Born in Ethiopia, Ted Alemayhu came to the United States at the end of 1987. He was just 14 at the time, and studied in Santa Barbara, California, under the guardianship of an American family.
Three decades later, he plans on joining his adopted country’s ruling elite.
He intends to become the first ever Africa-born representative in the US House of Representatives.
Alemayhu, who is best known for founding the charity US Doctors for Africa in 2001, is running as an independent candidate in California’s 37th congressional district, a famously diverse area in Los Angeles. The election is scheduled for November 2018.
“I’ve been interested and involved in both local and international politics and humanitarian works for quite some time,” he told the Mail & Guardian.
“I believe that it’s time for me now to run for the US Congress because I’m better prepared and able to address issues that affect both my community and that of US citizens.”
Alemayhu said he has been deeply involved in his local community over the years, especially regarding issues of healthcare, immigration, unemployment and education.
“The immigration system is pretty tough now. The new administration is strict in many forms but I believe that when I get elected, the president and his team will work with me very closely,” he said.
Alemayhu has previously testified before the US Congress to help to mobilise global partnerships to defeat the deadly Ebola virus in West Africa. He was also involved in relief efforts during Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Francis.
Several dozen people attended the formal launch of his congressional bid on August 3. Although this particular seat has been held by the Democratic Party for nearly 40 years, Alemayhu believes that constituents are ready for change.
“Due to the current toxic political climate in the US, voters are fed up with the two-party system and don’t feel as though their voice and concerns have been heard,” he said.
“That is precisely the reason I decided to throw in my hat in the upcoming 2018 congressional race.”
He stressed that his chances of winning the seat as the first Africa-born congressperson are “very real”.
Alemayhu promised that he would not forget his African roots if elected.
“We have seen our brothers and sisters from Africa losing their lives in oceans and seas trying to get to different countries in Europe,” he said. “That’s a major concern to me, and I plan to fight for those refugees and immigrants in the halls of Congress so that their cause is properly heard and rapid action is taken by the state department.”
Alemayhu has previously worked with the City of Los Angeles, the state of California, the US state department, the Rand Corporation policy think tank, the Clinton Foundation, the United Nations and the World Health Organisation.
“In America, we celebrate and practise true democracy,” he said, reflecting on how politics in his adopted country differs from what he remembers of politics in Africa.
“But in some African countries that necessarily is not the case. That’s why you see a lot of frustrations, especially in Africa. Though I haven’t lived in Africa for nearly 30 years, I can see the massive difference.”