The original interview appeared here on January 19 2013. Thanks to Afrikitalia.it.
Our election is a chance for Italian society
“Call me Cécile Kyenge, from Italy.” An 48-year old ophthalmologist, born in the former Zaire, with ebony black skin and a short haircut like Johnson Sirlief or Graça Machel Mandela, Cécile is the first black woman to be this close to the Italian Parliament. “It is a big responsibility,” she says, “because I represent many voices and a great hope, but also a great chance for Italian society.” A society evolving every day but without the feeling it understands the clock cannot be turned back on Italy’s ethnic diversity. For Cécile Kyenge, entering Palazzo Montecitorio [the Parliamentary Palace] is no longer a distant hope: the Democratic Party (PD), which is the favourite according to all the opinion polls, has protected her candidature, slipping her into sixth place on the regional slate of Emilia Romagna, led by the National Secretary of the Party, Dario Franceschini.
If Cécile is the first “woman of colour” (donna di colore) to enter Parliament, another worthy son of Africa had already made his voice heard: Jean Léonard Touadi, a brilliant journalist, renowned intellectual and university professor from Brazzaville on the other side of the river Congo, who became the first African-Italian deputy in 2008. In Italy, the two Congolese lead African-Italians’ political presence. A true intellectual and an energetic activist at the heart of the immigrant associations where she first made a name for herself, Cécile had already started speaking as a future deputy of the Italian Republic even before February 24, election day, knowing that Italian politics does not accommodate the collective demands of a particular community very well. Jean Claude Mbede Fouda from Afrikitalia.it met her in Modena for an exclusive interview just as the electoral campaign started to catch fire.
Cécile, what contribution will you make in Parliament?
As a candidate, I want to be a representative and a spokesperson for “New Italians” [a term to describe people from abroad who take Italian citizenship], those foreigners who just ask to play their part as citizens. As one of the Republic’s MPs, my voice will also have to defend the community of Italian citizens because, I believe, an ethnically diverse society can and should bring added value to our culture. It’s not an obstacle, as some people have wanted to pretend for so long.
You were co-opted directly onto the Democratic Party’s lists by the party leadership and you’re one step away from Montecitorio … [In Italy the despised but unaltered electoral law gives party leaders the power to put forward their own choice of candidate.]
Being chosen by the party’s governing body certainly represents the PD’s (and its national secretary, Pierluigi Bersani’s) recognition of and esteem for the work I’ve undertaken in different organisations and networks such as the Immigration Forum, and the First of March Committee – of which I was the national co-ordinator up to 2010 – whose success has allowed immigrants to be heard as citizens and to put forward their problems. This mark of confidence is also a strong signal, conveying to Italian citizens the cultural changes happening in their country and to foreigners the imperative duty to submit to the laws of the Republic, respecting them and continuing to work honestly. It’s proof of our party’s responsibility that it’s firming up its early policies into more concrete ones.
In contrast with your party, have you noted the absence of work around immigration in Prime Minister Mario Monti’s plans? What do you think about it?
In my opinion, it’s a vision which doesn’t take into account the irreversible changes in Italian society. I’d remind him that, in terms of the economy, more than two million immigrant workers produce 11% of national GDP. They’re a resource, contributing more than 8 billion euros, and not only that, people from abroad are also a cultural resource which should be recognised, especially since these communities are growing exponentially. It’s a reality which the PD is taking into account and is taking on board, even during the electoral campaign. It’s an act of courage, of truth, of seriousness, and of responsibility towards the country.
Sub-Saharan Africa is a bit marginalised in Italy. What will your strategy as a spokesperson be, without running the risk of being labelled sectarian?
We’ll continue to work without cutting the link between the communities and the African Diaspora, looking for ways of acknowledging the importance of the immigrant as a bridge between two different cultures. In this, the migrant is a player in co-development and a great resource, both for the new host country and the country of origin. Immigration must not stop being “circular”. In this scenario, I foresee the necessity of reinforcing support for a variety of initiatives in local communities.
Who told you you were being nominated as a future Italian deputy?
Livia Turco MP (the former Minister of Immigraton and the PD’s National Lead on Immigration) came with Teresa Marzocchi, the Regional Councillor for Social Policy in our region.
What do you think of the African communities? Do they do enough to make themselves known?
Based on my experience in the field, I think the lack of participation is due to people being unaware of their right to vote. Another reason is the difficult economic situation which can discourage even the bravest, who often find themselves at the mercy of blackmailers because of their social condition.
Afrikitalia was set up to promote relations between Italy and Africa. Should such an initiative die because of Italian society’s indifference?
Right now, we’re living through a dire economic crisis. It’s a very difficult period which is leading to the downsizing of both national and local press, heavy cutbacks and immense sacrifices. The problem is that the policies of previous governments precipitated and penalized the pluralism of information channels. I really wish that the political landscape could change, fundamentally and very quickly. And I hope that this is going to change the political landscape, as I believe that aggregating the independent press is the only way forward.