1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Racism prompts Germany's first African-born lawmaker to quit

July 6, 2024

SPD politician Karamba Diaby became the first black African-born politician to enter the Bundestag. Since then, he has been the target of repeated racist attacks.

Karamba Diaby
Lawmaker Karamba Diaby has decided not to run for reelection to the BundestagImage: Zura Karaulashvili/DW

At some point, Karamba Diaby had simply had enough. A month ago, the politician of the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) posted hate messages he and his staff had been receiving on his Instagram account. He said that death threats had "crossed a line."

Four weeks later, Diaby announced that he was resigning from federal politics and would not be running in the next election for Germany's lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, in 2025.

In an interview with DW, Diaby emphasized that his reasons for doing so were primarily personal, not political.

"This is a personal decision that has been made with my family," he said. "And that outweighs the reasons why I made this decision. It should also be noted that I will be 64 years old by the end of this term, and I think this is the right time to try something new and, above all, to give younger people the opportunity to take on responsibility."

Karamba Diaby on racism

Hate comments, death threats, arson attack

Eleven years ago, Karamba Diaby became the first black African-born person to enter the Bundestag, and in 2021 he was even the SPD's top candidate in the state of Saxony-Anhalt. Born in Senegal, Diaby came to former East Germany to study.

He has a reputation as a model politician for a new, cosmopolitan and tolerant Germany. However, Diaby has increasingly become the target of racist attacks, and his team has also been threatened.

"They have been blackmailed or threatened with the aim to get them to stop working for me. Such tactics are not in line with our constitution, and the investigating authorities will certainly have their work cut out for them," said Diaby.

"I can only reiterate that I will not be intimidated, because I know that the vast majority of people support me, and I am also receiving an incredible amount of support."

But Diaby has also experienced increasing racist hostility. In 2020, shots were fired at Diaby's campaign office, and he received a written death threat. And in 2023, a man who had already repeatedly made racist insults against the SPD politician carried out an arson attack on Diaby's district office in the city of Halle, located in former East Germany.

Diaby also blames the far-right populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party for providing fertile ground for hatred and violence on the streets. AfD speeches in the Bundestag are full of hatred and vilification of migrants and other minorities.

"There is a small group of people in this country who are spreading hate and agitation. Their goal is to intimidate people into not doing their jobs. In this country, we also see this with the Federal Agency for Technical Relief, the German Red Cross and with attacks on police officers. I don't think that should be the rule in this country. We need to discuss what kind of society we want to have," Diaby said.

Democracy under pressure — We need to talk!

A problem fueled by social media

There is growing concern in Germany that intimidation of politicians is becoming the new norm. In early May, SPD politician Matthias Ecke was beaten up in Dresden, also in former East Germany, while putting up posters for his party during the European election campaign. He had to be hospitalized.

But for Lotta Rahlf, a doctoral candidate at the Peace Research Institute Frankfurt (PRIF), the political violence isn't just a problem in Germany's east.

"Wherever right-wing groups are particularly effective at tapping into people's sense of being overwhelmed and use simplistic narratives to stir up hatred against the political elite or the state, you can certainly see that the level of threat is a little higher," she said. "However, it is basically a problem in Germany as a whole."

Rahlf sees a great deal of frustration and dissatisfaction with politics and the state as a result of diverse crises: the COVID-19 pandemic, Russia's war on Ukraine and the rising cost of living. And now verbal hostility and even violence are being normalized as a legitimate way to express feelings of powerlessness, she said.

"It is becoming increasingly normal on social networks to use violent language. It's incredibly easy to express yourself in one way on the Internet and get validation for it," Rahlf said. "What's more, we're dealing with platforms where false information spreads very quickly, where friend-or-foe attitudes emerge, and where these echo chambers then reinforce them."

But what happens if more and more politicians like Diaby, volunteers, and committed individuals withdraw from public life because they are tired of the attacks or because projects that promote democracy are no longer being funded?

At a time of budget negotiations, 180 civil society organizations have written an open letter to Chancellor Olaf Scholz warning that if these projects are discontinued, civil society will be weakened for decades, and democratic culture will erode.

"The effects could be a risk to democracy," warns extremism expert Rahlf. "This is particularly problematic at the local level where many political offices are held by volunteers. If more and more people withdraw, the foundations of democracy will crumble."

This article was originally written in German.

Oliver Pieper | Analysis & Reports
Oliver Pieper Reporter on German politics and society, as well as South American affairs.