The newest member of the French government has been a citizen of France for less than three years – but now, she will speak for the country.
Sibeth Ndiaye, the new government spokeswoman, was born in Dakar, Senegal, and only obtained her citizenship while helping to run President Emmanuel Macron’s election campaign in 2016.
But the 39-year-old’s close connection to the president – and some of her comments in her time as his media advisor – have made her a target for criticism by opposition politicians.
She famously once told a newspaper that she was “perfectly comfortable lying to protect the president”.
From Dakar to Paris
Ms Ndiaye was born in 1979 in the former French-colonised republic of Senegal, to a family who engaged her in politics from a young age. Her father was heavily involved with the Senegalese Democratic Party, while her mother was a high-ranking judge on the country’s constitutional council.
Educated in Senegal and in Paris, she was involved in the French national students’ union – later telling news outlet Jeune Afrique that she felt a desire to make changes to the lives of other students.
She said her leap to national politics was prompted by the 2002 French presidential election, in which the far-right National Front’s Jean-Marie Le Pen made it to the second round. She joined the Socialists – and began her career in politics.
She first met Mr Macron when he was the deputy secretary general at the Élysée, and she was working for the economy minister – a job that Mr Macron would take over in 2014.
When he declared his presidential ambitions, she joined his campaign team. That decision led to her becoming a media advisor to the President of the Republic.
“My professional career was mainly built around beautiful encounters, with people who knew to trust me, and I always tried to be worthy of this trust,” she told Jeune Afrique.
Her appointment to the government in the weekend’s minor reshuffle has been met with a great deal of criticism and debate in France.
Her time as a media advisor to Mr Macron saw journalists ejected from the Élysée, and a hardening of policy about staff members speaking with journalists.
Much of the criticism surrounds a report carried by French newspaper L’Express in 2017, when she said she would lie to protect Mr Macron.
Opponents have questioned what such a statement – which she had previously denied saying – meant coming from the government spokeswoman.
Ian Brossat, spokesman for the French Communist Party, tweeted: “With the practices of this government, it actually seems to be fitting for the position of spokesperson.”
Julien Sanchez, spokesman for the far-right National Rally, echoed the sentiment, saying: “The liar officially becomes the government spokesperson”.
Speaking at her first official press conference on Monday, Ms Ndiaye said the quote had been taken out of context.
“It was my job at the time to defend and protect the President of the Republic… today, I have new responsibilities,” she told journalists.
Others take issue with the president appointing a close ally to a government position.
Earlier, Ms Ndiaye spoke about the importance of her role in government as a naturalised citizen.
“I take this step with pride in serving France, the country I chose for myself,” she said.
“Even before I was French, I was one of the people involved in this country, especially in [Paris suburb] Seine-Saint-Denis, where nothing is simple, but where everything is possible.”
“France has given me a lot, today it is my turn to give something back,” she said.
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