July 12, 2021
Kassim Doumbia is New Brunswick’s first Black Mayor 21 years after coming to Canada as an international student
July 12, 2021
If you aren’t at the table, you are on the menu.
Arriving in New Brunswick in 2000 as an international student, Kassim Doumbia felt like a rank outsider.
The one saving grace is that many residents speak French which is the official language of Ivory Coast and Senegal where he spent his first 19 years before enrolling at the University of Moncton.
Just over two decades later, Doumbia is at the head of the decision-making table in Shippagan, a small rural town on the Acadian Peninsula.
He was elected Mayor last May, making him the first Black to hold the position in New Brunswick.
Doumbia received 705 votes which was 295 more than his closest rival. The voter turnout was 61.59 per cent.
The 41-year-old municipal leader said the historic victory demonstrates the province has moved beyond welcoming immigrants.
“It says a lot that constituents have the confidence to choose someone from another country to guide their municipality,” Doumbia, who last visited the Greater Toronto Area two years ago, noted. “I also think it gives hope to newcomers in this province that they too can aspire to be where I am today. Once they are willing to put in the time and work, they can achieve anything they want.”
New Brunswick Black Historian and community advocate Dr. Mary Louise McCarthy Brandt reached out to the new Mayor after his historic win.
“I congratulated him by email and he simply stated, ‘I hope this victory will motivate others’,” she related. “I agree as we are a brilliant community of African descendants and we need to continue to reach higher for our dreams and goals. I stand with New Brunswick’s Black community and with Black Canada when we say we are excited and proud of what he has accomplished.”
The Deputy Mayor for the last five years, Doumbia replaces Anita Savoie-Robichaud.
“Once she told me she wasn’t running in this election, the next step for me was to run to replace her,” he said. “I didn’t want to just sit at the council table for another 30 years. I have goals and the next logical one was to be Mayor.”
Elected to city council in 2012, Doumbia has been New Brunswick’s Supervisor of Housing Services and Programs since April 2014.
“We are a small community and the time has come for the population to grow and develop,” he said. “This can be done through immigration or bringing back people who once lived here but moved to another Canadian region for some reason. I also want to attract more jobs and improve access to affordable housing. The bridge file is one that I want to put my hands on.”
Built in 1959, the Lameque-Shippagan Bridge connecting Shippagan with Lameque and Miscou Islands has frequently been closed for repairs. Daily, nearly 10,000 people use the bridge that was shut down last year during an ice storm.
“It needs to be replaced and I am going to be pushing for that,” Doumbia pointed out. “What we have is not working very well and it’s causing a lot of problems. We need a solid bridge that’s operational all of the time.”
While campaigning in the run-up to last September’s provincial elections that he won, Progressive Conservative party leader Blaine Higgs said he wants a bridge that’s operating at a ‘high percentage’ of the time. He added that at some point in the next few years, a new bridge will have to be built.
Of Shippagan’s population of about 2,600, almost 120 are Black, the majority international students from Africa attending the UNB Shippagan campus and a community college.
“The population is gradually becoming more diverse as we have families from India, Haiti and African countries relocating here,” Doumbia said.
Outside New Brunswick, Oakville Mayor Rob Burton is the only Canadian municipal leader who has reached out to him since his historic achievement.
“He sent both an email and letter congratulating me,” said Doumbia. “He also said I can contact him if I need assistance and that he’s open to any discussions in areas that may be of mutual benefit to the two towns.”
After four years in the Ivory Coast, he spent the next 16 in Senegal where his father worked in the maritime industry.
Returning to his birth country in 1999 after high school graduation and the family patriarch work stint ended, Doumbia considered North America as a destination to pursue higher education.
“My parents weren’t too thrilled with me looking at the United States to go to, but they didn’t have a problem with Canada,” he said. “I had a friend who was studying in Moncton and he said it was a good place to consider as I could study in French and learn English at the same time because New Brunswick is a bilingual province.”
Like many newcomers, the transition was challenging for Doumbia when he arrived in Canada 21 years ago.
“I was in a new place I didn’t know much of, I didn’t speak English and the food and culture were very different than what I was accustomed to,” he said. “It was very hard at first and it took me a while to settle in and feel a little comfortable.”
In his early days in university, a friend advised Doumbia to seek out volunteering and networking opportunities.
“That person said I had to get involved in the community and make connections as that would help after I graduated and was looking for jobs,” he said. “With no Canadian experience at the time, I followed the advice and was part of a group welcoming new students. I met a lot of people while volunteering, made new friends and did a lot of travelling around the community.”
Graduating with a Bachelor of Computer Science in 2004, Doumbia accepted a tech job in Paquetville – a village on the Acadian Peninsula — while completing his Master of Business of Administration (MBA) and interning with the Greater Moncton Chamber of Commerce.
In 2007, he and his wife – they met a year earlier while he was pursuing his MBA – relocated to Shippagan to be near her family.
Doumbia’s parents are still in the Ivory Coast.
Had it not being for COVID restrictions, they would have been at his swearing-in ceremony last month.
“My mom has been to visit a few times,” the father of two young daughters said. “They were so happy when they got the news that I had become a Mayor in Canada. We are a big family and my father said I have made them so proud.”
Doumbia is the eldest of six siblings. Two of them reside in Nebraska, one in the Central African Republic and another in the Ivory Coast. The youngest, Moussa Doumbia, joined his older brother in 2011 in New Brunswick where he completed high school and university before moving to Sherbrooke to pursue medical studies.
The new Mayor made the Atlantic Canada’s Top Young Leaders Under-40 list in 2015 and was the maritime province’s youth delegate at the 12th Francophonie Summit in Quebec, the third Summer School of La Francophonie in Tunisia in 2010, the 14th Francophonie Summit in Kinshasa in 2012 and the 2015 World French Language Forum in Liege.
Doumbia is Canada’s seventh Black Mayor.
Haitian-born Dr. Fermin Monestime, a former Conservative Party of Canada National Director, broke the colour barrier in 1963, serving nine terms in Mattawa – a town in northeast Ontario – until he succumbed to pancreatic cancer in 1977.
Quebec has had three Mayors of Haitian descent.
Rene Coicou, who died in March 2020, held the position in Gagnon from 1973 to 1985 when the mining town was dissolved, Ulrick Cherubin served in Amos from 2002 until his death 12 years later and Michel Adrien has headed the Mont-Laurier municipality since 2003.
Daurene Lewis, who passed away in January 2013, made history in 1984 as Canada’s first Black female Mayor when she was elected in Annapolis Royal in Nova Scotia.
In October 2018, Bernadette Clement — her father is an immigrant from Trinidad & Tobago – was elected Mayor of Cornwall.
Source: Ron Fanfair