The accession of the Afro-Colombian Francia Marquez to the vice-presidency of Colombia, following the election of Gustavo Petro, the first left-wing president in the country’s history, sparked a series of enthusiastic reactions from many Africans. Something to delight the one whose activism and political career are driven by her belonging to the Afro-descendant community of Colombia (10% of the population). A victimized community“structural racism” that she wants “eradicate”, she said in his victory speech* on June 19, 2022 in Bogota, the Colombian capital.
The original look
The new Colombian vice-president, who wears her frizzy hair in a bun and dresses in prints similar to those often worn by women in sub-Saharan Africa, does not hide her attachment to her African roots. Francia Marquez literally wears Africa on her. The day of the victory of her ticket with Gustavo Pedro, she wore earrings in the shape of Colombia, as often lately, and especially a brooch representing the African continent.
If the fervor aroused among Africans is disproportionate to that triggered by the arrival at the White House in 2008 of former American President Barack Obama, a Kenyan half-breed who became the first African-American to accede to this function, it is a reminder Nevertheless. In a tweet, former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf praised Francia Marquez saying she would be an inspiration to “black women and girls around the world who are striving for the highest office in their country”.
I extend my sincere congratulations and best wishes to Francia Marquez, who has become the first Black woman to serve as Vice President in #Colombia. She will inspire Black women & girls around the world who have their sights set on their countries’ highest leadership positions. pic.twitter.com/zmAmtmCN8v
— Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (@MaEllenSirleaf) June 20, 2022
Also reacting to the tweet of an American academic who underlined the interest shown in her by Afro-descendants around the world – in Kenya, Nigeria or even in the United States –, Francia Marquez replied: “I know that when one of us steps forward somewhere in the world, we all feel a sense of a little justice. We are daughters of the same grandfather.”
muchas gracias @UjuAnya por este bonito mensaje.
Se que cuando un@ de nosotr@s avanza en algún lugar del mundo, todos sentimos un poco de justicia.
Somos hij@s del mismo abuelo. @SoyPorqueSomos
— Francia Marquez Mina (@FranciaMarquezM) June 21, 2022
As she recalled in 2018 by receiving the Goldman Prize (equivalent of the Nobel for environmental activists) for his commitment to preserving the lands of La Toma and protecting them from illegal mining, Francia Marquez’s ancestors were deported from Africa in 1636. From Congo, Nigeria or Mali and reduced to slavery, they are at the origin of an Afro-Colombian community called La Toma. Yolombo, the locality where Francia Marquez was born, is located north of the municipality of Suarez, in the department of Cauca (Pacific coast region, west of the country, theater of civil war and plagued by violence linked drug trafficking and untapped resources).
Francia Marquez has been fighting for her community since she was 13 and participates in the mobilization of Afro-descendant women through several civil society organizations. Between 2010 and 2013, she chaired the Yolombo Women’s Association (Association of Afrodescendent Mujeres of Yolombó). It is with this organization that she brought the most recent demands of the community of La Toma.
Political victory for “those who are nothing”
At 40, Francia Marquez today embodies a double symbol in Colombia and Latin America. Anielle Franco, the sister of Marielle Franco, the Brazilian activist murdered in 2018 whofought against police violence against black people, rejoiced in her victory. The Colombian vice-president is now a banner for the Afro-feminist cause and especially that of Afro-Colombians, marginalized in their country and in the region. During the presidential campaign, in which several Afro-descendant candidates participated, racist attacks and insults multiplied, in particular towards Gustavo Petro’s running mate who defended him on several occasions. Nothing surprising in a country that has long concealed the existence of its first black president, Juan José Nieto Gil.
A single mother at 16, she worked as a housekeeper to finance her law studies, after fleeing with her two boys from her region of origin where she was threatened for her activism. In 2019, Francia Marquez escaped assassination. Like many Afro-Colombian women who are committed to defending their community. Colombia, according to Amnesty International, is the country “The most dangerous” for human rights defenders. The activist has become, over the years, a politician who has not given up on pursuing her education. She finally got her law degree in 2020.
In 2021, the activist sent a letter to Kamala Harris, the vice-president of the United States, another pioneer on the American continent. She denounced the multiple violations of human rights suffered by Afro-Colombians and indigenous peoples in Colombia.
Francia Marquez, who associated her movement Soy Porque Somos (“I am because we are”) in the presidential campaign, explained in March 2022 to AFP, after her inauguration, that she was committed to “those whose humanity is not recognized, those whose rights are not recognized in this country”. On June 19, she recalled that Colombia was acquiring after 214 years and for the first time a “government of people who are nothing”. Francia Marquez account “Create a Ministry of Equality”. “I come from a city and a region that has been historically forgotten. My task is to guarantee the rights of these excluded and marginalized territories, to guarantee the rights of populations of African and indigenous descent”she said in a tweet. Not to mention the women. President Petro will take office on August 7.
*Most of the links in this article are in Spanish or English