Out of the 25 people running to become the next Denver mayor in 2023
, plenty have quite compelling backgrounds. But Abass Yaya Bamba, who declared his candidacy to become the Mile High City's chief executive on December 19, stands out the most.
"I have a lot of passion about the politics in my country because we have so much to deal with over there," says Yaya Bamba, a native of the Ivory Coast, a West African nation located between Liberia and Ghana. "We have to make sure that we can have people at least leave poverty."
Most notable on his résumé: In 2019, Yaya Bamba, who has lived in the United States since 1997 and in Denver since 1998, declared his candidacy for the Ivorian presidential election
in October 2020.
Yaya Bamba notes that he comes from a family of politicians, and that prior to leaving for the United States in 1997, he was working as a journalist and a political activist. Those interests stayed with him in America.
When a civil war broke out in the Ivory Coast in 2002, Yaya Bamba used resources he had gained after living and working in the U.S. to "help people move from north to south because the south was the safest place." That civil war ended in 2007.
In 2010, Yaya Bamba traveled back to the Ivory Coast to support one of the candidates in the first presidential elections held in a decade. The candidate was a friend of Yaya Bamba's father. But the following year, the contested presidential race resulted in another civil war, and as Yaya Bamba notes, international powers took the side of one candidate — Alassane Ouattara — over another.
"I was the only one in that moment who met the U.S. ambassador in my country, and I told him, 'Taking sides in this conflict is not the best for the situation in my country. The U.S. should be a peace broker,'" Yaya Bamba recalls. "I tried to create some peace talks between the Ivorian government and the U.S. But it didn’t work. I returned to America."
Years later, Yaya Bamba was being urged by people he knew to run for president in the upcoming Ivorian election.
"I went back to my country in 2019. I toured the country for fourteen days to talk to my people and see if I could be the right person to lead the country. They said, 'Yes, you can be the right person to lead this country. We have known you since you were young,'" Yaya Bamba says. He declared his candidacy.
But Ouattara, who was still president, managed to become eligible for a third term in office, despite saying he would serve for only two. This created a constitutional crisis and led many to boycott the election.
Yaya Bamba knew that it was a lost cause to continue his candidacy, especially with the chance for bloodshed. "I was not going to be in an election that was not fair. When people vote for somebody, the one they vote for is the person that should be leading them. Not somebody else," Yaya Bamba says.
Yaya Bamba withdrew his candidacy, and Ouattara, facing three opponents, won with over 95 percent of the vote, a result that is contested by the political opposition in the Ivory Coast.
Now, with term-limited Mayor Michael Hancock leaving office after his third term wraps up in 2023, seemingly everyone in Denver is lining up to replace him. Yaya Bamba realized that he should be one of those candidates.
"I think this is the place I should fight first, and then I can go fight somewhere else, which would be my country of birth. I’ve spent more time here in my adult life than where I was born," Yaya Bamba says.
After arriving in Denver in 1998, Yaya Bamba spent some of his early time in the city experiencing homelessness and ended up sleeping out of a cheap car that he had recently bought. And while studying for undergraduate and graduate degrees in business administration and computer science, he drove a cab and a shuttle bus at Denver International Airport
on the weekends to pay the bills.
"This is where I think I learned a lot about our universe," Yaya Bamba says about his time driving a cab. "This is where I received, really, a sense of humanity, because you meet different types of people every day."
Ultimately, Yaya Bamba founded his own Denver-based company, Y2Fox
, which is a federal contractor that focuses on cybersecurity and software design.
"Taking people from poverty to prosperity, I think that’s my passion, because I know both sides," Yaya Bamba says, adding that he believes his experience working in Ivorian politics can be an asset for becoming Denver's mayor.
"Being here, observing the situation, I thought to myself one thing: People are people everywhere."
The Denver municipal election will take place on April 4, 2023, with a runoff scheduled for June.
Westword will distribute a questionnaire to each of the candidates once the final pool has been established and will publish the results. If you have a question you'd like to see us ask the candidates, please email [email protected]