History was made on the 9th of September when Ghanaian-born politician, Amma Asante, became the second African-born politician to become a member of the 201 year-old Dutch Parliament.
Amma was sworn in to serve out the term that expires in March 2017, when the next Dutch general elections are expected to be held.
Born 44-years ago in Juaben, Ashanti Region, Ghana, Amma moved to the Netherlands at the age of six with her mother to join her father.
A political science graduate, and social worker by profession, Amma joined politics as a Member of the Dutch Labour Party (Partij van de Arbeid (PvdA)) and was a Councillor in an Amsterdam District for eight years.
Her husband, Pastor Emmanuel Baddoo, and their two daughters, were among the throng of cheering Africans and other well-wishers that graced her swearing-in ceremony.
Femi Akomolafe went to interview her in Amsterdam.
Tell us something about yourself.
Ans: I am Amma Asante. I was born in Juaben, Ghana. At age six I came to join my father in the Netherlands. I studied Political Science at the University of Amsterdam and majored in International Relations. I am a Social Affairs Specialist, and have worked in several organisations. I have also consulted for quite a number of organisations on social policies. I joined politics as a member of the Dutch Labour Party, PvdA in Amsterdam, and served as a Councillor of the Amsterdam Municipality for eight years. I am married with two children.
When and how did you develop interest in politics?
Ans: I would say that my interest in politics was developed at home because my father was always discussing politics. He was not a practicing politician, but he has keen interest in politics, political affairs and he likes to discuss them quite frequently and openly. I am glad that he afforded me the opportunity to participate in the discussions even when I was still very young. He was a tremendous motivator in nurturing my interest in politics. He supported and gave me all the encouragement I could ever hoped for. My father was an undocumented resident until an amnesty was declared in 1976. He was a beneficiary, and the legalization of his stay made it possible for my mother and me to join him in 1978.
So, I can say that the circumstance of my coming to the Netherlands made me realised the role politics can play in impacting the lives of people. It also made me appreciated early that political decisions can create great opportunities, and that one need to be part of the policy-making team in order to make meaningful contributions.
Can you share with us what your personal and political philosophies are?
Ans: Politically, I am a Social Democrat. While I personally believe that individuals have certain responsibilities for themselves, the society or state has an obligation to help the disadvantaged. Social democracy advocates the creation of equal opportunities for every citizen. For example, citizens should be helped to get the best education possible. This will make it possible for them to realise their full potentials.
I believe also that parents have great responsibilities to help their children. Not everything should be left for the state. Parental guidance is very crucial in bringing up responsible children, who graduate to become responsible citizens.
I am sure that you are aware of the case of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the first African at the Parliament. She is not very fondly remembered by the African and Black Community here, what do you intend to do differently?
Ans: I am aware of her story. But we are two different individuals with different philosophical outlook. There is a big distinction between our political philosophies
You are going to serve as a member until March next year when new elections are scheduled, what do you intend to achieve within that short time?
Ans: I am the spokesperson for Higher education in parliament. I intend to continue to hold meetings with students and teachers, in order to understand how the reforms in the education sector can be successfully implemented. The aim is to improve the education sector, in order to create equal opportunity for every student, and make it possible for every student to attain the highest education potentials possible
There is no denying the fact that the African and Black Community in the Netherland is faces enormous challenges, what do you intend to contribute to solving some of the problems?
Ans: I shall continue to do what I have always done which is to encourage our people to take advantage of the great opportunities available in the Dutch society. The Netherlands has excellent educational facilities from which our people can benefit. I am lucky that my parents, despite their lack of education, helped, encouraged and motivated me to study hard. They realized that good education holds the keys to advancement.
The Africans, especially the youth, face enormous challenges. They live in a society that is open and encourage people to speak up, while at home, parents frown upon children voicing out their opinions. It is a culture clash which hinders progress and successful integration into the Dutch society.
To be successful, we have to become part of the society in which we live. That means actively participating at every sphere of the society.
Let us talk about some very controversial issues. One, racism. Many Black activists believe that the Netherlands remain a profoundly racist country. What will be your contribution to solving the problems of racial divide and tension in the country? Secondly, December is around the corner, the vexing issue of Sinterklaas, which many Black people consider particularly offensive, is bound to crop up. How do you intend to help douse the tension?
Ans: Yes, Sinterklaas is undoubtedly a controversial and vexing issue. It is one that I also personally find offensive and hurtful. It galls greatly to see Black people continue to be portrayed as some ignorant, unserious people who are good only for jokes. What I have come to realise, however, is that most of those that celebrate Sinterklaas do not do so because of racism, they are simply too ignorant to notice how negatively it impacts on Black people. We Dutch people do not know our history. We were not taught about slavery and colonialism.
The media here also does not help matter by the way they portray Black people and the African continent. I was six years when I came here, and I did not go back to Ghana until I was eighteen years old. So distorted was my view of Africa that I was shocked and surprised to see people in Ghana living with modern amenities. Per the Dutch media, Africa is some jungle where people starve, war constantly and are perpetually dying of hunger and starvation. Very sadly, that was the image of Ghana I took with me when I went there.
The good thing is that issues like Sinterklaas which used to be discussed in the private confines of homes are now part of the national discussions and narratives.
More and more people are now realising that what they think of a joking matter is a serious issue for the Black people. I have no doubt that Sinterklaas shall be confine to the dustbin of history soon.
Many Africans here complain about racism, what have been your own experiences, and how did you deal with them?
Ans: I have also experienced racism, but I tried not to let it hold me down. It is important to know that Black is not the Norm here. But you have to make yourself strong and knowledgeable enough not to let racism or anything keep you down. I am fully cognizant of the fact that I am not part of the Dutch Norm which is a White, Christian, well-educated, Successful Male, with a well-paid job.
Let us talk about the question of Identity which many Africans find difficult to resolve. Many Africans in the Diaspora feel a sort of ambivalence regarding whether they are Africans or Europeans. Where do you belong, and how did you resolve it?
Ans: I am Dutch. I was born in Ghana and I cannot deny my Black identity. Being Dutch does not however mean that I forgot my roots. I grew up in the predominantly Black community of Bijlmer, in Amsterdam and still make my contributions to helping out whenever possible. I was a Programme Coordinator for an organization that tries to help train Policy makers from Africa with knowledge, expertise and networking. It is to help us broaden our horizons.
Do you think that the Netherlands will ever have a Black Minister in your lifetime, if ever?
Ans: I am an optimist; I believe that everything is possible.
Amma, when you look at our continent, Africa, we face so many challenges on so many fronts. what do you think that we are doing wrong, and what do you think we can begin to do to solve some of our problems?
Ans: We are certainly doing a lot of things wrong. But the central one is: when will our leaders stop putting Africa up for sale?
From slavery to colonialism, we are always selling ourselves very cheaply. How do we end becoming poor after selling all our precious minerals? Up till today, if you look at the type of agreements African governments continue to sign, you have to ask yourself the reason why they do so?
We cannot make a headway in life unless we figure out how to use our resources for the improvement in the lives of our people.
What are your parting words for the Africans in the Netherlands?
Ans: Don’t give up. There are a lot opportunities available in the country for those who are willing and prepared to grab them.