Cameroon: First African MP in Canada; on 28 June, Maka Kotto Became the First African to Be Elected to the Canadian House of Commons, on the Ticket of the Bloc Quebecois, a Party Dedicated to Quebec Independence. Robin Philpot Reports from Montreal
Philpot, Robin, New African
"The symbol is powerful," says Maka Kotto, the new MP for Saint-Lambert in Canada, located just south of Montreal, whose black population is less than 3%. "It is a symbol of open-mindedness. I received massive support from French-speaking Quebecois who had rarely ever ventured beyond Quebec's borders."
All the more significant considering Kotto was born some 7,500 miles away in Douala, Cameroon, and has lived in Quebec for "only" 15 years. His main political opponent in the constituency, whom he ran against and beat, was born and raised in Saint-Lambert.
Kotto worked as an actor, author and director after graduating from the Conservatoire Libre de Cinema Francais in Paris. He attributes his immigration to Quebec to another French-speaking cultural figure, the Haitian-born writer, Dany Laferriere, author of How to make love with a Negro without getting tired. For Kotto, the road from Douala to France in 1979 and then to the Canadian Parliament in 2004, is an eloquent defence of the benefits of the French-speaking group of countries known as La Francophonie. In the late 1980s, he was among a group of recently naturalised French citizens opposed to the insidious slide of French politics towards exclusionary ideas.
"Laferriere pointed out that we were in an old country, on an old continent, where it was very difficult to change people's mindsets," Kotto reveals. "He told us about Quebec across the Atlantic that was a 'work in progress'. He won me over."
Kotto arrived in Quebec in 1989, where he became famous as a movie and television actor. At first, the politics of Quebec independence didn't interest him, after receiving, as he says, the "one-sided information given to immigrants by the Canadian Embassy in Paris and nothing about Quebec, nothing about language, nothing about the constitution or the other major issues".
But he is now very committed to his new "country and work in progress". He exudes confidence and enthusiasm about the imminent achievement of Quebec sovereignty.
He is also keenly aware of the role he can play in the French-speaking world and else-where in Africa to ensure Quebec gets the international attention it deserves. "People may not really know what's happening in Quebec," he says. "Perhaps they don't understand the complex constitutional situation facing Quebec and Canada, or the situation for the seven million French-speaking Quebecois surrounded by 300 million English-speaking Canadians and Americans. …