The election of president Barck Obama as the first black American president of Kenyan descent has arguably encouraged more Africans and Kenyans to go for various political offices in the land of plenty and the brave.
And as Americans gear for the November presidential polls, the other elective posts are also causing as much excitement. And today we profile some Kenyans who have thrown their hats into some of these posts.
A community organizer and nonprofit executive, Henry Momanyi, is challenging incumbent Brooklyn Park City Council member Susan Pha in the city’s West District.
Momanyi was inspired to run for the position from his work in the nonprofit sector. “I’ve been working in the non-profit sector for the past 15 years as an outreach coordinator,” he said. “I have been seeing the challenges that … people face.”
Momanyi has listed housing, public safety, and education to be the most pressing issues for his campaign. If elected he plans on working to introduce housing moratoriums that protect renters from eviction and homeowners from foreclosure.
Momanyi also wants to increase communication between city officials and the residents. “We must have a dialog between the community and the city of Brooklyn Park,” he said. Momanyi would also like to see a diversified police force to ensure that it reflects the community that the department serves.
After living in Brooklyn Park for five years, Momanyi’s favorite quality of the city is its diversity. “We have so many people from different parts of the world and that makes me happy I love Brooklyn Park because of that,” he said.
Brooklyn Park, a suburb north of the Twin Cities, is Minnesota’s sixth-largest city. The city’s council consists of six members with two representatives from each of the city’s East, Central, and West districts. Members serve staggered four-year terms with only one of each district’s council member up for election in each four-year cycle.
Momanyi wants to encourage all eligible voters to cast their ballots. “I’m asking all people to come and vote,” he said. “It is important for all our people regardless of party lines to vote.”
Professionally Momanyi is the executive director of a nonprofit health-focused organization based in Brooklyn Park. He lives in the city with his wife Jeliah and their three children who attend Brooklyn Park schools.
Edina resident Janet Kitui is a Minnesota state employee and longtime Edian resident. She announced her run for one of two Edina City Council seats in the November 3 election. This is her second bid for a council seat.
Kitui, who is running on a platform of affordable housing, racial equity, and sustainable growth.
The top priority of Kitui’s campaign is that of affordable housing, an issue that Kitui is fiercely passionate about. She is using her voice to help ensure that the city’s ten-year development plan includes single housing units.
Located just south of the Twin Cities, Edina is noted as being one of the state’s most affluent suburbs with the median household income above the national average and homes selling at an average of $440,000. Kitui points out that affordable housing options for middle-income families are limited in the city’s real estate market.
“Citizens between the city’s 80 [thousand dollar] area median income are priced out of the market,” she said. The cost to purchase a home in Edina can be prohibitive for families that want to live there.
“When I talk about affordable housing, that is a sage way for racial equity,” she said. “The black and brown community, we have been left out,” Kitui said.
Dedicated to racial equity, Kitui was inspired to run for public office after a 2016 reported incident showed an African American man was arrested for walking on the street in Edina. The occurrence was viewed as racial profiling and Larnie Thomas, the man arrested, sued the city for racial discrimination.
“I run to say that policies that have existed are not working for some of us in this city,” she said.
Kitui has raised three daughters in the city that attended Edina public schools. The city’s public schools are among the top in the nation and this was a main motivating factor for her moving there.
Kitui moved to the United States in 1988 and attended Minnesota State University Moorhead where she obtained her bachelors in International Business. In her current employment Kitui is a government supply chain professional in the state of Minnesota. She holds an MBA from Hamline University.
If elected as a member of Edina’s council Kitui looks forward to adding community voices to the council. “When all of us are involved, that is when our democracy is at its best,” she said.
Samuel Mwangi has announced his bid for a seat as a council member for the city’s Ward 4. Mwangi hopes to bring a diverse voice that reflects the city’s demographics to the position.
Champlin is a northern suburb of Minneapolis neighboring Brooklyn Park. The city council has five members including the mayor, and two of the seats are on the ballot in the November 3 general election. Mwangi is running against the incumbent Ryan Sabas.
Mwangi first moved to the city 15 years ago with his wife and children. “I wanted somewhere safe and nice to raise our kids” he said. Mwangi’s three children attend Champlin public schools.
In the years since settling in Champlin Mwangi has witnessed a series of changes, which include the city’s increasing population and diversity. “I’ve seen Champlin grow, a large number of immigrant families and people of color,” he said. “I have not seen a change in the city council.”
This observation inspired him to run for a seat. Mwangi is running on a platform advocating for increased community engagement and affordable housing. “I pledge to use new eyes to solve old problems,” he said.
Mwangi would like the city to take on initiatives that make it easier for first time home buyers to acquire property. He also wants Champlin to create a fund that helps residents who might be struggling to pay their rents.
“It’s hard to go to a council member who doesn’t look like you and ask for help,” he said. Stating the need for representation on the board that would make it easier for residents of color to access the city’s resources.
Mwangi hopes his initiatives will make Champlin a more inclusive and habitable place. “I just want to see our community become successful,” he said.
In his professional life, Mwangi works for a non-profit organization based in Brooklyn Park. He is also a member of several boards which include the Anoka Hennepin Community School Foundation where he works to raise funds for Champlin Schools. Mwangi has also been a longtime volunteer at Jackson Middle School in the city of Champlin.
Kenyan born Boni Njenga is seeking to place himself in history by becoming the first Kenyan to sit as a commissioner in one of the county boards in the United States.
Njenga who left Kenya for the United States to seek further education 17 years ago is gunning for a position in the Hennepin County Board of Commissioner, District 5 (Bloomington, Richfield and Eden Prairie).
A policy analyst, Njenga says his campaigns are focusing on five key areas which once elected he will ensure he addresses. These include creating community wealth, closing the achievement gap, children protective services, safe and affordable housing and improving the quality of life for all residents.
Njenga is challenging first-term incumbent Debbie Goettel in the main elections to be held on November 3, 2020.
He acknowledges that the incumbent is a formidable opponent but that he is up to the challenge.
Njenga said he is running because it is time for fresh ideas and action, and wants to be involved at the policy level in making the county an even better place to live for all of its residents. He has lived and worked in the county for the last nine years.
Hennepin is Minnesota’s largest county with an annual budget of $2.5 billion that is overseen by a seven-member board of commissioners that represent the county’s seven districts. District 5 covers the cities of Bloomington, Eden Prairie and Richfield.
“I want to bring a 21st-century approach to policymaking,” Njenga said.
Njenga who has a master’s in public administration has previously championed access and opportunity for marginalized groups through his involvement in the faith-based coalition Isaiah, whether it is helping mosques in grant writing or pointing individuals to resources.
Njenga moved to the United States in 2003 and joined Minnesota State University-Mankato where he obtained a bachelors in political science and later a master’s in public administration.
He has held supervisory and project management roles with the state where he worked before joining the private sector as a business owner.
He says that this background will enable him to offer ideas and innovative approaches that will enable money to go to local businesses to create sustainable jobs and economic security “instead of workforce programs and welfare.”
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Njenga joins the long list of Africans seeking elective posts in Minnesota since the election of congresswoman Ilhan Omar to the Minnesota legislature in 2016 and two years later to the US House of Representatives, making her the first black person born in Africa to be elected to the US Congress.