Wambui Essie for WakenyaCanada >>>
On a Saturday afternoon in March 2019, the Hamilton Ontario community gathered for a vigil at the Hamilton council chambers to honour the victims of the Ethiopian Airlines that had crashed days earlier, which included five members of the same Kenyan family.
The then Kenya’s High Commissioner to Canada John Lanyasunya, and local politicians, including the former Hamilton mayor Fred Eisenberger, then Hamilton East-Stoney Creek MP Bob Bratina and former Hamilton Centre MP David Christopherson, were some of those in attendance and invited to share remarks.
After the vigil, attendees were invited for a time of connecting with song, prayer, sharing a meal, and socializing to begin the process of healing together as a community – in line with African customs and traditions. John Mulwa, a member of the Kenyan Community in Ontario was one of the people involved in organizing this evening event at the Mohawk College where he worked as a chef.
Grace Mugambi was new to Canada in 2018 when she got sick and had to have life-saving surgery. A call was put out on the Kenyan-Canadian socials for anyone in Hamilton who was available and willing to help out a sick newcomer. “A young man showed up at my door one day. I was new to Canada and I knew no one,” Mugambi recalls. “He took very good care of me, even taking care of my shopping and cooking until I was well … I consider Mulwa my son.”
If you somehow had not heard of him earlier, there is no way you’d have missed the name John Mulwa in 2022. When a young Kenyan health worker Hellen Wendy drowned in August while livestreaming on Facebook, Mulwa was the chairman of the committee that planned the repatriation of her body to her family in Kenya for burial.
Many African immigrants to Canada come from agricultural regions and communities where growing your food is part of life, and it is a culture that they try to instill in their 2nd and 3rd generation African Canadians. Therefore, when Mulwa partnered with Murphy’s Country Produce in Binbrook Ontario to add acres of African vegetables [kunde (cowpeas) saga (spider plant), managu (nightshade), sukuma wiki (collard greens/kale) and maize], to the usual Canadian staples, generations of families from across Ontario visited the farm to participate in the pick-your-own and pre-picked programs. To cap it off, the farm, with Mulwa leading the charge, hosted an end-of-the-season (harvest) barbecue attended by hundreds.
Yes, this is what it reads like, a snippet of the profile of a man known within the Kenyan and larger African Canadian community as Chef Mulwa for the pride he takes in introducing African cuisine to others. And this is the community-oriented 39-year-old that Canada wants to deport to Kenya in one week after denying his application to continue living here. The community is decrying this removal order which they see as cruel, and a WhatsApp group created for this discussion is flooded with testimonials of Mulwa’s connections to individuals and the community.
Mulwa’s case is one of the thousands of deportations that the Canadian government carries out yearly. Between March 2020 and February 21, 2022, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) enforced 18,418 removals to at least 150 countries. Returning someone to a country that they sought asylum from carries particular risks and consequences for the individual, and the unnecessary decision to remove a dedicated leader, humanitarian, employee, taxpayer, volunteer, and generous community organizer has touched a raw community nerve and they are pushing back.
Since his arrival in 2014 and despite his immigration situation, Mulwa is always out there, investing in the community and building social capital. He hopes that this means something to the Canadian government and he has retained the legal counsel of JM Law Professional Corporation led by Joshua Makori and Lucas Mirera. A public petition to fight his deportation is circulating in addition to an active fund drive to cover some of his legal expenses.
“The overwhelming support shown is a testimony of Chef Mulwa’s involvement in the community,” says Dr. Charles Mayenga, a former chairman and founding member of the Kenyan Community in Ontario (KCO). “He is there for others in need, leading fundraising efforts as well as for fun at barbeques.”
Last month, as Mulwa was being served his notice of deportation, Canada was releasing “an immigration plan to grow the economy” noting that the country was facing “critical labour market shortages causing uncertainty for Canadian businesses and workers.” The Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, Sean Fraser, released Canada’s 2023–2025 immigration target of 465,000 permanent residents in 2023, 485,000 in 2024 and 500,000 in 2025.
No one questions that it is within the purview of the federal government to determine who is deemed admissible into Canada and the same government’s prerogative to decide who stays. What people coming together to denounce the deportation of a valuable community member are looking for is leniency for the likes of Mulwa. People who are legally in Canada, possess the skills required to benefit their local community and are pursuing a legal path to make Canada their permanent home.
The pertinent question is: If the ultimate goal of immigration is to bring into Canada people who will be beneficial to the country’s cultural and economic growth, why not begin by looking from within at those who have already established themselves here? John Mulwa fits that bill.
~Wambui Essie for WakenyaCanada