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Scholar from minority Ilchamus community proudly scores a first

By By WAHOME THUKU | Updated Wed, December 4th 2013 at 00:00 GMT +3


Members of the Ilchamus, the second smallest community in Kenya, have a reason to start their Christmas celebrations early.

Last Friday, one of their own, Solomon Leiro Letangule, became the first Ilchamus in history to get a PhD.

Dr Letangule, 29, a senior Judiciary official, was awarded the doctorate in Business Administration at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT), becoming one of the youngest PhD holders in Kenya.

Out of 47 students who enrolled for the PhD programme in July 2010, only two graduated last Friday.

Letangule is an assistant director in charge of performance management in the Judiciary.

His struggle

A father of three boys, he attended Ilngarua Perkerra Primary School from where he struggled his way to Kabarnet High School.

“My parents are both illiterate and education for us was a matter of struggle,” he said.

He joined the high school in 1998 and was the best student in the 2001 Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) exams in the school. He then joined the University of Nairobi for a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology and economics.

Soon after graduating in 2007, he enrolled for his Master’s degree at the Kenya Methodist University and in July 2010, he joined JKUAT for the PhD.

Letangule worked as the Chief Protocol Officer in the Office of the Vice President until this year, when he joined the Judiciary.

The Ilchamus, who are more commonly known as Njemps, are regarded as one of the minority groups in the world. By 2004, their population was estimated at about 30,000.

In the past few years, the Ilchamus have been renowned for waging legal battles in defence of their rights. Some years ago, the community sued the Government for compensation over an exotic thorny shrub that has caused devastation on the environment and livestock.

And in March 2004, the community successfully petitioned the High Court to have the defunct Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) create a special electoral zone.

But nine years down the road, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission ( IEBC) is yet to comply with the court order. Last year, the community had only 9,000 registered voters.

Ironically, one of the only two Ilchamus lawyers, Thomas Letangule (cousin of Dr Letangule) is an IEBC commissioner. The other, John ole Tamar, is attached to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC).

And so with such marginalisation, having a doctorate holder among them was no mean achievement.

There are less than 10 members of the Ilchamus with master’s degrees and less that 20 with first degrees.

“Those of us living in Nairobi know each other very well, coming from the same area. We meet regularly to help each other,” Letangule says.

Flood havoc

Letangule adds that the community has only five primary and two secondary schools, all of which have been submerged by floods in the past weeks.

“Even the KCSE and KCPE exam candidates this year had to do their papers in tents,” Letangule explains. “This is devastating to their education.”

He says most of the school-age children in the community are engaged in herding livestock.

“I had to balance between looking after my father’s cattle and going to school and that was very difficult,” he adds.

The university had recommended that Letangule be awarded one of this year’s recognition awards, but his name did not feature on the list.

“I filled out the forms and submitted them to the university as instructed but I don’t know why I was not listed,” he says.

That notwithstanding, Letangule says saving the livelihood of his people from the ravaging floods should be the priority of the Government.