Sat May 25, 2013 1:38AM
In Italy, after over 150 years of republican history, the country gets its first minister of African origin. But the appointment of a Congo-born doctor as Italy’s Integration Minister has stirred up some controversy in the political arena.
When, at the end of April, the new Italian premier Enrico Letta announced his new left-right cabinet many expressed surprise, puzzlement, even disapproval. Not only Letta's executive had the highest proportion of female ministers, seven of 22, in Italy's history but it also included a black one. Democratic Party MP Cecile Kyenge, a 48-year-old ophthalmologist who was born in Congo's Haut-Katanga district and moved to Italy in 1983, had been appointed Italy's Minister of Integration. Once a poor country that sent millions of its citizens abroad to find work, Italy now has an estimated 4.6 million immigrants - about 7.5 percent of the population. Although there are over 60 million people of Italian descent across the world, Italians themselves have always been extremely reluctant to welcome immigrants. Integration Minister Kyenge has recently said that the Italian government should gradually find its way to extend citizenship automatically to children born in Italy. Right-wing party Fratelli d'Italia and the anti-immigrant Northern League party have expressed their firm opposition to the opening up of citizenship laws. About three weeks ago, an Italian member of the European Parliament, Northern League's Mario Borghezio, made racial slurs against Integration Minister Kyenge. On Wednesday, Borghezio had to step down from the Europe of Freedom and Democracy group of the European Parliament.