice

Published : Apr 23, 2022 12:30 IST T+T-
Two contestants with very different political positions.

Two contestants with very different political positions.

Around one in 20 of France's population is of African origin. Many are planning to vote in April 24's presidential runoff.

People like Alexandre Zongo might be able to tip the scales in the runoff for the French presidency on April 24: The French-Burkinan fashion designer told DW that he had not yet decided on his vote. Zongo's tailor shop lies in the Chateau-Rouge district in Paris' 18th arrondissement — often dubbed "Little Africa." In the first round of voting two weeks ago, Zongo voted for Jean-Luc Melenchon. The far-left candidate won in some Parisian districts. He even polled 42 per cent of the votes in Chateau-Rouge, but it wasn't sufficient to take him to the presidential runoff.

Citizens of African origin have some influence on the outcome of the election: Some 3.2 million people of African decent live in France, most of whom have connections to either Algeria, Morocco or Tunisia. One in ten inhabitants — 6.8 million in total — are immigrants. Among this group, 2.5 million hold a French passport and are thus eligible to cast votes.

No preconceived opinion

The choice is between liberal incumbent Emmanuel Macron and his right-wing contender Marine Le Pen from the opposition National Rally (RN) party. Fashion designer Alexandre Zongo said: "I will listen, I don't have any preconceived opinion. I'm not anti-Le Pen." He said that Macron's political agenda has been evident in the last five years: "We've seen the yellow vest movement, and we as self-employed small entrepreneurs were dealt the heaviest burden." Many entrepreneurs had given up, said Zongo. "People used to get by, but things have become more difficult."

The COVID pandemic and Russia's war against Ukraine have led to rising inflation and dwindling purchasing power, which have become defining topics ahead of the election. Recent polls suggested that Macron was in the lead by ten points — significantly lower than in the 2017 runoff, when he beat Le Pen with a lead of around 32 points.

France 'in danger'

In the leafy Parisian suburb of Maisons-Lafitte — a noble address with racecourse, villas and spacious avenues — Macron won the first round. Ahead of April 24's runoff, Rosine Nahounou went to the farmers market to canvas for Marine Le Pen: "France is in danger! Today's country has lost its values, this is not France any more," the campaigner of Ivorian descent told DW .

Nahounou has been supporting the right-wing politician for ten years — and defends even her restrictive stance on immigration: "Marine is not racist at all. Every immigrant who wants to live in France should respect the values of the Republic. This is the minimum requirement for us to live together." France must not be treated with contempt, Nahounou said that anybody who "cannot stand the French and can't live together with them is free to leave at any time."

Overcoming stereotypical thinking

At another farmers market, in Paris' 20th arrondissement, Mohamad Lamine Gassama makes the case for incumbent president Emmanuel Macron. The working class neighbourhood is home to many migrants from all over Africa —— and was another district where leftist Melenchon received most votes in the first round. Gassama, who is of Senegalese descent, used to support the Socialist Party of Macron's predecessor Francois Hollande. After his presidency, the party was almost entirely erased from France's political landscape.

Many people, among them Gassama, turned towards Macron and his center-right party La Republique En Marche: "He has been talking about genuine emancipation. One of his speeches in 2016 made an impression on me," Gassama told DW . "Emancipation means to ensure that people are empowered to fulfill themselves." He said that Macron pleaded for people to overcoming stereotypical thinking and collaborate on a common project.

Everything is possible

Back in the "Little Africa" of Chateau-Rouge, anxiety resonates from some conversations — some people fear that things might take a turn for the worse if Marine Le Pen becomes president. For instance, renewing their passports might become more of a challenge.

After 23 years in the neighborhood, Amadou Sylla is one of the Chateau-Rouge's long-established residents. The man of Senegalese descent is not happy with either choice the runoff presents — but his discontent with the far-right National Rally contender is stronger. He said the values of the Republic needed to be upheld. "Unfortunately, we find ourselves in a scenario where anything is possible," Amadou mused.