Africa Is Represented on Local to State Levels of Government: African Contributions to Democracy
Alder Nasra Wehelie (l-r), State Representative Samba Baldeh, Judge Nia Trammell and Alder Charles Myadze were all born in African countries before moving to the United States as either children or adults
Part 1 of 2
By Jonathan Gramling
Africa, the continent, has made many contributions to American society, both known and unknown, from African beats to art to the sciences. And since the early 1960s, African countries have worked hard to implement some form of democracy to govern their nations. Some have been interrupted by military coups and others have remained stable for almost 60 years.
Four Madisonians who were born in an African country and emigrated to the United States have brought a thirst for democracy with them and have relatively recently became engaged in local government in Dane County. Charles Myadze and Nia Trammell from Nigeria, Samba Baldeh from The Gambia and Nasra Wehelie from Somalia have begun to make their civic contributions to the Madison area. Trammell is a Dane County judge, Baldeh a state representative and Myadze and Wehelie Madison alders.
Charles Myadze was born Majubi in Benue state of Nigeria, a rural area where the major spoken language is Tiv, one of over 300 distinct languages in Nigeria. Myadze has warm feelings about his youth in Majubi.
“My greatest memory of Africa is being out in the village with acres and acres of farmland and family,” Myadze recalled. “I remember the culture and just being out in nature. You could pluck a mango from a tree. I remember pomegranate egusi soup. It’s one of the amazing dishes that I had.”
This past April, Myadze was elected alder of Madison’s District 18, representing the northeast side of Madison. Myadsze stated that he knocked on over 800 doors during the campaign and that people opened their doors and engaged in conversation with him from a safe distance. And it has been important to Myadze to stay connected to his constituents.
“My constituents email me,” Myadze said. “They have my phone number and call me. We have been very much engaged. Communicating with my community. I actually had a community meeting. Staying engaged through emails has been important.”
As a freshman alder, Myadze has been appreciative of Alders Sheri Carter and Barbara McKinney and former Alder Samba Baldeh for showing him the ropes of being an effective alder.
And one could say that Myadze has jumped right into issue that impact his district like revamping the Troy Drive Bridge. And the issue of homelessness has been a challenge.
“Reindahl Park was another great challenge I’m facing,” Myadze said. “It seems to me that they took the most diverse park and turned it into a homeless shelter. When it was McPike Park, they shut it down in the middle of the winter. But you have the most diverse park with the Hmong community and their gardens. You have Latinos playing soccer there. You have African Americans playing basketball. They took the most diverse park and turned it into a type of political statement with no balance. That’s something that is hard to deal with, with everything going on with Reindahl Park. There was a stabbing just a couple of days ago. Tring to navigate that part is a tough one. Balancing the need to support the homeless and the need to have a comprehensive plan is important. Without a comprehensive plan, it’s going to be hard to navigate through this issue of homelessness.”
Judge Nia Trammell was also born in Nigeria. She was born and spent her early years in Adazi, Nigeria, also a rural village. Although she came to the United States when she was four-years-old, Trammell has kept close to her Nigerian roots through yearly trips back to Adazi for a quasi-family reunion.
“There was just something for me about the simplicity of being in the village that I was born in and village life,” Trammell said. “As I look back, I have a greater appreciation for it today because village life is where people live off of the land and it’s just a remarkable contrast to what I was experiencing in the United States and bigger cities. You would have mango and banana trees in your backyard that you could just pluck from at your disposal. I remember that my grandmother had chickens that were free-roaming and it was probably the best-tasting chicken I remember eating as a child. I remember asking my parents to take us to the street vendors so that we could get suya, which is a spicy meat skewer that we all loved as kids. I remember one of my cousins one time roasting fresh cashews for me one time and it was just amazing. I remember a time when one of my cousins gave me a plant and she said, ‘Eat this. And after you chew it awhile, it will turn into gum.’ I was like, ‘No way.’ But I tried it and sure enough, after a while, it became gum. There were amazing variances in memories I have like that, that I have from being in the village. I grew up in a village where there wasn’t a reliable incoming water system. And so my grandmother would send us to a natural spring to bring back water for her. The walk down to that natural spring was amazing, the landscape and the hills and the bodies of water with nothing short of majestic. As a child, the walk seemed like miles, but I suspect it was probably no more than three city blocks. Those are the kind of memories that I have. It’s truly a beautiful place, a serene environment and the village was very clean. It was one of those things that we looked forward to as children.”
Trammell also remembers The Masquerade performed in the street.
“During Christmas, the masquerades would come out and they would dance up and down the main village street,” Trammell recalled. “But the masquerades are considered spiritual, a tribute to our ancestors. And so they would wear very colorful items and dance through the streets. And so my cousins, brothers and sisters and I would play this game with them where we would run out into the main streets. They would chase us until we took cover and then we would just giggle. Those are the sort of things that you will never forget as experiences you share with family who live so far away from you.”
Next issue: Trammell, Baldeh and Wehelie