177. This is the number of votes that separates Rachel Keke from her opponent, the former Sports Minister of Emmanuel Macron, Roxana Maracineanu, during the second round of the legislative elections. In a confrontation resembling a duel between David and Goliath, it was ultimately the outsider who won in the 7th constituency of Val-de-Marne, with 50.3% of the vote. A few days before this election, Young Africa had met this Franco-Ivorian who, at 48, combines the caps *.
In addition to her job as a maid and the parental obligations imposed by the education of five children, Rachel Keke, who lives in Chevilly-Larue, in the Paris region, launched Thursday, May 19 in the race for the legislative elections of June 12 and 19. “I am a warrior. Battles, I have already fought. I’m ready for this one, ”she guarantees on the phone, on the threshold of her youngest’s college, where she has an appointment.
Invested by La France insoumise (LFI), the formation of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, to represent the New Popular Ecological and Social Union (Nupes), the left-wing coalition, in the 7th constituency of Val-de-Marne, this representative of the civil society is not unknown. Between 2019 and 2021, she was the voice and the face of the chambermaids of the Ibis Batignolles hotel, located in the 17th arrondissement of Paris. Contract workers who have become famous in France for leading the longest strike in the history of the hotel industry.
– Rachel Keke (@KekeRachel) May 19, 2022
Two years of battle
“Subcontracting is too often used to deprive workers of their rights. Our working conditions were so harsh that it pushed us to unionize and strike,” recalls the former spokesperson for the strikers. The fight will last twenty-two months, a record. “The unions had warned us: a group like Accor does not bend easily. We expected to have to fight for a few weeks or a few months,” she laughs.
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It will finally take nearly two years, therefore, before winning the case. And no matter the fatigue, the contempt, the intimidation and the insults, at the time, Rachel Keke does not intend to give in. “I’ve seen it all in this fight. We have been infantilized, humiliated, insulted. Often, we doubted, but we never gave up. It must be said that, for her, abandonment is not an option. “I got that from my mother,” she says, recalling the memory of the one who, to feed her seven children, was a clothes seller in the Adjamé market in Abobo.
It was in this town north of Abidjan that Rachel Keke grew up, then gave birth to her eldest son, before moving to Paris at the age of 26. From the crossbreeding of her neighborhood of origin, where “Ivorians, Malians, Senegalese, Guineans, Catholics and Muslims” lived together, she says she retains warmth and tolerance. Pugnacity too, “obligatory” for a modest family.
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The voice of the invisible
This heritage, the LFI candidate wishes to put it at the service of the “essentials”. These “invisible” women and men who “held France” at arm’s length when the whole country was confined in the face of the coronavirus epidemic. Just before her election to the National Assembly, Rachel Keke told us that she wanted to be the voice of “cleaning women, garbage collectors, home helpers, poorly paid teachers, security guards…” “Political men and women don’t know how we live. If we are not in the National Assembly to plead our own cause, who will? “asks the one who burns to obtain” a meeting with the Minister of Labor “.
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“What dominates in certain neighborhoods, beyond ‘desperation’, is a problem of trust. People have the feeling of being systematically betrayed by those they elect, ”adds Hadi Issahnane, elected LFI to the town hall of Chevilly-Larue and member of Rachel Keke’s campaign team. The best way to restore confidence is to give responsibilities to people who have no political career plan. Like Rachel. It is the struggles that have imposed themselves on her that have led her to where she is. »
Although she willingly admits that the idea of going into politics at first seemed “weird” to her, Rachel Keke assures her, the challenge “does not [lui] don’t be afraid”. Mastodons of the hotel industry, deputies, sometimes “contemptuous” journalists… No one succeeded in intimidating him. “She speaks to a CEO of a multinational as she would speak to a passer-by,” summarizes Hadi Issahnane. ” [C’est une très bonne chose] if it makes the columns of the Palais Bourbon vibrate ”, abounded Alexis Corbière, at the beginning of May, on a plateau of The Parliamentary Channel (LCP). The journalist who was facing this leader of LFI then asked him if Rachel Keke had “been trained”, in case she entered the Assembly.
.@KekeRachel is a great activist, a committed citizen, a courageous woman. If she were elected as a deputy to make the voice of despised women heard in the Assembly, it would be a source of great pride! #legislatives2022 #NUPES pic.twitter.com/FtIF06EeTi
— Alexis Corbiere (@alexiscorbiere) May 9, 2022
“It’s contemptuous, but she’s the one making a fool of herself. They want to train me so that I learn the price of a kilo of rice? » quips the interested party. “There have been and always will be some class reflexes, people who will say, ‘She’s a maid, does she know what a bill is?’ deplores Issahnan Hadi. But Rachel talks about the concrete: the pay, the school, the suffering of the people down there. It is capable of reaching out to the working classes, abstentionists and all those who do not feel represented. »
“Proud to be Ivorian”
Her outspokenness, Rachel Keke says she draws it, again, from her Ivorian roots. “My family is from the Bété ethnic group. With us, when it’s blue, it’s blue, when it’s red, it’s red. No hypocrisy: we say things as we think them and we don’t beat around the bush, ”she claims. “I have a lot of admiration for women like former first lady Simone Gbagbo [épouse du président Laurent Gbagbo, d’origine bété]she is not afraid, she assumes, ”she assures.
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Drawn from her origins or her struggles as an activist and as the head of a single-parent family, her determination has earned her today being called to the rescue by many social movements, from Marseille to Rotterdam via Geneva or Belgium. But with the political exposure will come some blows, she predicts. “I expect to be attacked, but I’m used to it. When you are black and a maid, you know how to defend yourself alone, ”she boasts, evoking the racist insults of certain hotel guests, about which her managers “have never done anything”.
Does she fear xenophobes and those who agitate the question of identity and the fear of the “great replacement”? “It’s behind us,” wants to believe the aspiring MP. “Éric Zemmour made his films on immigration, he had 7% in the presidential election. Le Pen senior never succeeded in being elected and, for the moment, neither does his daughter. Today, France must be reconciled to [que l’on puisse] live together,” she said. For this, she intends to bring “a little more diversity to the National Assembly and bring there the struggles carried out so far at the door of the Ibis hotel”, without denying anything of her identity. “I am proud to be Ivorian and I am proud to be black. I’m proud to be French too. And this is where I will fight until I die. From now on, Rachel Keke will be able to add a string to her bow, and not the least: that of deputy.
We are republishing this article, which originally appeared on May 26, 2022, the day after Rachel Keke was elected on Sunday, June 19.