A Kenyan-born Mormon accountant from Salt Lake City is running for president of his native country after nearly 20 years in Utah.
Amram Musungu, 39, moved to Salt Lake County nearly two decades ago after converting to Mormonism as a teen. He studied business and accounting, eventually becoming a financial auditor, getting married and starting a family. Now, Musungu hopes to return to Kenya as the republic’s fifth president.
“I want the best for Kenya, and every Kenyan should be proud of their country,” he told Deseret News in a recent interview. “I will be the best president the country has ever had.”
Musungu has always been ambitious. As a child, he said, he walked seven miles each way to school ― though it wasn’t mandatory for him to attend. “I wanted to be different,” he said.
The accountant grew up in a Protestant family and was just 14 years old when he met Mormon missionaries and decided to convert. Just three years later, Musungu said, he felt a calling to do missionary work in his native Kenya on behalf of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The church agreed, and the then 17-year-old Musungu started his 27-month mission a day later.
“It taught me that you can go any place the Lord wants you to go,” he told The Salt Lake Tribune in 2008. “I plan things out, but Heavenly Father has other ideas. I rely on the [Holy] Spirit to direct my life.”
When Musungu moved to Utah shortly after his mission, he entered a largely white, upper middle-class religious milieu. According to a 2007 survey by Pew Research Center, 86 percent of U.S. Mormons are white. Just three percent of Mormons in the country are black.
The church has a long, often-conflicted history of inclusion ― and exclusion ― of black people dating back to its founding. Black members were banned from joining the priesthood under Brigham Young, a policy that persisted until 1978. Today, some Mormons say the church isn’t doing enough to speak out about present-day racism.
“The seeming reluctance by some Mormon leaders to speak about the violence faced by its black members in the United States has brought many black Mormons to points of frustration,” wrote Janan Graham-Russell in a 2016 article for The Atlantic.
Musungu, who was once one of only two black men and three black singers total in the hundreds-strong Mormon Tabernacle Choir, shook off the church’s troubled history of race relations in the Salt Lake Tribune interview.
“Withholding priesthood served God’s own purpose. His timetable is different than man’s,” he said.
These days, Musungu is more concerned with the problems back home. Kenya has experienced a rise in hate speech and violence, and the last two presidential elections were highly contested. Musungu said he worries about corruption and political unrest, as well as the country’s high unemployment rate and economic turmoil.
The 39-year-old will face off against seven other candidates in the Aug. 8 election, according to Deseret News.
“Some would call this a long shot, but it’s a real shot,” he said.