The biggest influx of African immigrants to Germany occurred in the post-war period, when newly liberated countries in Africa sent their best and brightest abroad to study. Diaby was one of them, receiving a scholarship to study in East Germany at a time when communist rule was slowly unraveling.
By 2005 there were about 200,000 people of African origin with full German citizenship, and about 303,000 more Africans with residency permits in Germany, said Madubuko.
While Afro-Germans have become more visible in recent years as athletes, actors and journalists, none has broken into national politics. This reflects the general lack of minority representation in German political life. Although nearly one in five people in this nation of 80 million are first-, second- or third- generation immigrants, only a handful has made it into the federal legislature — and most of them are ethnic Germans from eastern Europe.
Three have a parent who was born in India, another is of Iranian origin, while several more belong to Germany’s sizeable Turkish community. Vice Chancellor Philipp Roesler is an ethnic Vietnamese who was adopted by German parents before he was a year old.
Ekin Deligoez, a member of the left-leaning Green Party whose family came to Germany from Turkey when she was a child, said immigrants were long discouraged from becoming involved in German politics by the country’s restrictive citizenship rules and a general sense that they were not welcome.
“Every step of the way immigrants get the signal that they don’t belong here,” she told The Associated Press. “A foreign name will get you worse results in school, turned down for jobs, and rejected by landlords.”
The period after 1990, when the unification of East and West Germany sparked a burst of nationalist sentiment, was particularly difficult, she said. But hostility remains today. “I’m pretty sure that some of the farmers in my Bavarian constituency still have a problem with me,” she said.
Germany’s political parties are beginning to accept that they can be represented by immigrants, even in senior positions, because of changes in the law over a decade ago that made it easier for immigrants to adopt German citizenship. This made them interesting as potential voters, said Madubuko.
“It’s a whole new development for parties to actively court immigrants, rather than just use them for negative propaganda,” she said. “So it would definitely be important for Afro-Germans if Mr. Diaby is elected.”
Putting down his distinctive African-patterned briefcase to exchange Facebook contacts with two university students, Diaby said he hopes that his candidacy alone will encourage other immigrants to consider entering politics.
“The fact that I’d be first African-born lawmaker is not something I would want to dwell on,” he said. “But a lot of eyes are on me and I hope they realize I’ll be just one of over 600.”