Mohammed Tahiro Interview: First Ethiopian American Candidate for U.S. Senate

Ethiopian American Mohammed Tahiro of Texas is the first foreign-born African to run for the US Senate.

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Published: Sunday, October 26th, 2014

New York (TADIAS) – Economics Professor Mohammed Abbajebel Tahiro — who is the only write-in candidate for the U.S. Senate from Texas in the upcoming November elections — says he’s running because he wants to highlight issues that most politicians in D.C. prefer to ignore: The growing American debt, immigration, foreign aid, and inequality in the criminal justice system.

“I teach economics and in my line of work I see a lot of things that politicians in Washington do and I don’t like what I see, like spending more money than they take in taxes,” said Professor Tahiro in a recent interview with Tadias Magazine. “We have over 12 million undocumented immigrants in this country and many of them live in Texas, my own state, and the U.S. government spends a lot of money in the form of foreign aid, both cash and military assistance, that goes to despots around the world. I am pretty much against that too.”

But mostly as an economist Professor Tahiro said he is concerned about the growing American debt, which is almost 8 trillion dollars right now. “It is a scary, scary number,” he said. “And as you might have noticed politicians are not talking about it at all.” He added: “And this is supposed to be an election year. They are happy that they are not talking about it because if they do it will make them look very bad so they would rather avoid it. But I want them to talk about it because it is a problem that we need to solve.”

Professor Tahiro has come a long way from his childhood home in Dodola, Ethiopia, located along the highway from Addis Ababa to Bale Robe. “It used to be a small sleepy town,” He said. “I was born in Ethiopia, I grew up there, I went to school there. I went to Addis Ababa University in the mid 1980s. I finished high school in 1984.”

As for being the first Ethiopian American candidate vying for a U.S. Senate seat Professor Tahiro noted that it was not his original intention, but he welcomes the opportunity. “It just turned out that way; I was not setting out to make history,” he emphasized. “As Obama said, he wasn’t running to become the first black president, but it just so happened that he was the first black President.”

Professor Tahiro continued: “As far as I know I am the first Ethiopian American and African actually running for the U.S. Senate. To me it does not really mean much personally, but it inspires the younger generation. I have kids here and it does’t look like I will be going back to Ethiopia any time soon. And it’s even more difficult for my kids to go back to Ethiopia because they were born here, they speak the language, they know this culture, basically they are Americans. By running for office I am showing them the way that if you want to be American, then you have to do what Americans do. You have to vote, you have to take part in the democratic process and then you can say we are Americans. It’s not merely enough to be a citizen. You have to participate in the political process. In that regard we have accomplished a lot. I am just setting another example.”

What’s the difference between write-in candidates and regular candidates? “The only difference is that you have to write-in my name to vote for me,” Professor Tahiro responded. “The other thing is that I don’t have a party affiliation, but I stand as the only write-in candidate for the U.S. Senate and if I win I will become a Senator representing Texas so my candidacy is certified by the State of Texas and everything has been filed.”

Asked about the historic U.S.-Africa Summit that was held in Washington over the Summer, Professor Tahiro stated: “I don’t oppose that in principle because the United States needs to have better relations with Africa, but the devil is in the details. And there are many things that I would change when it comes to American foreign policy vis-à-vis Africa. I support democracy in Africa. I support the right of people to elect, and the right of the elected politicians to actually hold offices.”

Regarding local matters, Tahiro focuses on reducing racial disparities in the U.S. criminal justice system as one of his top priorities. “I am very passionate about that,” he said. “I believe everybody needs to be treated equally under the law. Research shows that unfortunately that’s not case necessarily.” Professor Tahiro added: “People of color are treated differently in the criminal justice system, so I want to fight to make sure that the system applies to everyone equally. That’s really on my to-do list if I win.”

Does he have a message for Ethiopian Americans? “Yes, first thank you for giving me this opportunity to connect with your audience. I want people to know that I care about them. I treat them with respect; I see them as my people. It does not matter where you come from. Whether you come from my hometown of Dodola or you come from Gondar, let’s all narrow it down to Ethiopia. I don’t belong to this group or that group. In my mind I transcend all of our predicaments. I love you all and I just want you to know that.”

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