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Four Laurentians Win in Kenya Elections

CANTON - Four St. Lawrence University alumni were elected as members of Kenya’s new National Assembly during elections last week in the East African nation. Results were verified by the Electoral Commission in Kenya on March 9.

Kenneth Okoth, Class of 2001, and Lati Lelelit, Class of 2004, both won their first elected post in the Kenyan government. Okoth will represent the Kibra constituency, an urban neighborhood in the capital city of Nairobi. Lelelit will represent the Samburu West constituency, a rural constituency in Northern Kenya that includes the site of Naibor Keju, home base for the former Samburu field component of the St. Lawrence Kenya Semester Program (KSP).

Francis Chachu Ganya, Class of 1996, and Joseph Lekuton, Class of 1991, have been re-elected and will continue to represent the rural northern Kenyan constituencies of North Horr and Laisamis, respectively. Both were elected in 2007 as members of Parliament.

Okoth majored in German studies at St. Lawrence and Lelelit was an economics-mathematics combined major. Ganya studied environmental studies and government while Lekuton was an economics and government double major.

“I owe a lot to St. Lawrence,” said Okoth in reflecting on his victory. “There, I acquired a sense of duty to make a difference; skills in overcoming challenges, working together, communicating and persevering; and the ability to think broadly, see interconnections and solve complex problems. For example, I learned that economic problems are not just about economics,” he said.
 
“It was not only book knowledge that I obtained at St. Lawrence,” Okoth continues. “I was exposed to different cultures, religions and ethnicities, and learned to listen and understand them.”  

The elections, held March 4, mark the first since the contentious 2007 election, when post-election violence left more than 1,200 dead and 600,000 internally displaced. The election is also the first since a new constitution was passed via a national referendum in 2010.

“The new constitution was passed largely to avoid a repeat of the 2007 post-election violence, creating a new bicameral legislature and county governance system that gives more power to local government and provides a greater system of checks and balances of the executive branch,” said St. Lawrence Associate Professor of African History Matt Carotenuto. “The 2013 election was conducted very peacefully as it is widely thought that a record number of Kenyans went to the polls on Election Day.”

The new National Assembly and Senate will replace Kenya’s Parliament to make up the national legislative branch of the Kenyan government, Carotenuto said.

The four alumni are part of a long-standing connection between St. Lawrence and East Africa. Since 1974, St. Lawrence has operated the KSP, one of the longest running U.S.-based study abroad programs in all of Africa. The program has sent more than 2,000 students to study in East Africa and provided opportunities for a number of Kenyan students to attend St. Lawrence. Ganya, Lelelit, Lekuton and Okoth are part of a long Laurentian tradition of working to make a difference in the region, Carotenuto said.

Two professors who taught in St. Lawrence’s KSP also won elections last week. Kivutha Kibwana, who taught the program’s “Politics and Governments of Kenya” course, was elected as governor of Makueni County, while long-standing MP and current Minister for Medical Services Peter Anyang’Nyong’o, who also taught a course for the program in the 1980s, was elected senator for Kisumu County.

“Students on the KSP have been taught by distinguished Kenyan professors,” Carotenuto said. “Like Kivutha and Peter, many of our Kenyan faculty members are world renowned scholars in their fields and some have moved from academia to high-level positions within the national government.” 

Learn more about Kenya and the St. Lawrence University-Kenya connection.