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Kenyan becomes first native African student president in the University of North Carolina

By Jacqueline Mahugu | Mar 9th 2016 | 4 min read
Bradley Opere

GN: How does it feel to be the first African to be elected as president of the student body of North Carolina?

BO: It was a humbling moment for me especially being an international undergraduate student. I would love to thank everyone who voted for me based on platform of my campaign which focused on building a strong community through innovative communication, inclusion and safety initiatives.

GN: What was your reaction when you first heard the news?

BO: All voting is electronic. Voting began at 12 am and ended at 8 pm, February 9.The results were in at 10.30 pm and I had gathered 53 per cent of the votes. This meant there was no need for a runoff since I had secured an outright majority.

GN: How were you able to beat the other candidates, seeing as you are in the minority?

BO: University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill has a culture of inclusivity. It’s difficult to run as a minority candidate but I also believed in the power of our campus to embrace diversity and they proved me right.

GN: What inspired you to get into politics?

BO: I have a huge passion for leadership and making a difference in any community I am in. Recent events on campus threatened to divide students and there was a need for a candidate who could unite different parts of this campus together.

GN: What does it mean to be head of the student body there?

BO: Student Body Presidency is the most prestigious position any student can be bestowed upon. Upon being sworn in, I will become a voting member of the Board Of Trustees helping to oversee the over Sh200b UNC endowment. I will oversee my cabinet and a team of 300 students. I will chair several student fee boards since this is an upcoming financial evaluation year. Finally I’ll be working closely with the the North Carolina Governor, Pat Mccrory and Chancellor, Carol Folt

GN: What does this win mean for Kenya?

BO: I think this win represents what can happen to our country, and I would even argue our continent, if we truly gave youth an opportunity. Corruption and tribalism continue to deny several deserving youth of a chance to be nurtured as leaders . When a Kenyan international student comes to the US with only Sh60, 000 from a family harambee, and wins in a such an election even after doing his campaigns on a bicycle, it speaks of the potential that Kenyan youth possess.

 GN: Do you think you might be following in Obama’s footsteps?

BO: To be compared to Obama is a tall order. He’s the first black president to be the leader of the free world you know. That’s hard to follow. I do draw inspiration from him though and a lot of people did remind us throughout the campaign trail that the semblance was there, from the same home origins to the first initials of our names (BO). If I can continue to champion the same spirit of hope he embodies, that will be a powerful message for our country and an emerging African continent.

 GN: What do you do for fun?

BO: Soccer. I grew up playing ball without shoes, I’ve been involved in soccer ever since and I was the top scorer of the winning soccer intramural team on campus last year as an attacking midfielder.

GN: What challenges have you faced this far and how have you overcome them?

BO: Life is never smooth and everyone faces challenges and I am not any different in that regards. To start with we had to do a harambee for me to get cash to fly to the US. I had to do my campaigns using a bicycle but I’m not complaining you have to struggle for your vision.

GN:  Who do you look up to?

BO: My mother, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks and of course President Barack Obama for reminding me that hope keeps us going when everything around us says otherwise.

GN: When did you know you could be a leader?

BO: There’s not really a specific date. Leadership is like a muscle you have to keep working on to make better. I think the biggest step I took towards it was joining the African Leadership Academy in South Africa. And in my two years there I got to visit the Aspen Ideas Festival where we developed a network for young entrepreneurs across Southern Africa to link up with established companies for adequate mentorship and financing opportunities.

GN: How did you get to the University of North Carolina?

BO: I got to UNC by becoming the only African in the Morehead Cain Class of ‘17. The Morehead Cain is the oldest and most prestigious scholarship in the United States modelled after the Rhodes Scholarship. I’ve enjoyed a tremendous amount of support from the programme since then and continue to be grateful for the experience.

GN: What are your plans for the future?

BO: Going back home. America is a great place to live in and study but I know Africa is where I’m going to make the biggest impact.

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