, PARIS, France, May 8 – As France went to the polls on Sunday for the second round of presidential elections, Kenyans living in France were anxiously following the race between 39-year-old independent candidate Emmanuel Macron and Marie Le Pen of the far-right National Front Party.
This anxiety spread across thousands of immigrants in France, and was closely watched by the European Union, which would have all but collapsed if anti-EU, anti-immigrant Le Pen won the election.
But with the resounding win of Macron who has garnered 65.9 per cent of the vote with nearly all votes in, Kenyans studying and living in France can breathe a collective sigh of relief.
Veronica Kariuki, the President on Kenya France Business Club says terrorist attacks in France in recent years have brought the issue of immigration to the fore and centre of this election.
“There is a section of French citizens who feel the solution is closing the borders and this is partly what made her sail through the second round,” says Kariuki, who has worked in France for 15 years.
She adds that Macron has been widely viewed as a better candidate than Le Pen though he has not elaborated on how to engage the African Diaspora in his manifesto.
“As immigrants, we feel safer with a Macron government compared to a Le Pen government which could completely exclude immigrants and even shut us out from the country,” says Kariuki.
The big cities overwhelming voted for Macron, not out of love for the former Economy Minister in President Hollande’s government, but in what analysts say is an “escape vote” to lock out Le Pen and the party that her father Jean-Marie Le Pen represented for nearly three decades.
Stuck with the two candidates after one of the favourites – Francoise Fellon – campaign spectacularly collapsed in the face of a scandal in the first round of voting, a significant French electorate felt pushed to vote for a ‘better than’ candidate, leading to the ascension of France’s youngest leader since Napoleon Bonaparte.
Kenya’s ambassador to France Salma Ahmed says the economy of France is heavily intertwined to that of the EU, a factor voters have considered in polls that had predicted a narrow win for Macron.
Another Kenyan in France, Amos Juma, says a heightened sense of patriotism in Europe shifted the focus of this election compared to other elections, just like it did in the US elections.
“But people are now at ease even within the French citizenry who had staged a demonstration in Paris against La Pen last week,” says Juma.
The victory of the centralist candidate, who is known as a Hollande protégé, could also mean a continuation of the growing Kenya-France relations that has seen French companies investing in Kenya including Danone and Peugeot.