Presque L’Heure: Madame/Monsieur Président
Pick your role models carefully: Edition 59
Presque L’Heure: Madame/Monsieur Président
Election time in France frankly feels exhausting. The runoffs seem to last forever. But this year’s has been chock-a-block full of drama. Marine Le Pen’s return to the National Stage and becoming the lead opponent against Emmanuel Macron in Round 2 is what I’m talking about, and it’s best described as the rise of the phoenix.
Even the French far right had sort of written her off for a while, after the resounding defeat she suffered in the 2017 Presidential elections. But Marine has spent the past 5 years rewriting her future, detaching herself from the image of her father’s violent rhetoric, and even the party he founded, and she headed for 20 years - the National Front. After all who wants to keep repeating Jean Marie Le Pen’s loss to Jacques Chirac in the 2nd round of Presidential elections in 2002?
Articles galore have been written about Le Pen and her political animal of a family, with one even suggesting they deserve their own reality TV series a-la-Kardashian style! (Anyone here from Netflix?)
Her position over the years may have seemed softened, but who she really is, in her own words, bely that. In 2022, she may be considered tame compared to her father or even her old self when it comes to right wing rhetoric, but as the Le Monde pointed out earlier this month — she has:
“softened her image more than ever before, but her political program is still diametrically opposed to democratic and republican values. Le Pen has avoided riding on her street popularity, instead putting everything she's got into the presidential election. She claims to be a "legalist" and promises to "respect" the law and the Constitution, but she intends to fundamentally change both. Politics takes precedence over law, she says. She plans to put in place a strategy that would strip people of fundamental rights and individual freedoms, without which democracy is only the power of the many, not the respect of all.”
All will be quiet on the media front today, until the results are announced. Per French rules, between Saturday and voting on Sunday, this is the time for the electorate to absorb, digest and analyse each candidate’s position and policies. And between Emmanuel Macron and his challenger, if anyone was in doubt about how diametrically different, they are, Thursday’s debate laid any doubt to rest.
The incumbent stands accused of arrogance, the challenger of being populist. Macron has been considered too harsh with Covid regulations and displaying a lack of understanding of the French cost of living crisis. Marine Le Pen’s nationalist messaging on the other hand has played well to small town and rural France’s worries - promising jobs, income and retirement age status quo for the French first, the EU be damned. But with France standing its ground against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Marine in the same breath also stands accused of being a Putin puppet, a nationalist accepting Russian funds, accused by the EU fraud office of embezzling EU funds and Islamophobia.
The Council on Foreign Relations has spelt out what’s at stake from these elections quite clearly when it comes the EU, NATO and Ukraine. It is all now boiling down to how the French left leaning voters behave in the electoral booth. Will they abstain or leave the ballot blank as they’ve promised, risking a right-wing Marine Le Pen becoming France’s first woman President? Or will they choose to exercise their vote for a man they hate and have decried as being out of touch with the everyday man and woman?
However this plays out, one thing is for certain - France’s election is a warning for democracies everywhere. Don’t write off populist leaders because you think people are ready to put them in the past. Or that the electorate realise how dangerous they can be. Disinformation, an image overhaul, a good speech writer and spin doctor, people’s disaffection, cost of living and poverty all have a way of giving populists a new lease on life, when you least expect it.
Oh! Did I mention The French elections don’t end on Sunday? Round 3 is next up, in June. That’s when the horse trading, coalition forming, backstabbing and implosions in the legislative elections will determine the true power of the next French government. I did warn you - the French like to take their time!
Pick ‘em wisely: Role Models that is!
I’m the first person to cheer on women who take on the leadership mantle, but also the first to caution, you must pick your own role models carefully.
Sharing a gender, interests, sector, ethnicity or background isn’t enough - what binds you to the people you look up to or learn from is a shared value system.
When Sheryl Sandberg wrote LeanIn, she started a movement. But over the years actions at Meta have shown she can talk the talk but walking the walk is a different story. Meta’s many ethical troubles have seemingly been parked at her doorstep. Now it turns out she is potentially guilty of the same thing as Chris Cuomo. (Remember the CNN anchor and brother of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, fired for trying to influence/pressure media coverage of his brother’s sexual harassment case?)
Turns out Sheryl was potentially acting exactly as Chris had, pressuring British tabloid the Daily Mail to kill a story about her former boyfriend, Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick. The Wall Street Journal broke the story with details of how Sheryl contacted the Daily Mail’s digital division in 2016 and again in 2019 as the tabloid was working to reveal a temporary restraining order against Bobby, a former girlfriend put in place in 2014. Both Sheryl and Bobby it seems worked together with employees of Meta and Activision to dissuade the paper from reporting the restraining order. The ex-girlfriend since has withdrawn the order and even accused the WSJ of exploiting her.
What makes Sheryl’s decision to try and cover for Bobby using the power of her position and company truly a Chris Cuomo moment is the champion of women in the workplace was doing so for a man accused of facilitating a culture of sexual harassment and discrimination at his company, from 2016 to 2019. In spite of denying that he had knowledge of disturbing allegations at Activision of employee misconduct, including alleged rape, turns out he apparently knew about many of those incidents — a fact he concealed from the company’s board.
Meta says it is now reviewing its COO’s involvement in trying to kill the story about her then-boyfriend. How seriously they are reviewing her actions though, is a whole different question.
Ship ‘em off!
A shared value system is something I find myself definitively not sharing with Priti Patel. In case you’re completely lost about who she is - Priti is the third most powerful person in the U.K government and holds the post of Home Secretary (that’s a job right behind the Prime Minister’s and the Chancellor’s). It also makes her the most powerful woman of colour in European politics. To give you an idea of just how much that portfolio is a king maker - the Home Office was the portfolio held by Theresa May before she became Prime Minister.
Priti’s approach to politics and her views on Brexit and immigration couldn’t have been clearer on how right of the aisle she truly stands. But her proposals for immigration and asylum seekers have been a wakeup call to many who thought that somehow minorities in the west must share a vision or agenda.
Not only has her handling of Ukrainian refugees been embarrassing but her Nationalities and Borders bill is ping ponging between the lower House of Commons and the upper House of Lords, suffering plenty of defeats along the way - including a proposal to strip British citizenship without following due process.
Her questionable proposal to ship off refugees to the middle of the Atlantic Ocean (a-la Australia style) has seemingly died a quick death. But the shock new addition to the bill that has even the head of the Church of England, Archbishop Justin Welby go to war with her is Priti’s new idea to ship off those refugees and asylum seekers to a detention Centre in Rwanda for “processing”. This is a country in Africa, that her very own government in 2021 warned, has a questionable status on human rights.
Priti has positioned herself as being a child of refugees looking for ways to deter people smugglers risking the lives of the most desperate crossing the Channel from mainland Europe. She also isn’t the first and won’t be the last politician or high-profile person to overstate her fight with adversity — with claims of parents who had nothing when they came to England.
But a little fact check shows Priti’s parents were well settled British immigrants well before the refugee rush post Idi Amin kicking out Uganda’s Asians in 1972. Her father (who stood for elections with the Nationalist party UKIP) moved to England in the mid 1960s and married her mother who was from a wealthy Ugandan family, giving birth to Priti in North London months before Amin’s edict.
I’m often asked as an immigrant if I am proud to see a brown woman leading the government of her former colonial overlords. My answer is always two-fold - Am I proud to see a woman of colour at the helm of a G7 country? Yes, absolutely! Am I in agreement with what she stands for or espouses? Frankly, no! Not all women or immigrants are the same, and not all women of colour see eye to eye.
Caught my eye
Chinese ride hailing giant Didi, under investigation for cybersecurity breaches, is expected to vote to delist from the US at a special meeting on May 23. It’s a move that shows Beijing’s tough regulatory crackdown is still a massive problem for the country’s tech sector. It also means co-founder and President Jean Liu was right when she (per Reuters) told some close associates last year, she would have to step down post the U.S. listing, when Didi Global’s intense regulatory scrutiny began. Per Reuters, she expected the government to eventually take control of Didi and appoint new management.
Immediately after Didi’s announcement this week, the China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC) said Didi’s delisting plan had nothing to do with other US-listed Chinese stocks, and was not related to “the ongoing audit cooperation between China and the US” - Make of that what you will!
Irony of the Khashoggi Trial
Hatice Cengiz, the Turkish academic and fiancée of murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi lost an appeal to overturn a Turkish court’s decision to move the trial of his alleged killers to Saudi Arabia this week.
Jamal was killed in the Saudi consulate in Turkey in 2018. The case, which opened in 2020, was halted when Riyadh refused to send the 26 suspects to stand trial in Turkey.
The decision to send the case to Saudi Arabia marks a turnaround from Turkey’s stance in 2018, when Turkish President Erdogan said evidence would not be sent to Riyadh on fears it might be destroyed. A subsequent unofficial boycott of Turkish goods by Saudi Arabia may have potentially influenced the reversing in Turkey’s stance, since it cut the country’s exports to Saudi Arabia by 90%.
Hatice said (post the court’s decision) that her anger set in “against every- one and everything” and that she felt a “moral and human responsibility” to pursue justice for her fiancé. “As time passed, I began to see how long the process actually was. There were many times when I fell into despair and still do . . . I have been wronged and so was Jamal.”
H&M’s finally taking responsibility
It would seem obvious, but it turns out the ladies making our clothes in Asia have barely made any progress when it comes to their safety. We all know some of our favourite high street brands are made under terrible working conditions and pay. But it took the rape and murder of 20 year worker Jeyasre Kathiravel, at a H&M supplier last year for the company to finally sign a legally binding agreement to try to end sexual violence and harassment at one of its biggest Indian suppliers.
Why is this move by H&M a big deal? Because this is only the second agreement of its kind in the fashion industry, and the first time a brand has signed up to an initiative to tackle gender-based violence in Asia’s garment industry. The first was called the Lesotho Agreement, signed in 2019 by U.S. brands Levi Strauss, Wrangler Jeans and The Children’s Place after a damning report about the sexual assault of more than 120 women at 3 jeans factories in Lesotho, a country in southern Africa.
Heard in Fairfax
If you’ve been online at all this week, you can’t get away from the Fairfax County Court and its hearing of a $100 million libel suit between actress Amber Heard and her ex, Johnny Depp. It’s been ugly between the now blackballed A-Lister and the woman who openly accused her partner of domestic violence and wrote an op-ed without naming him, about the experience. Between exposing abusive private texts, videos of Johnny’s violent reactions and drug taking to videos of supposed cheating by Amber with tech boss Elon Musk and actor James Franco — the mudslinging has been grotesque.
The trial picks up Monday. If you want to follow it live - you can get the blow-by-blow details at The Independent. Hopefully for both parties, this will end soon and bring them closure.
Have you met?
Charlette N'Guessan Desiree - I came across this 20 something year old engineer’s profile in research I was conducting on innovation for development and innovators in Africa — and her work blew me away.
Charlette one of the new breed of techies working on solutions "by Africans, for Africans." Western tech we know has some serious issues in the ability of facial recognition software to identify non-white faces. Charlette has developed award winning facial recognition technology more adept at identifying and verifying African faces. Born in the Ivory Coast and she is now based in Ghana as is her AI company, BACE Group. The goal? To help universities verify students for financial services, banks to sign up new clients especially in rural areas and security firms to fight crime. Read more about Charlette at Thompson Reuters Foundation
Making Asian history
Japan’s Yoshimi Yamashita made history this week as the first female referee to take charge of an AFC Champions League match. The AFC Champions league is the most prestigious club competition in Asian football, organised by the Asian Football Confederation.
War politics on centre court
Wimbledon 2022 has said ‘nein’ to players from Russian or Belarus participating in this year’s championship. The decision has kicked off quite the storm.
Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina who ranks #25 in the world, says players from the two countries should be allowed onto the courts if they have denounced the war. “We don't want them banned completely. If players don't speak out against the Russian government, then it is the right thing to ban them.” — Svitolina to BBC Radio 5 Live Breakfast.
But along with the WTA and ATP, tennis legends Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova, and men's world number one Novak Djokovic have been vocal in their criticism of the decision.
There is speculation that the All-England Lawn Tennis Association doesn’t want to risk a senior British royal family member (Kate Middleton) having to present the winner’s trophy to a Russian, while the Ukraine war is ongoing. Russia's Daniil Medvedev, the reigning US Open champion and current world No 2 was tipped to be a favourite at Centre Court. Other tournaments including the French Open have banned the display of the Russian and Belarus flags but haven’t banned the players themselves. Russian players predictably are calling the Wimbledon move, ‘discriminatory.’
Shot Sage Blue Marilyn
Everyone knows this (picture below) Andy Warhol painting - though they may not know it’s called Shot Sage Blue Marilyn, or that it is set to become the most expensive 20th century artwork ever sold at auction.
Next month ‘Shot Sage Blue Marilyn’ will become the star of Christie’s 20th and 21st Century marquee auctions, 60 years after the death of the iconic actress. Described as the ‘pinnacle of American pop’ it is considered by collectors as one of the greatest paintings of all time.
Given its name after it was damaged by a woman who infiltrated Warhol’s Factory studio and shot a hole through it (later patched up), ‘Shot Sage Blue Marilyn’ is being put forward for auction by the Foundation of Thomas and Doris Ammann, two of the most respected art dealers in the industry. All proceeds from the sale will benefit the foundation, which provides healthcare and educational programs for children across the globe. Let me know if you’re bidding! I’d love to see it, IRL!
United for Ukraine update!
Well, it’s now officially backed by her employer Google, in addition to 500 international and Ukrainian partners providing comprehensive assistance to war victims. Airbnb has provided them a credit line for rental housing, 600 lawyers in 34 countries are assisting with legal issues, while the team works closely with the International Red Cross and organisations like Eintracht Frankfurt football club.
If you and your organisation can help the force of nature that Nina and her team are, reach out!