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‘Joe Biden is surrounded by Africans!’ – Rama Yade, Atlantic Council

By Clarisse Juompan-Yakam
Posted on Tuesday, 4 May 2021 22:48, updated on Wednesday, 5 May 2021 04:54

Rama Yade is director of the Atlantic Council’s Africa Centre. DR

Rama Yade, who served as a secretary of state under French President Nicolas Sarkozy and who is now director of the Atlantic Council’s Africa Centre, spoke to us about George Floyd’s death, single-race meetings and US-African policy.

Yade is an Afro-optimist, who believes that African countries are today where China was yesterday. For the world to succeed, she argues, Africa needs to succed.

While she admits France can appear intolerant from the outside, it is ‘salvageable’ — pointing to the Paris that welcomed writers like James Baldwin, themselves escaping a judgemental era in the US.

In the US, police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of the murder of George Floyd. Will there be a before and after?

Rama Yade: This trial made headlines in the media. The NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People] rallied, so did the Black Caucus. In the streets of Washington, where I live, houses still have “Black Lives Matter” signs up. George Floyd’s death has touched US society greatly. Nothing will ever be the same again.

However, such a trial would never have taken place in France. We still believe in this myth of a colour-blind society, despite the fact that there is rampant discrimination in housing and employment, and that little has changed since I entered politics 14 years ago.

Do you understand why in France some people want to organise same-race meetings to discuss these issues?

I understand this need, I like the comfort that comes with meeting as a community. In these types of meetings, one gets to be among people who have had similar experiences to themselves, it’s great to not be a minority for once, not to have to worry that people might look at you in a strange or aggressive way, who might even racist, it feels really good!

However, I love humanity too much to lock myself into a box. We must encourage exchange and discovery of the other. Rather than vilifying those who prefer single-race meetings, let’s try to understand why and finally take effective action against discrimination and racism. These meetings will then, in time, be a thing of the past.

Don’t some of the problems stem from cancel culture, a form of ostracism that is very popular in the US?

France had problems with some of its youth long before the US. This is because the republican ideal has been weakened. But it is salvageable. Remember when the writer James Baldwin and other African Americans came to Paris to escape discrimination in their own country?

What do you think of President Emmanuel Macron’s vision of the Africa-France relationship?

We’ll see. It is true that some parts of Africa are still considered to be France’s “backyard”, but there is a fundamental movement, a dynamic that is leading the continent towards its singular destiny of autonomy. Africa is emerging from the shadows, gearing up to take its rightful place despite efforts from others to stop it from doing so.

In 20 years’ time, one out of every four people on earth will be African. Africa is the China of tomorrow. It is building the largest free trade zone in the world. There is talk of it converting to the eco, but it wants to skip this stage of physical currencies and go straight to crypto-currencies thanks to the incredible growth of its digital economy.

And what about US-Africa policy?

There is a very noticeable change in tone, as we heard in President Biden’s message to the heads of state attending the last African Union summit. I am also struck by the number of Africans in his cabinet: not just African Americans like [UN Ambassador] Linda Thomas-Greenfield or [Secretary of Defense] Lloyd Austin. I’m also talking about those sons and daughters of Nigerians who were appointed to key government positions, like Wally Adeyemo to the Treasury. Biden even has a programme centred on Africans in America. This America is amazing!

Now we will have to move away from Trump’s America First, for which 75 million Americans voted, to America is Back – meaning “in the world.” This will not be easy and Africa itself will be a little guarded. Africans have changed, the continent’s economies have proved more resilient than others… It’s interesting. What is certain is that a quarter of humanity must be involved in finding solutions to global challenges. And if Africa is better, the world will be better.

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