Editor’s note: This editorial first appeared in the February print edition of Mshale.
Last month after the swearing-in into office of a historic number of elected officials born in Africa, our founder and publisher Tom Gitaa was invited to speak about the development at Almanac which is Minnesota’s longest running public affairs show on TPT Television which is the local PBS affiliate in the Twin Cities.
The success of African-born politicians started with the election of Abdi Warsame in November 2013 to the Minneapolis City Council. Prior to that African immigrants’ closeness to elective office were the appointments of the late Hussein Samatar to the Minneapolis Library Board and newly elected Brooklyn Park city councilman Wynfred Russell to the Hennepin County Library Board.
It was not for a lack of trying that it has taken this long for African immigrants to make it to elective office. As our publisher, who has followed the growth of the community for almost three decades, offered on Almanac it has taken multiple tries with Russell coming close by five votes to win over five years. Mohamud Noor, who is now the only black male in the Minnesota House of Representatives, has tried many times until he was successful this past November.
The early humbling of African politicians at the polls has made the new crop of candidates to think hard how they approach campaigning as well as the older candidates who are still in the game like Noor and Russell. They now understand the importance of clear messaging and the value of building strong coalitions with other communities. African immigrant voters are not a majority in any district or city ward. They must continue to build bridges and coalitions if they are to continue winning and ensure our presence in the legislature, city councils and school boards.
To ensure they run successful campaigns, they need funds and this is where it is important for the community to not only come out to vote for African immigrant candidates but we must provide them with the money they need to be competitive. Otherwise they might look for funds elsewhere and we should not be surprised if they become more responsive to the calls of those financing their campaigns. It is only natural that a politician will return the call of those who gave him or her money to tun for office. Let us ensure we are one of those they pay close attention to once in office.
One question that comes up is why the sudden interest in running for office. It is not sudden. It has been building up for some time. However, as the economic wellbeing of African immigrants has improved and they have prospered, they have contributed greatly to the tax coffers of both the State of Minnesota and the federal government. The Minneapolis Federal Reserve in their latest study says that Minnesota’s African immigrants paid taxes of over $200 million to Minnesota and more than double that in federal taxes. Paying that much naturally leads one to think there should be no taxation without representation, a classic American attitude. Thus, African immigrants have decided they need to be at the center of decision making on how our tax dollars are spent.
As our publisher stated in his Almanac appearance, “there is more to come.”