Italy Appoints First Black Cabinet Minister Ever

Cecile Kyenge, the new Italian minister for integration

Cecile Kyenge, the Italian minister for integration. Photograph: Gregorio Borgia/AP

Cecile Kyenge, a doctor who was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, became Italy’s first black minister after being named in premier designate Enrico Letta’s new cabinet.

Kyenge, a 48-year-old MP for the centre-left Democratic Party, was sworn in as Integration minister on Sunday. She is one of two naturalised Italians in the government, both elected for the centre-left Democratic party (PD).

The AC Milan and Italy striker, Mario Balotelli, called her appointment “a further, big step towards a more civilised and responsible Italian society”. Kyenge said her top priorities included changing Italy’s citizenship laws, which are based on descent rather than place of birth.

“Anyone who is born and grows up in Italy is an Italian,” she told Republica TV.

But any attempt to reform the citizenship rules could open a rift between the PD and its coalition partner, Silvio Berlusconi’s Freedom People (PdL) movement.

An eye specialist who has lived in Italy since her late teens, Kyenge has been at the centre of controversy since winning a seat in parliament in February’s general election. A politician of Moroccan descent was chosen for the same constituency.