Kakuya tadamu oloosho lee maa nimirikino aikata ajo kemayiana enkaina naishooyoo,’’ (My grandson remember where you have come from and never forget that the hand that gives is blessed), an aging Tata Kina Olenchoshoi advised his grandson. More than two decades later, Ledama Olekina ,who heard this advice as a seven year old boy from his aging grandfather, says that the old man’s wise words have formed a significant part of his values and have been the inspiration behind his community development work as well as fueling his aspiration to become the governor of Narok in Kenya’s upcoming elections.
Narok County is an administrative area renowned around the world as the home of the Maasai Mara National Park, it’s a world famous eco-system that boasts a diversity of flora and fauna. The Mara is an expansive land mass of just over 1,500 kilometres square, it is a tourism Mecca that attracts wildlife enthusiasts from within and outside the country. The park is also major foreign exchange earner for Kenya and an employer to many in and outside the county of Narok.
Despite Narok County Council earning revenue from the Mara the local council has little to show from the fees it collects from the park. Narok town, the epicentre of economic and social life of the county lacks basic sanitation amenities, it has poor infrastructure and has recently been infamous for perennial floods that destroy businesses and cost lives because of poor drainage systems in the town. It such challenges that bring the Maasai Mara park into focus, the local people complain that they get little benefit from the park.
After years of mounting criticism abouts its handling of revenues collected from the Mara the local council entered into an exclusive revenue collection agreement with a local bank that they said will seal the corruption loopholes and placate critics. The move is yet to convince critics that it’s the best option to guarantee accountability in the use of funds generated by the Mara.
Ledama says that this is an issue that worries him, he says, ‘’ The people of Narok are frustrated because they see little benefits from the Mara. The mismanagement at the council is totally unacceptable’’
In Kenya’s new constitution. Narok will become a semi-autonomous county which will be managed by a governor who is mandated by law to manage its resources for the benefits of its people.Being an election year jostling for the newly created political seats is in earnest. Ledama, 37, father of three has put himself in the centre of the politics of Narok, and is promising to overturn Narok’s untapped potential for the benefit of the locals. Many a politician uses rhetoric to appeal to voters but Ledama says that this kind of politics has failed, ‘‘I prefer to be hands on, I prefer action rather than rhetoric in showing leadership.’’ Ledama joins a growing number of the new entrants in Kenya politics who are mostly young and talk more about issue based politics instead of the divisive issues of sectarianism and tribalism. This generation of leaders blame Kenya’s veteran politicians for concentrating on accumulation of wealth instead of improving the lives of the people they represent a situation that has confined many in the country to poverty, a situation that has made Kenya to become one of the most unequal countries in the world.
Ledama, a regular columnist in Kenya’s daily newspaper, the Star, has been at the forefront of condemning government excesses. He uses his regular column to address issues that affect the lives of Kenyans rather than engaging in personality punditry which is the mainstay of Kenyan politics. He says, ‘‘ Politics should be about the people and how to make their lives better. That’s why I confine myself to giving my views on education, the need for political ideology, agriculture and the respect for the rule of law.’’ He adds, ‘‘The political theatrics that we see daily on television are not going to reduce unemployment or tackle insecurity or address our balance of payment situation.’’ He adds ‘‘We have an education crisis in Kenya despite the much touted free education programme which I think has undermined the quality of education in the country.” Ledama says that legacy politics has compromised sober debates about the failures of the free education programme a situation that has given Kenyan children a raw deal in education. He add, ” We need to be open with ourselves and address issues for the sake of the future of this country’’
Ledama also laments on the plight of the youth, ”There are many unemployed young people but the government has been slow in addressing this situation. The half-hearted interventions have failed. I think youth unemployment is the number one national security threat which needs an urgent response .’’ He accuses the government of not being proactive and innovative to address youth unemployment, ‘‘ We claim to be an agriculture based economy yet we do little to invest in this sector. The government has done little to encourage young people to consider farming as a career which has resulted in the influx of young people to cities. I think we have serious challenges and the least political leaders can give to this country is to address these challenges.’’
Despite planning to run for the governor position in the next election Ledama talks more about the country rather than confining himself to Narok. He had initially planned to run for president of Kenya but he later decided to run for governor. I ask him if he’s given up on the presidency he says,’‘ If the people of Narok entrust me as their governor then the rest of the country will have five years to decide whether I am fit for president.’’ He adds, ‘‘ I have served the people of Narok as a private citizen for a number of years and I feel I have some unfinished business here and that’s why I am running for governor’’
On the accusation that he does not understand the treachery of Kenyan politics and that he could be possibly naive in underestimating the influence that tribe and clanism have in Kenyan politics he says, ‘‘It’s true that tribalism and clanism has undue influence in Kenyan politics, but I think my record speaks for itself. In as much as I have invested a lot in my Maasai community, the initiatives that I have started have been for the benefit of the people who have made Narok their home’’ He adds,’ ‘‘For me, running for the governor’s position is a privilege and a challenge that I relish’’
Ledama Olekina was born and raised in Oloombokishi, a small village near Narok, in 1974. He was raised by his parents—Meiteganyu OleNchoshoi and Siminta EnoleNchoshoi—and his grandfather with whom he spent most of his school holidays, taking care of the family cows and goats.
Like many children born in the rural areas Ledama attended local school, Olesankale Primary School and Narok High School. After graduating from high school in 1994, he was employed as an assistant producer for Reuters, African Journal, a weekly news and current affairs TV programme based in Nairobi.
During this time, he saved money to pay for his first year of college in America. In 1995, Ledama raised additional money through a fundraising drive and attended college in the United States of America, where he studied Political Sciences and English Communication at the University of Massachusetts-Boston and also at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado. Often working both day and night, Ledama held three jobs to continue paying for his study.
During school summer holidays, he traveled to London, where his lifetime mentor Gerrard Williams helped him find jobs as a researcher working for Diverse Productions, Educational Television Network and European Business News in London.
Yet, his thoughts and goals remained on his homeland of Kenya and how to improve the lives of his own people, the Maasai.
In April 1999, while in college, Ledama worked tirelessly to improve the education standards of his people, concentrating on conditions in rural schools in Kenya. He founded Maasai Education Discovery, a non-profit education organisation dedicated to promoting a bi-cultural approach to education, as well as protecting Maasai women and girls from inhibiting cultural practices such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
Not one just to ‘talk the talk’, Ledama literally ‘walked the walk’. In May 1999, while still in the United States, he started an awareness campaign to bring attention to the current conditions of the Maasai educational system. Dressed in his traditional Maasai clothes, he walked from Durango, Colorado to Phoenix, Arizona—a distance of more than 565 miles (909 kilometers). His second walk took him from Boston, Massachusetts to Chicago, Illinois—1,765 miles (2,826 kilometers). During this trek, he often covered up to 80 kilometers a day.
He says about his experiences ‘‘I have achieved a lot in my life because of hard work and determination. I owe a lot to the education I have had and that’s why I am passionate about education of young people.’ ‘
In January, 2000, Ledama returned to Kenya to set up the Maasai Education Discovery (MED) project in Narok. With the money raised during his walks, Ledama was able to initiate the Girl’s Scholarship Program, which provides up to 1,500 scholarships a year for girls to attend primary, secondary and college-level schools.
Following the success of the scholarship program, Ledama set up an education resource centre located in Narok, which is the current headquarters for all of MED’s programs. It houses a library (the only public library in Narok) a business centre, community college and a cultural art centre. He says of his experience in investing in education, ‘’ I have seen the change in young people and their families when they are sponsored through education and that gives me great joy to know that I have been able to invest in somebody’s life.’’
Ledama partnered with the United States International Development (USAID) Presidential Initiatives—first under President Bill Clinton and later under President George Bush—to provide up to 1,500 girls and 300 boys with scholarships to attain basic education.
Ledama was also instrumental in computerising schools in Narok and Kajiado districts and bringing the Internet to Narok. This was after he secured grant estimated at $500,000 from Cisco Systems International to install the first wireless network in Narok.
Since 2005, he has been involved in several different programs that have promoted education in the Rift Valley, Eastern Province and Nairobi Province. One of the highlights was working to secure full scholarships for three Maasai girls to study medicine in the United States of America…
In May 2009, Ledama rolled out libraries in Narok and Nairobi. In the coming months and years, he plans to open branches in every county. He
also provided over 5000 new and used library books to a newly built library by a Catholic priest in a remote area called Lenkisim next to the Amboseli national park. The library began offering its services to the community immediately after he donated the books.
Ledama’s inclination to help his community saw him assist the town council of Narok to increase its revenue collection by 20% within the first three months of 2009. The parking fees are now a major part of the council’s income. He initiated this increase after successfully acquiring approval from the Kenyan Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Local Government to allow the town of Narok to collect parking fees and charge advertisement fees. The town council had tried to get approval for many years but was not able to. With Ledama’s intervention, the council request was granted.
Spurred by his successes in education and economic development, Ledama has been involved with the Narok Town Council as a volunteer consultant in development programs. Through his extensive business network, he has been able to promote partnerships between private entities in the USA and the Narok town council.
Narok, is just a microcosm of the challenges that bedevil Kenya. The country is endowed with human and physical resources but the drive to solve the challenges that have seemingly condemned many to poverty is lacking. Ledama admits, ‘‘We have unfortunately allowed leaders to create and protect their wealth without asking for accountability. This is the culture that should end, leadership should be about making people’s lives better it should not be about accumulation and protection of wealth’’He says, ‘‘The disregard of law has become the culture in our country. The leaders are a law onto themselves and the ordinary mwananchi (citizen) knows how to dodge accountability, I think this is unacceptable and it needs to change.’’ he says he’s determined to reign in on lawlessness, ‘‘Everytime I drive to and from Narok I see overloaded trucks stalled on the road posing a risk to other road users and putting immense pressure on the roads. This is criminal, tax payers’ money should be protected and I want to make sure that the people of Narok are not inconvenienced by the illegality of a few.’’
One key policy of the Ledama campaign is to improve access to health services for the people of Narok. ‘‘It’s unfortunate that access to affordable and quality healthcare is the preserve of the rich in Kenya. The poor are left to fend for themselves with some relying on witchcraft. In this century, this country needs to be investing in healthcare. I am keen on investing in new technology that will ensure that Narok is the first county whose residents have access to basic medical care.’’
The plan to establish a working healthcare system is in advanced stage, he has rented out one of his properties in Narok town where a clinic will be based. He says, ‘‘ I recently met a healthcare service group who have a revolutionary strategy of providing cheap, accessible and quality healthcare and the people of Narok will soon be enjoying this service’’ he continues, ‘‘ We will employ doctors and nurses in the centre as the first response team so that we can provide early detection of diseases and give treatment.’’
Ledama also has a passion in agriculture and it’s not hard to see why; Narok his place of birth is one of Kenya’s breadbaskets – 70% of wheat produced in the Kenya comes from Narok. Ledama has invested in agriculture, in fact he has turned one of rugged pieces of land into a sprouting farm and an orchard. Enkanasa village is a little Eden, the farm boasts of a variety of vegetables and fruits. Ledama talks about his farm with great fondness, it’s easy to see that this is where his passion lies. I joined him on a recent visit to his farm. I asked him why he ventured into agriculture and it was as if he was waiting for that question, he says, ‘‘Some years back while in America I visited a neglected town in Boston which had been turned into a lush farming area which now provides food for the local area. I became interested in the farming technology and I wanted to use it in Narok. I therefore invested in Enkanasa village.’’ he pauses to take a deep breath as if the burden of clearing the land to make way for the farm still weighs him down, he then says proudly, ‘‘This farm is my version of an artistic impression of the potential of Narok.’’
Ledama’s satisfaction he says is drawn from his desire to help the people of his community. We stop at the gate of his farm as he poses to look at the women and children lining up to fetch water piped from his farm. He sunk a borehole which he uses to water his plants; apart from sharing the water with the community he also piped the water to a nearby secondary school.
Walking around his farm he takes a look at the crops and begins predicting when they will be ready for harvest, he then ventures into food security another problem in Kenya ‘‘This country faces perennial shortage of food mainly because of lack of planning and also because of its inability to integrate new ways of farming.’’ He says, ‘‘Green house technology is a safe bet in ensuring food security.’’ He says with finality. He points to two greenhouses in his farm. He then adds, ‘‘ Kenya is renown around the world for its flowers which are grown in greenhouses; why can’t we invest in this technology to guarantee that we have enough food in the country?’’ He asks sarcastically, he then turns to me as if to makes a solemn pledge, ‘‘ Once I become governor I will make Narok a model for other counties on how to use utilise its resources’’ In fact he’s not waiting for the elections, on his recent trip to Italy he secured investments that will will contribute to the economic development of Narok county. He has secured investment to build a renewable solar energy plant which will produce at least 300 megawatts; he has also secured investment for the building of a tomato canning plant to help farmers get market for their produce as well as a factory to develop pavement bricks; he also plans for the construction of a water bottling plant in the county. He projects that these investments will create employment for many families in the county. On how confident he feels of becoming the governor of Narok he says ‘‘ I am very confident of winning the race for Governor of Narok. My record speaks for itself, I have been engaged in improving the lives of the people of Narok and I am confident that they will entrust me with the responsibility of being their governor.’’