She Won't Be President, But She's On A Mission To Change France
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because her run was its own small revolution.
By Fiona Zublin
In some ways, France is a liberal paradise. Legally, your employer can’t require you to check work email on weekends. The health care system is socialized, efficient and inexpensive. And, for the moment, the Socialist Party is in control. But then there are the stats that make you wonder: Women didn’t have the right to vote in France until 1944 — trailing not just the U.S. and the U.K. but also Turkmenistan and Sri Lanka. The country has still never had a female president and only one female prime minister, who served for less than a year.
Rama Yade wasn’t going to change that in running for president in this month’s elections. The former conservative minister, who ran as an independent with a party called La France Qui Ose, or France Which Dares, didn’t even make it to the first round of voting, which takes place next week. Yade fell at an earlier hurdle last month, when she failed to collect 500 signatures from elected officials around the country by the cutoff date. According to her campaign, Yade, who didn’t respond to requests for an interview, made it to 353. But the 41-year-old still has a future in French politics. “She was seeking to build a platform that could appeal beyond the established array of political parties and attract voters of both center right and left,” says Jim Shields, professor of French politics at Aston University. This cycle’s groundwork could set the stage for the next race.
F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote that there are no second acts in American lives; not so in French politics, even for someone like Yade, who started out so decidedly outside the notoriously closed-off French political elite. “Rama Yade starts out with some real advantages — she’s young, bright, a household name, with good ministerial experience,” says Shields, who says Yade could make a big difference down the line if she finds “the right moment and the right message.”
Born in Senegal and reportedly a practicing Muslim — she keeps her private life private in interviews, telling at least one media outlet, “Ça ne vous regarde pas” (“It’s none of your damn business”) — Yade came to prominence in 2007, at age 31, as a member of former president Nicolas Sarkozy’s conservative government. She served as the minister for human rights and, later, the minister for sports under then–prime minister (and now-struggling conservative presidential candidate) François Fillon. Yade gained a reputation for occasionally eschewing the party line, making her popular with the public even as the government’s approval ratings dropped.
Yade has said that elites have abandoned poor suburbs, which house minority youth. Reaching those communities, says Shields, could be Yade’s ticket.
Brigitte Fouré, the mayor of Amiens who gave Yade her parrainage this time around, says she sees in Yade a woman of “political quality” and admires her swift rise through the ranks at such a young age. Some of Yade’s rise could be attributed to the push toward diversity in Sarkozy’s conservative cabinet in the mid-aughts, says Rainbow Murray, a professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London and an expert on French gender politics, but that push, she notes, was largely cosmetic. “They want minority women to make them look progressive, but at the same time they’re expecting them to be submissive,” Murray explains.
Yade’s Union for a Popular Movement couldn’t last forever. Exhorted to run for the European Parliament, she refused, hoping to run for the National Assembly — think Congress — instead. That didn’t happen, and she eventually left the party, joining up with some other movements before founding La France Qui Ose, which promised to fight for government coverage of 90 percent of each citizen’s health care instead of the current 70 percent, to offer interest-free loans of 20,000 euros to anyone under the age of 28 who wanted one, and to invest in startups in the suburbs.
More relevant, though, may be Yade’s outspokenness about French police brutality against minorities. Both the 2016 death in police custody of Adama Traoré, a 24-year-old Black man — an incident Yade denounced publicly — and the alleged sexual assault by police early this year of a young Black man known as Theo sparked riots. Yade has said that elites have abandoned poor suburbs, which house minority youth. Reaching those communities, says Shields, could be Yade’s ticket.
This year, with President François Hollande having long since bowed out of the race and the mainstream conservative candidate floundering due to a corruption scandal, all the leading candidates would be dark horses in a normal election. But it’s odds-on winner Emmanuel Macron, an independent, who has taken the votes Yade was hoping for.
But, as Murray points out, there are lots of reasons to run for president, beyond, well, winning — to build a small base of extremely loyal voters, to change the conversation, to make a point, to make a name for oneself and gain more power further down the line. For Yade, a flicker of that hope popped up in mid-April — the first tweet in weeks, a retweet, an invitation. The first party congress for La France Qui Ose is scheduled for April 22. It’s then that the new party could, potentially, build up a legislative base, gain support in the banlieues — perhaps, if Macron wins, even look to his movement for ideas on how an independent can structure a successful campaign.
After admitting defeat for the time being, Yade wrote on Facebook that she won’t be supporting any of the other candidates. “On ne se rallie pas quand on est en mission,” she explained. “We don’t unite when we’re on a mission.”