In this July 20, 2010 photo, Russian councilman Jean Gregoire Sagbo smiles in Novozavidovo, a village 100 kilometers (65 miles) north of Moscow. (AP)
People in this Russian town used to stare at Jean Gregoire Sagbo because they had never seen a black man. Now they say they see in him something equally rare — an honest politician.
Sagbo last month became the first black to be elected to office in Russia.
In a country where racism is entrenched and often violent, Sagbo’s election as one of Novozavidovo’s 10 municipal councilors is a milestone. But among the town’s 10,000 people, the 48-year-old from the West African country of Benin is viewed simply a Russian who cares about his hometown.
He promises to revive the impoverished, garbage-strewn town where he has lived for 21 years and raised a family. His plans include reducing rampant drug addiction, cleaning up a polluted lake and delivering heating to homes.
Crima was dubbed by the media “Russia’s Obama.” Now they’ve shifted the title to Sagbo, much to his annoyance.
“My name is not Obama. It’s sensationalism,” he said. “He is black and I am black, but it’s a totally different situation.”
Inspired by communist ideology, Sagbo came to SovietRussia in 1982 to study economics in Moscow. There he met his wife, a Novozavidovo native. He moved to the town about 100 kilometers (65 miles) north of Moscow in 1989 to be close to his in-laws.