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In the footsteps of Obama

Saturday November 22 2008

The Kenyan-born mayor of Canada’s Mission Town,

The Kenyan-born mayor of Canada’s Mission Town, James Atebe, with his wife, Valerie, at a victory rally in the town hall following his re-election recently. Photo/COURTESY 


When America’s President-elect Barack Obama defeated Senator John McCain, a carnival mood engulfed Kenya. Unknown to many, “that one” would not be the only source of pride for Kenyans in the diaspora and in the homeland.

A week later, across the northern US border, another Kenyan son, James Atebe, would convincingly defeat his opponent to win a second term as mayor of Mission in the province of British Columbia in western Canada.

The celebrations were not as high profile as those for the Obama victory, but a homestead in a rural Kisii village is gearing up to celebrate one of their own.

James Atebe was born and brought up in Ekerenyo village in North Mugirango. He was first elected mayor of Mission in 2005 after serving two terms as councillor.

Social democrat

He ran on a ticket of the New Democratic Party (NDP) that has a progressive social democratic philosophy. NDP supports environmental protection, national water safety standards, corporate taxes, poverty reduction in Canada and human rights protection.


Mr Atebe’s opponent in the November 15 election was a 24-year old who received less than 20 per cent of the vote. A clear favourite of the electorate, Mr Atebe was humble in victory, saying he would work with his opponent.

“I know we ran against each other, but the election period is over, and I will definitely work hand in hand with him,” Mr Atebe told the Sunday Nation by telephone from Mission. “Mr Matt Johnson (his opponent) is a brilliant young man whom I would love to work with to attract the youths into their town’s politics.”

Unlike in his first attempt, Mr Atebe was better prepared this time with a record of fulfilled promises. “When I first ran for office, I based my re-election pledges on development issues. For instance, I promised to redesign the town’s waterfront, and before the elections, a plan was already in the implementation stages.”

According to Mr Atebe, his first-term successes instilled confidence in Mission residents in his ability. But his track record did not prevent opponents from smear campaigns targeted at him.

“At some point during the campaign, people who were anti-development tried to create controversy over a housing project I had proposed. But the community saw that they were anti-development and their arguments were devoid of facts,” he said.

The project in question involved the building of more than 14,000 low-cost housing units on a 442-acre piece of land.

Such was his confidence that his election campaign slogan was simply: “I am your mayor and I have delivered. I ask for your continued support.”

The voters heard him. Fully aware of the power of the Internet in modern-day campaigns, he set up an interactive website where voters would send him questions about his policies and plans for the city.

For his second term, he has pledged to complete the projects that he initiated. “I want my second term to be seen as the icing on the cake. I want to give my all to Mission residents,” he said.

As mayor his schedule is tight, but he still creates time for his family.

Back home

“Every day, I wake up at 5.00 a.m. and I am in meetings throughout the day. I go back home at around 10.00 p.m. for dinner with my family. However, weekends are ‘us’ time where I switch my mayoral robes with a whistle and coach a children’s soccer team,” said the father of five.

The tight schedule will not discourage him from seeking higher office. According to him, the town’s business community has already approached him and shown interest in his running for a higher post.