By Mukurima Muriuki
Hodgen Mainda immigrated from Kenya to America in 1997 and recently became the first Kenyan to hold the office of Commissioner for the Tennessee Department of Commerce & Insurance. His appointment, by Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, is a testimony to Mainda’s outstanding career as a community leader in Chattanooga.
Mainda avers that although he had established a good relationship with the governor and his administration during the campaign period, this appointment came as a shock to him. When discussing his personal goals, the two attributes of his that immediately stand out are the desire to be a dedicated family man and a hard worker. These two attributes were instilled in him by his parents who were the embodiment of hard work and sacrifice.
Ultimately, for Mainda, his main career goal would be to one day have the ability to work closely with both the U.S. and Kenyan county governments.
African Warrior Magazine recently had the exciting opportunity to ask Commissioner Mainda about his background, his family, and his new role in the Tennessee government.
You have served on several boards within Tennessee. What drives you to serve the community?
Tennessee and the U.S. weren’t my native state and country. This State and country embraced me and made me feel welcome. My community involvement is my way of giving back. My parents always instilled in me and my siblings the importance of giving back and paying it forward.
What inspired your move from Kenya to America?
My father was educated in the U.S. back in the late 60’s and 70’s at both Harvard and Princeton. Back then, it was a requirement to go back to Kenya upon graduating to share what you had learned at the University. He quickly saw the value of a U.S. education, and he and my mom committed to affording their 5 children the same opportunity – through hard work and sacrifice on their part.
What were the main challenges you faced in America, and how did you navigate such challenges?
The culture shock – it took awhile to get acclimated to the U.S. culture. The differences were the food, driving, the currency, and getting a job. It took a couple of years to fully adapt.
Congratulations on your recent appointment. How did it feel to receive the news of your appointment?
I am very humbled and honored for the opportunity. Tennessee has been home for the past 22 years. Having the opportunity to serve our state and to represent Chattanooga in the Cabinet is truly an honor and a humbling experience.
Were you once a model? Times Free Press nominated you as one of the 20 most beautiful people in Chattanooga. What does that say to you?
I’ve never been a model. Honestly, I think it was because of my style in outfits and how I present myself.
How do you balance between being a family man with two children, and your work?
I have quickly seen the importance of having a balance between work and home. I have always prided myself in being a hard worker; however, one has to be intentional about when to stop and go home to the family. I have also learned how important it is to make time for your marriage – intentionality connecting with my spouse. We have 2 children. Our daughter is the oldest, and our son is the youngest.
For Kenyans living in Diaspora, there is always that challenge of split loyalty – one foot is in Kenya and the other is in America. What is your experience?
I have always had the mentality of “make the best of every experience and work hard.” Working hard and making an impact wherever you are because you never know where that will lead you. My parents never pressured us to move back but encouraged us to get educated and take advantage of opportunities. I look forward to hopefully making it full circle to where there is an opportunity to work closely with both the U.S. and Kenya/Africa.
What are you looking forward to achieving in your new role?
My life motto is “leaving this world in a better place than you found it.” I am looking forward to making an impact by effecting positive change that will influence the lives of families and businesses big and small in our state. Also by creating an environment that strengthens the sectors we regulate while protecting the consumers.
Where were you born in Kenya, and how was life growing up?
I was born in Nairobi Kenya where I attended St. Mary’s standard 1-4, and St. Mary’s Mosocho standard 5-8, and then Mang’u High School. I pride myself in attending public boarding schools from standard 5 to form 4; experiences I have never regretted and appreciate every day. I moved to the U.S. shortly after graduating at Mang’u High School.
What has been your best moment living in America?
There have been so many great moments – professional growth, marrying my wife Amber, the birth of our kids and candidly, this recent appointment, announcement and swearing-in has been a great reminder of how hard work pays off.
You were nominated by a Republican Governor. Many Kenyans, or Africans living in America, tend to side with Democrats. Are you repudiating that notion?
I wouldn’t look at it that way. I was approached by our current governor to consider serving our state because of my background and professional experience. I answered the call to serve and look forward to making a positive impact.
What do you think of the role of Africans living in America?
Being a native Kenyan, I see our role as being ambassadors for the continent. We are a global economy. Africa plays a big role in the global economy with its emerging markets. Africans living in the U.S. need to play a role in enhancing U.S. interest in the continent.
Any thoughts of going for an elective post soon?
I have always had a passion for public service, and this recent appointment provides me with that opportunity. I look forward to the task at hand and the opportunities it will bring after my service.
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Do you follow Kenyan news? If so, what do think about the current divisive and partisan politics?
I do follow Kenyan news, and I am really encouraged by the intentionality of President Kenyatta in uniting the country – especially post elections.
The State of Tennessee recently hosted over 80 legislators from Kenya during the National Conference of State Legislatures. Many Kenyans were dismayed with this trip. What do you think of the conference, and should Kenyans be concerned?
It is very unfortunate that I did not get a chance to interact with the delegation. I attended some parts of the conference and enjoyed the experience. I would like to know specifics on what was disappointing and concerning.
What are the areas of collaboration you see between county governments in Kenya and Tennessee?
As mentioned earlier, this is a global economy. Both Kenya and Tennessee are strong in agribusiness. I would hope to see enhanced collaboration in those sectors. I also see an opportunity for student exchange programs and potential employment opportunities. The state’s higher education system is strong and plays a pivotal role in recruiting companies headquartered in Europe and Asia. Finally, the direct flight to and from Kenya back to the U.S. creates an opportunity to enhance commerce with the exchange of goods and services. The State of Tennessee and the county governments back home should explore the countless possibilities
In order to give our readers a glimpse of your personal preferences, can you tell us the name of your favorite author?
James C. Collins
And finally, who is your favorite African President(s)?
I will give you two: President Mwai Kibaki and President Uhuru Kenyatta – both have played a pivotal role in transforming Kenya by making it the regional and stable leader it is today.