Kenyan-born Lilian Seenoi-Barr Becomes First Black Mayor In Northern Ireland

Cllr Lilian Seenoi-Barr has emerged as a prominent advocate for human rights and social justice in Northern Ireland. Joining the SDLP team on Derry and Strabane District Council in June 2021, she has brought her extensive experience as a human rights campaigner and community leader to the forefront. As the Director of Programmes at the North-West Migrants Forum, she has been a strong voice for migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees in Derry, championing their rights and advocating for greater inclusion.

Lilian Seenoi-Barr’s commitment to human rights has been a lifelong pursuit. Her journey began in Kenya, where she co-founded the Maasai education discovery-brides rescue project in 1999 to protect young girls from early forced marriage and female genital mutilation. The project was instrumental in challenging the Kenyan government to introduce laws protecting the rights of women and girls, as well as advocating for access to free primary education for deprived communities. Her passion for justice and equality continues to drive her work in Derry, where she tirelessly advocates for the rights of marginalized groups.

Seenoi-Barr’s entry into local government comes at a time of significant change in the UK’s political landscape. For the first time in history, none of the UK governments is led by a white man. Rishi Sunak, of Indian heritage, serves as the UK Prime Minister. Wales has its first leader of African heritage in Vaughan Gething, and Scotland had elected Humza Yousaf, a son of Pakistani immigrants, as its first minister last year, although he has now resigned. These changes signal a shift toward greater diversity and inclusion in leadership roles, and Seenoi-Barr is part of this transformative movement.

As the founder and director of the North-West Migrants Forum, Seenoi-Barr has played a pivotal role in supporting Black and minority ethnic communities in Northern Ireland. The forum provides a range of services to assist migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees in their integration and access to opportunities. Through her leadership, the organization has become a vital resource for those seeking a better life in Derry. Her work extends beyond providing support, as she is actively involved in challenging systemic racism and promoting a more inclusive society.

During the height of the global Black Lives Matter protests in 2021, Seenoi-Barr took a bold stand against systemic racism. She organized demonstrations and spoke out about the need for systemic change to combat racial discrimination. Her advocacy for equality and justice resonated with many in the community, reinforcing her role as a leader who is unafraid to tackle challenging issues. As she takes over from Sinn Fein’s Patricia Logue as Derry City and Strabane Council’s mayor, Seenoi-Barr is poised to continue her fight for a more just and equitable society.

Cllr Lilian Seenoi-Barr’s journey from advocating for the rights of Maasai women in Kenya to serving on the Derry and Strabane District Council is a testament to her unwavering commitment to human rights and social justice. Her work in supporting migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees, along with her efforts to combat systemic racism, have made her a respected leader in Derry. As she steps into her new role, Seenoi-Barr’s vision for a more inclusive and equitable community will continue to inspire those around her and contribute to the ongoing transformation of leadership and representation in the UK.


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