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Profile: The historian and minorities expert heading up France’s education ministry

Pap Ndiaye, a historian specialising in minorities who currently heads the museum of the history of immigration in Paris, is President Emmanuel Macron's surprise choice to head the French education ministry.

Profile: The historian and minorities expert heading up France's education ministry
Pap Ndiaye, France's new Education Minister (Photo by Martin BUREAU / AFP)

Whereas most of the top ministerial posts in Macron’s new cabinet that aims to take the government into parliamentary elections next month went according to script, Ndiaye’s nomination was a surprise to most observers.

His appointment carries on a tradition for Macron of taking prominent French personalities from outside politics to lead ministries, after he named star defence lawyer Eric Dupond-Moretti justice minister in 2020.

READ ALSO Who’s who in the new French government

Ndiaye is a historian with an international profile, specialising in the social history of the United States and minorities, who was named to lead the Museum of the History of Immigration last year.

He will now need to use all his experience and knowledge for taking on the new challenge of the education ministry, which has seen major tensions in the last years between his predecessor, Jean-Michel Blanquer, and teachers.

Born outside Paris to a Senegalese father and French mother, Ndiaye was for many years a professor at the elite Sciences Po university in Paris.

“In the field of history, he is someone who has been innovative and able to show a new way of understanding the past,” said historian Pascal Blanchard

“He’s a teacher who knows what it’s like to be in front of a class of students,” he told AFP, adding, “In a diverse society, it is important to have someone who is attentive to diversity.”

Ndiaye first gained national prominence with his 2008 work The Black Condition, an essay on a French minority.

“My objective was to provide arguments and knowledge as robust as possible to young people who lack solid references,” he told AFP in March 2021, when he took over at the immigration museum.

“It seemed to me that it was part of my role as a teacher to offer these foundations,” he said.

He said at the time that his appointment at the museum should open “the field of possibilities” to young “non-whites”, while emphasising that his appointment was due to a long career as an academic.

“I am not blind to, and don’t turn my back on, questions of symbol. I also apply the same to the colour of my skin.

In 2019, he was a consultant for an exhibition at the Musee d’Orsay in Paris on black models, and in 2020 he co-authored a report on diversity at the Paris Opera.

His sister is the prominent French novelist and playwright Marie Ndiaye.

Some on the French left reacted with astonishment that the celebrated historian of social change was now in the government.

“I am amazed. I did not see him in there at all,” said Alexis Corbiere of the far-left France Unbowed party. He said the “media stunt” would not defuse anger within the French education system.

SNES-FSU, the main secondary school teachers’ union, welcomed the appointment of Ndiaye “as a break with Jean-Michel Blanquer in more ways than one”.

But it also warned that education “is not governed solely by symbols” and that rapid responses were needed “particularly in terms of wages”.

Member comments

  1. Thank you for some of the history of this issue which helps give context to some of the hysteria surrounding the approval of burkinis at Grenoble municipal swimming pools. It’s grotesque to see political opportunists mine the burkini to gain recognition. Perhaps the silliest and most fake argument I’ve heard is that allowing the burkini in municipal pools furthers the oppression of muslim women. This should be a no-brainer. The fact that Grenoble is in the minority in allowing burkinis is troubling.

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HEALTH

French lawmakers push for abortion rights to be enshrined in constitution

After the seismic decision of the US Supreme Court on Friday, French MPs are calling for the right to abortion in France to be protected by the constitution.

French lawmakers push for abortion rights to be enshrined in constitution

Lawmakers from French President Emmanuel Macron’s Renaissance party are to propose a parliamentary bill on Saturday that would enshrine the right to abortion in the constitution. 

The move comes after the US Supreme Court overturned the landmark 1973 “Roe v. Wade” decision on Friday.

“In France we guarantee and advance the rights of women. We protect them,” said Aurore Bergé – the head of Renaissance in the Assemblée nationale and one of the key sponsors of the bill. 

Another co-sponsor, Marie-Pierre Rixain tweeted: “What happens in elsewhere cannot happen in France. We must protect the right to abortion for future generations. 

In 2018 and 2019, Emmanuel Macron’s party – which back then was known as La République en Marche – refused to back bills proposed by left-wing party, La France Insoumise, to enshrine abortion rights into the constitution. 

In a Saturday interview with France Inter, Bergé suggested that the success of Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National during parliamentary elections earlier this month had created a sense of newfound urgency. 

She described the far-right MPs as “fierce opponents of women’s access to abortion” and said it was important “to take no risk” in securing it. 

READ MORE France’s Macron condemns US abortion ruling

French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne has come out in support of the bill. 

The left-wing opposition block, NUPES, also backs it and had planned to propose an identical piece legislation of its own on Monday. 

Macron is seeking parliamentary allies to pass reforms after his formation lost its majority in legislative elections earlier this month.

The legal timeframe to terminate a pregnancy in France was extended from 12 to 14 weeks in the last legislature.

Changing the constitution requires the National Assembly and Senate to adopt the same text, then a three-fifths majority of parliament sitting in congress. The other option is a referendum.

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