A native of Kenya, who makes his home in Bowling Green, has been the recipient of one of his country’s
most prestigious civilian awards.
Dr. Kefa Otiso, an associate professor of geography at Bowling Green State University, recently received
an "Elder of the Order of the Burning Spear, 2nd Class Award of Honor." It was presented by
Ambassador Peter Ogego while visiting the university.
In receiving the award, Otiso joins such notables as leading African novelist, Prof. Ngugi wa Thiong’o
and Harvard University Professor Calestous Juma.
Last December, during the country’s independence celebration, Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki announced
Otiso would receive the award. It is based on his contributions to Kenya’s development through being the
founder and president of the Kenya Scholars and Studies Association (KESSA), his own scholarly work and
the expertise which he has extended to Kenyans living in America.
After presenting Otiso with the award, Ogego described him as "a professor, mentor and a leader who
has promoted outreach and understanding about Kenya. He has been actively engaged in mentoring and
helping fellow Kenyans access higher education opportunities here in the U.S. He has also worked closely
with other Kenyan community organizations to unite and improve the socioeconomic status of Kenyans in
the U.S. and at home."
The ambassador addressed the Kenyans in the audience and stated, "This award is testimony to the
fact that the government of Kenya takes the work of Kenyans in the diaspora seriously, and will reward
and honor your contributions, and will encourage you. … Those of you who forge ahead and put your
minds to proper use and bring unity, will always draw our attention and receive awards. It is in this
regard that Dr. Otiso has galvanized all of us for this presentation."
Ogego highlighted KESSA’s mission, to bring together scholars and researchers who have an interest in
Kenya. Last summer KESSA held its inaugural conference at BGSU with Ogego as a keynote speaker. Its
second conference will begin July 31.
In an interview prior to his receiving the award, Otiso explained there are many Kenyans living in
America, estimated by the World Bank at 130,000. "Actually, it’s much higher," he said.
Large concentrations of Kenyans live in Minneapolis/St. Paul, Dallas-Fort Worth, Washington, D.C.,
Atlanta, Boston and in New Jersey. Every summer he travels to one of the areas to speak to them about
personal and educational development. Otiso said Kenya also provides the largest number of African
students in the U.S., estimated at about 7,000.
One reason for strong ties between Kenya and the U.S. is because, when the country became independent in
1963, it aligned itself with the West. It has become important to the U.S. militarily and economically.
"One of the most important military links in East Africa is Kenya. Egypt, Nigeria, Kenya and South
Africa; each is in charge of a region."
Another of Otiso’s outreaches to Kenyans is online, through the Kenyan Press. "I do editorials and
opinion pieces in the Kenyan paper," he said. "I get a lot of feedback from Kenyans living in
the U.S."
In addition, there is an African newspaper in the U.S. which has printed Otiso’s pieces on topics such as
how to invest in Kenya and how to succeed while in the U.S.
"Sometimes, as an immigrant, if you are not careful, you invest your money in Kenya and forget your
personal development …," stated Otiso. "That’s my outreach. The point is, they need to be
educated. It’s a global village. You can contribute to Kenya even if you’re based in the U.S."
He added, "What I found was many Kenyans were getting sidetracked in the U.S. They didn’t use
avenues to grow socially, economically, spiritually. You spread the gift. Once you’re blessed, you want
to be a blessing to other people. … If Kenyans come here and succeed, the U.S. succeeds."
Dr. Kefa Otiso, left, receiving Kenya’s Moran of the Order of the Golden Heart Award from Ambassador
Peter Ogego. 4/29/09 (Photos: J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)