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Macron or Le Pen: Tough choice for Africans

David Ehl | Nadir Djennad
April 22, 2022

Around one in 20 of France's population is of African origin. Many of them are citizens and thus eligible to vote in Sunday's presidential runoff. DW has checked in on the diaspora in and around Paris.

Graffiti scrawled over posters of far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen (R) and incumbent president and candidate for his reelection Emmanuel Macron (L)
Two contestants with very different political positionsImage: Francois Mori/AP/dpa/picture alliance

People like Alexandre Zongo might be able to tip the scales in the runoff for the French presidency on Sunday: 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% 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 descent 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.

People wearing potective mask walking in the Chateau Rouge district of Paris
Chateau-Rouge in Paris' 18th arrondissement is often dubbed 'Little Africa'Image: Ludovic Marin/AFP

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 high-end address with racecourse, villas and spacious avenues — Macron won the first round.

Ahead of Sunday'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.

Rosine Nahounou standing in front of some plants
Rosine Nahounou supports Marine Le PenImage: Nadir Djennad/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 neighborhood is home to many migrants from all over Africa — and was another district where leftist Melenchon received most votes in the first round.

Mohamad Lamine Gassama
Mohamad Lamine Gassama supports Emmanuel MacronImage: Nadir Djennad/DW

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.

A hand holds up an electoral card
These electoral cards help determine who will be France's next presidentImage: Gao Jing/Xinhua/IMAGO

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.

Edited by Keith Walker