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Young achiever’s dream date with Bill Gates

Living

By Sam Otieno

What would you do if the world’s richest man invited you for a chat?

Just laugh. At least this is what Silas Jakakimba did when he got a call many would not even dare dream of.

In January this year, billionaire Bill Gates called Jakakimba to congratulate him for his achievement.

Silas Jakakimba with Microsoft founder Bill Gates after their meeting in Washington. Jakakimba is the youngest to obtain a Masters in Law degree at the University of Nairobi’s Parklands School of Law. Photo: Courtesy

Jakakimba, 27, is the youngest student to acquire a Masters degree in law at the University of Nairobi, Parklands.

It is for this feat that Gates called and invited the young man for a chat in Washington.

He attributes his changing fortunes to an American couple, Seth and Kristi Landau, who propped him up from desperation from the shores of Lake Victoria.

Jakakimba remembers the day he got the extraordinary call with excitement.

"On the other end of the line was Seth who said: ‘Silas, we are impressed with your performance and someone great wants to meet you’," he says.

He then learnt it was Gates, who wanted to congratulate him for his performance and for not letting his sponsors down.

He says Seth sounded excited and went on to tell him: "Your chance is here, you have earned one of the most rare audience because Mr Gates wants to congratulate you for your achievements."

At the end of the call, a meeting was scheduled for February 13 at Microsoft Headquarters in Washington.

Gates had learnt of the young law graduate’s achievement through an article in a local daily newspaper.

Second chance

The article, published on December 27, last year, indicated Jakakimba had made history when he graduated with a Masters in Law degree at the University of Nairobi at 26.

According to Mr Fredrick Oluoch, the university’s Parklands assistant registrar, Jakakimba is the youngest to obtain a Masters in Law degree at the institution.

His journey to academic history started in November 1994, while he was strolling the beach in Mbita, when met he American couple that agreed to pay for his education.

By then, he had failed to register for the KCPE because his parents did not have money.

"I told them my story and after a 10-minute conversation, Seth agreed to pay for my education. I enrolled to sit the exams the next year," he says.

The couple was impressed by his mastery of English in such a remote village.

The couple told him to write down details of the secondary school he wanted to attend and the fees structure.

"I was enrolled at Kakimba Secondary School where I scored an A- in KCSE," he says.

In 2001, he got admission to the University of Nairobi to study Law.

When his story was published, it reminded Gates of his family friends who sponsored the young man through his education in Kenya from a humble background.

The chat was on Africa, Gates philathropic work and Jakakimba’s background and lasted 45 minutes.

In 2006, Jakakimba met US President Barack Obama, then a junior senator from Illinois.

The then Obama’s Chief Foreign Policy Advisor Mark Lippert arranged the meeting.

"Lippert was pleased with my achievement and he told Obama about it," he says.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga picked Jakakimba from the National Youth Vote Coalition to serve as his personal aide during the 2007 presidential campaign.

He says due to his age, he faced many challenges, especially from older politicians.

Role models

Jakakimba says meeting Gates taught him that youth must be tempered with thoughtfulness and action.

Jakakimba plans to enrol for a PhD in Law at the University of Nairobi.

He and other young professionals have now formed the Pan African Partnership for Youth Development.

"It is a platform for advocating youth empowerment friendly policies in Africa," he says.

He also plans to start an education foundation to assist the needy, especially around Lake Victoria region where poverty, school dropout rates and child labour many bright children from pursuing education

His role models include Obama, Gates, the Landau family and Mr Tito Alai, the chief operation director Zain Group International .

He intends to use his pursuit of PhD studies as a springboard to address problems affecting the country — such as Aids, poverty, ignorance and disease.

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