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Spotlight on Africa

French ex-minister joins African diaspora to reject National Front

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Former French Overseas Minister George Pau-Langevin poses with member's of France's Organisation Culture without Borders. They're using cooking to break down cultural barriers, April 29 2017
Former French Overseas Minister George Pau-Langevin poses with member's of France's Organisation Culture without Borders. They're using cooking to break down cultural barriers, April 29 2017 Christina Okello for RFI

With just days to go before France elects its next president, opponents of National Front leader Marine Le Pen fear a victory for her could mean a rise in xenophobia. One organisation is trying to break down barriers through cooking. RFI's Christina Okello went to meet them.

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The power of a shared meal to break down cultural barriers - this is what one group of French people ais counting on to resist the rise of the far-right National Front (FN).

The organisation Culture without Borders recently hosted a cooking seminar between members of Paris's racially and socially mixed 20th arrondiissement to foster greater communication.

"Cooking is a door. It’s the first point of entry to getting to know your neighbour," explains Robert Fopa, the organisation's Franco-Cameroonian director, who is dressed in vibrant red and orange African prints.

"That’s what I learnt when I arrived in France more than 40 years ago. The best thing to do when you have different sets of people is to sit down around a good meal, to try to get to know who the other person is."

Food to fight stereotypes

Fopa thinks food could be a way of overcoming negative stereotypes that have dogged members of France's African diaspora.

"Marine Le Pen should come here and meet us, we Africans, we African women," says Salamata Dramé, who heads an organisation that helps disabled people integrate into French society.

"Let her come and see that we African women, we’re not just here to sleep and wait for benefits. No. We are here trying to make a living and survive.”

"Today it’s especially important to support initiatives like this one, which allow people to communicate, interact, and eat together," says George Pau-Langevin, a former overseas minister, who is currently MP for the district.

"We’re at a point where the Front National is at the threshold of power [...] yet people who come from an immigrant background, who are from the overseas territories, or Africa, don’t realise the danger," she told RFI, calling upon all members of the diaspora to vote for Emmanuel Macron on 7 May.

Polls show the centrist candidate with a firm lead but, warns Pau-Langevin, the risk of abstention among Macron voters is high.

"Le Pen's voters are very determined. We should not wait until fascists get into power to start regretting and saying let’s defend our country. The time to do so is now. We must defend the values which protect diversity.”

To read our French presidential election 2017 coverage click here

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