BGSU’s Kefa Otiso honored by president of Kenya

BOWLING GREEN, O.—Since coming to the United States from Kenya, Dr. Kefa Otiso, a Bowling Green State University associate professor of geography, has worked to raise awareness about his home country, to promote community and a better quality of life among Kenyans living in the U.S. and in Kenya, and to conduct meaningful research about relevant social issues and share it with others.

His efforts have been noted by Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki, who in December 2008 named Otiso an Elder of the Order of the Burning Spear, one of the country’s highest civilian honors. Kenyan Ambassador to the U.S. Peter Ogego presented the honor to Otiso April 29 at a ceremony at BGSU.

Speaking on behalf of President Kibaki, Ogego called Otiso a “professor, a mentor and a leader who has promoted outreach and understanding about Kenya.” He is engaged in mentoring and helping fellow Kenyans have access to higher education opportunities here in the U.S., and has worked closely with other Kenyan community organizations to unite and improve the socioeconomic status of Kenyans in the U.S. and at home.

“No one better deserves such an honor,” Ogego said.

In accepting the award, Otiso thanked President Kibaki and Ogego, and also BGSU, “for welcoming us and making a place for us to thrive. I couldn’t ask for better colleagues to work with and grow academically.”

Praising Otiso’s contributions, Ogego noted his role as founder of the Kenya Scholars and Studies Association (KESSA), based in Bowling Green, which has advanced international dialogue and research on Kenya. Otiso organizes an annual KESSA conference (www.kessa.org) in which scholarly and scientific work about Kenya is disseminated in the U.S. and Africa. Ogego said the award is also a testimony that the government and people of Kenya take seriously the Kenyan diaspora and will “support you as you forge ahead to bring unity to our country. You will always be rewarded,” he said, referring to the near-disastrous presidential elections of 2007, when the Kenyan government nearly broke apart.

At last year’s conference in Bowling Green, KESSA hosted then-U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Dr. Jendayi Frazer, who had been sent to Kenya by President Bush to be “the point person on the ground” in the situation. KESSA gave her a plaque in recognition of her important role in mediating the conflict between the two factions and forming a coalition government. The story was well received in Kenya and “caused more students to want to come to Bowling Green,” Otiso. “BGSU has done very, very well in terms of educating Kenyan students and should be commended for that. There are many of them here now, and we’ve easily had about 250 in the last 10 years.”

Dr. Bruce Edwards, associate vice provost for academic technology, has worked with Otiso for more than 10 years. “We are in his debt for bringing key global issues to our attention and for speaking about them so eloquently, both in writing and in person,” Edwards said.

Also speaking at the ceremony was Dr. Joshua Bagaka of Cleveland State University, a longtime friend and colleague of Otiso’s and co-founder with him of the national organization Gusii Educational and Advancement Resources (GEAR), which seeks to improve educational standards in the Gusii districts of Kenya. Now in its second year, GEAR plans to place education centers in various locations around the country.

Since its independence in 1963, Kenya has been one of the United States’ most important allies in Africa, Otiso said. “There has long been close cooperation between the two, and Kenya is very important to American foreign policy. It is a major base of American security operations in Somalia and a destination for rest and recuperation for U.S. military personnel working in the Middle East,” he added.

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(Posted May 04, 2009 )