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Chuka Umunna. Photo:
In March 2008, 33-year-old Chuka Umunna, a half-Nigerian, half-Irish young man was chosen by local Labour Party members to be the party’s prospective parliamentary candidate for the Streatham constituency. At the 2010 general election, he was elected as the Member of Parliament for Streatham. His influence and position in British politics has risen rapidly from then on, to his appointment to the Shadow Cabinet as Shadow Minister for Small Business and Enterprise and his recent promotion, in October last year, to his current post of Shadow Business Secretary. Now, reports are going round that he may become the next Labour Party leader, which will make him a candidate to be future Prime Minister of Britain, and the first Black man to occupy that position. An Obama-like success story, if there ever was one. The similarities between this young man and the president of the United States are striking. Each of them was born to parents of different races – a Black African father, and a Caucasian mother; each of them has an undergraduate degree in Law – Umunna has a Law degree from Manchester University; and each of them practiced Law for a while before becoming politicians. Not to forget – both of them are good-looking, charming, and charismatic. As similar as Umunna’s history is to President Obama’s, it is an association he would rather do without. A British newspaper described him as “Barack Obama for Britian” while opinions are rife that he may indeed end up becoming the UK’s Obama. Umunna’s background is quite a story. His father was an Igbo trader from Awka, in Anambra State, and his mother, an English-Irish woman, a daughter of a High Court judge. He once said that his father arrived in the UK after a long journey on a boat from Nigeria in the 1960s. Without a suitcase nor any funds, a stranger paid his train fare to London where he was to meet up and stay with friends. He survived by doing various odd jobs – doing dishes in kitchens and washing limousine cars. Within 15 years he built up a higlt successful enterprise – an import and export business, doing trade between Europe and West Africa. However, his life was marred by tragedy and some indiscretions in his teenage years. His father died when he was only 13 years old and he admitted to using marijuana in his teens. His father died in a mysterious car crash in Nigeria after losing an election in his home state, Anambra. There were speculations as to whether his death was a murder but Umunna has declined commenting on it. He lived through hardship after that, stating that the occurrence shook his faith and that he had to grow up quickly. His mother, who had given up her job to become a full-time mum when he was born, was forced to go back to work after his father’s death to cater for the family. Umunna admitted to using “soft drugs” in his youth, stating that it was nothing more than marijuana and that it was something he wasn’t proud of. His hasn’t been condemned by critics for his open confession about his past. This is probably because of how far he was able to overcome his past to rise to his present position and the fact that he may not be the only public figure or politician with a questionable past. Many have risen above their earlier days, and have grown to become invaluable assets to society. He is not the first; and he certainly will not be the last. Chuka Umunna obtained a degree in English and French Law from the University of Manchester and then studied for a semester at the University of Burgundy in Dijon, before going on to study for a Master of Arts at Nottingham Law School. He specialized in employment law before his election and worked at a law firm primarily acting for employees but also employers. He holds a number of position in various NGO’s, charities, and organisations among which are his membership of Compass, the Fabian Society, GMB and Unite, He is a board member of Generation Next, a not for profit social enterprise providing activities for young people in London. He is also a supporter of Cassandra Learning Centre, a charity raising awareness and working to stop domestic violence. In November 2007, The Sunday Independent identified Umunna as one of ten young, gifted and black people in British politics. He has one sister, is unmarried, and currently lives in Streatham, South London.

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This article was first published on 17th July 2012 and updated on July 18th, 2012 at 12:44 pm

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