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A first white woman stands in Senegal's elections

29 june 2012, 15:24
0
French-born Senegalese candidate Laurence Gavron. ©AFP
French-born Senegalese candidate Laurence Gavron. ©AFP
She was born in Paris but fell in love with Senegal, where filmmaker and photographer Laurence Gavron not only took nationality but is the first white woman to stand in parliamentary elections, AFP reports.

"I'm a Senegalese of French origin, 'a product of diversity,' as they say in France," the 57-year-old redhead told AFP in the garden of her Dakar home, lush with flowering plants, a fan-shaped traveller's palm and -- perhaps a concession to her French origins -- an arbor full of plump green grapes, a rare sight in a Senegalese garden.

"If all the people who have said they will vote for me really do vote for me, then I shall certainly be elected" in Sunday's poll, she said.

If she does win, Gavron, who has lived in the west African state for the last decade, will be only the second "Toubab" -- as white people are known here -- to have taken Senegalese nationality and win a seat in parliament, following Jean-Baptiste Collin, a Frenchman who was naturalised in 1961.

"Laurence is entirely Senegalese, even if she has white skin. She has a place on our electoral list," said El Hadji Sarr, one of the leaders of the left-wing Party for the Emergence of Citizens-Tekki.

The group, which currently has only one member, a woman, in the outgoing National Assembly of 150 seats, is led by an economist, Mamadou Lamine Diallo, with whom Gavron says she upholds the same values: competence, morality, fairness, good governance, transparency and participation by citizens.

"I've always had a left-wing bent. I am incapable of voting for the right, it's something that I've never done," she said.

A Jewish woman in a mainly Muslim country, Gavron sees her role as a Tekki candidate as "a sort of commitment" to Senegal, "a country which has greatly inspired me, which has given me a lot," she said.

She concedes that she has benefited from a 2010 law to redress the gender balance in elected institutions, passed under former president Abdoulaye Wade. It provides for complete parity between men and women on voting lists, and will be applied for the first time in Sunday's polls.

"This is something very good, particularly in Senegal, where much injustice is done to women" and "it's important to start there, in politics," Gavron said.

-- "I'm in love with this country" --

Before coming to Senegal, a former French colony with a long tradition of multi-party politics, Gavron's life revolved around film. She obtained a master's degree in modern literature, specialising in cinema, in 1976, then moved into journalism covering cinema, before becoming a film director for television and then the movies.

She married a German cameraman who died when she was 32 and pregnant with her second child.

"The first time I set foot on Senegalese soil was 25 years ago. I'm in love with this country," said Gavron, who has since married a Senegalese man, speaks fluent Wolof and can "get by" in Peul, two of the country's 20-some languages.

Gavron has made films about several well-known Senegalese figures, including the late filmmaker Djibril Diop Mambety, and she has written books set in Senegal, including one called "Boy Dakar". She took up residence in Dakar in 2002 and obtained Senegalese nationality in 2007.

She is a well-known figure in Senegalese cultural circles where some, like poet Thierno Seydou Sall, have declared they will vote for her because she "wants things to move."

If elected, Gavron plans to push cultural programmes, to promote the national languages -- not all of which are codified -- and to work "against all kinds of injustice, the terrible things sometimes done in the name of religion or tradition ... excisions, forced marriages with young girls, the exploitation of children."

What are her chances? "I'm not sure of being elected this time. But perhaps in 2017," she replied candidly.

She is in 28th place on the electoral list presented by Tekki, which is competing with 23 other parties and political coalitions which are older or better rooted in the country which, despite continuing poverty, has a fairly stable economy.

Voters will choose all 150 lawmakers for a five-year mandate, in the first popularity test for Macky Sall since he won the March presidential run-off as an opposition figure, ending Wade's 12 years in power.

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