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Meet Europe's first Black head of government — in Wales

Vaughan Gething poses for a portrait at the Cardiff University Spark building on March 16, in Cardiff, Wales. He has taken the Welsh government's leadership post as first minister.
Matthew Horwood
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Vaughan Gething poses for a portrait at the Cardiff University Spark building on March 16, in Cardiff, Wales. He has taken the Welsh government's leadership post as first minister.

LONDON — A Zambian-born lawyer has become the first Black head of government in Wales, in the United Kingdom — and in all of Europe.

Thursday is Vaughan Gething's first full day on the job as Welsh first minister, after being elected by the Welsh parliament in Cardiff a day earlier, and approved by King Charles III.

"Today we turn a page in the book of our nation's history — a history we write together," he said upon taking office. "Not just because I have the honor of becoming the first Black leader in any European country, but because a generational dial has jumped too."

At 50, Gething said he is the first Welsh leader to come of age after the devolution of powers from the U.K.'s central government in London to national governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. That process began with public votes in the late 1990s.

Wales, with a population of about 3 million, is one of four countries in the U.K., along with England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. They run local services, including health and education systems, while London is responsible for their defense, foreign relations and other issues.

Gething was born in Zambia to a Zambian mother and white Welsh father. He was raised in Dorset, England, before going to university in Wales.

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Given his race and background, he said to lawmakers on Wednesday his election is "a matter of pride" but also a "daunting responsibility." And he pledged to make Wales a place where citizens "can celebrate our differences and take pride in all of those things that draw us together."

A longtime member of the U.K.'s center-left Labour Party, Gething won a leadership contest within the party's Welsh ranks last weekend, after his predecessor, Mark Drakeford, stepped down. Because Labour holds the most seats in the Welsh legislature, Gething then became first minister.

He previously served as Welsh health minister for five years, including during the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since 2021, he had been the country's economy minister.

Gething's election means three of the U.K.'s four countries — England, Wales and Scotland — now have non-white leaders. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is of Indian descent and Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf has Pakistani heritage.

The fourth, Northern Ireland, is led by two women. That means there are no white men in the top tier of political offices in any of the four U.K. countries.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.