Sunday 3 August 2008

Powerful Women (II): Rama Yade

If you were looking for a female Barack Obama on the European continent, someone uniting charisma and youth and an African origin, you would quickly find Rama Yade.

Rama Yade (photo), whose full name is Ramatoulaye Yade-Zimet, is the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Human Rights in the Foreign Ministry of France.

Born in Senegal, she came to France at the age of 8 and, despite starting from the unfavourable banlieues ("suburbs"), she then went through an educational 'parcours' that is quite typical for the French elite. Yet, after an astonishingly short political and administrative career, the 1976-born Yade became Secretary of State on 19 June 2007 at the age of 30.

Her political path started in 2005 when she joint the party of (now president and back then minister of the interior) Nicolas Sarkozy. In 2006, she became a national secretary of this party, which most probably was an important step towards the power.

If you watch her during the time of the presidential campaign of Nicolas Sarkozy, you can already see her liveliness and her articulateness, that make up her personality (although in the interview she appears much younger than she does today). But the day when she became known to a larger public was the day when Nicolas Sarkozy was nominated as presidential candidate on 14 January 2007.

Similar to Senator Obama, who became known through his speech at the nomination congress for John Kerry in 2004, she held an impressive 13 minutes discours in front of the UMP (Union for a Popular Movement) nomination congress.

Attacking Ségolène Royal, Sarkozy's socialist adversary (interestingly also born in Dakar/Senegal) at that time, she said:
"She [Royal] says: 'Vote for me because I am a woman!' No debate! That's it, nothing more to say. In short: She wants to be treated preferentially. For us, the young women of today, the equality of rights does not mean the 'War of the Sexes'. We do not want to victimise ourselves. We are well aware of the fragility of accomplishments that women have reached. So we have to do better than to victimise ourselves unnecessarily!"
(own translation)
The same impressive resoluteness could also be seen on the day when Sarkozy was elected president, when she defended him on national television against (alleged) attacks from the left. And I think that this is exactly the reason why she has been chosen as Secretary of State although still quite young for such a position.

Nevertheless, she does not back off if she disagrees with Sarkozy and others (you can find some examples in the Wikipedia article about her). For my eurosceptic readers, I should also mention that in 2005 she was backing the French "No!" to the European Union Constitutional Treaty, against the position of her party.

But most spectacular to me seemed her comment to the press after having met and shaken hands with Gaddafi in Libya:
"Certain gestures make you feel like you should wash your hands"
Wow! This does not sound like French diplomacy, but it sounds refreshingly honest and you could only wish that there would be more politicians out there with this kind of directness that Yade displayed at numerous occasions!

If she does not make any severe mistakes, her future looks very promising to me, even if her political path might be interrupted by the typical changes in political constellations that are likely to occur one day or another.

She has everything necessary for a political career in the early 21st century and I am sure we will see more from her in the years to come!

[If you'd like to read more, I recommend an English language biographical text about Rama Yade, written by French author and economist Eloi Laurent.]

Read the follow-up article from December 2008!

- Video: Yade's first solo trip as State Secretary - Moldova

The category "Powerful Women" is dedicated to European women with influence on the national or supranational level but with relevance for both. It has been inspired by the initiative "Females in Front".