His is not an everyday name and I am curious about it. He tells me he was born when it was raining and named Ekuru, which means rain. Aukot means a cliff. Both are names from the Turkana community, which he belongs to. “Just imagine rain on a cliff. How romantic can that be?” he says in response to my inquiry about his name at the start of the interview. I can’t help but chuckle at this. Pleasant and easy going, Ekuru has a distinctive aura of humour and self-assurance.
Growing up in Kapedo village in the cradle of mankind, Turkana County, Ekuru was surrounded by a lot of culture. His father, a nomadic pastoralist, was polygamous and had four wives and 27 children. Nonetheless, theirs was and still is a close-knit family. “We have no concept of step-mother and step-siblings. We ate and slept in whichever home we pleased and we all lived within the same homestead,” he explains adding that his biological mother and only surviving step-mother are still very close. He regards both of them as his mothers.
Ekuru’s only vivid memories of his father, who passed away during his early years, are when he took a young Ekuru with him to visit the army barracks in Kapedo village, and after his death when his body was being hoisted down for burial.
Pastoralism and education seemed to have been his family’s main pursuits. His father and a few other villagers supported the missionaries in Kapedo village by donating cattle for slaughter on a weekly basis to the primary school and hospital set up and ran by missionaries. This helped sustain education and health services in the village.
Over the years, some of Ekuru’s siblings and relatives relocated to other parts of the country owing to their nomadic lifestyle, and also as a result of conflict over various limited resources in Turkana. He humorously refers to his pursuit of his wife before their marriage a nomadic gesture. “My wife Lorna Wanjiru Mathenge hails from Nyeri County. I met her at a friend’s office and was drawn by her beauty. We became good friends and sometime in 2004, I asked her out on a date to a Swahili night event at Nairobi’s Carnivore restaurant,” he says. Wanjiru turned him down. She had prior plans.
In an interesting turn of events, she called him the following day expressing regret at turning down his offer because her plans turned out to be quite boring. Not one to waste his chances, Ekuru was quick to make up for their missed date. “The rest is now history,” he says.
Ekuru and Lorna have been married for a decade that Ekuru describes as an enjoyable one, thanks to their great friendship. According to him, marriage is fulfilling though it requires a careful balance. “It is actually a lifetime ministry where both parties commit to serve and support each other,” he says adding that in the absence of friendship, a marriage can easily crumble.
This, he says, is a possible explanation for the many broken marriages in today’s society. “Think deeply about building a strong bond and understand the purpose of marriage rather than getting caught up in the hype of a wedding,” he advises those looking to get married.
Ekuru and Lorna have two daughters eight –year-old Naro Njeri Aukot and six-months-old Alakara Muthoni Aukot. “My wife and I deliberately gave them a Turkana and Kikuyu name so that they will forever treasure their two heritage, and their true “Tukuyu” tribe; that is a combination of Turkana and Kikuyu. Parenting has taught him a great deal about sacrifice. On a light note, he quips, “This minority, marginalised thing seems to be following me everywhere. I am the only male in my nuclear family and I come from Turkana, one of the marginalised communities in Kenya.”
Making good use of opportunities…
Because of the persistent conflict in Turkana that often displaced families, Ekuru’s early education life was disrupted severally and he studied in six primary schools. Now more aware of how children from marginalised background miss out on opportunities in life, Ekuru established a self-sponsored foundation- Ekuru Aukot Foundation in 2012, where he not only pays school fees for poor children from nomadic communities but also mentors them.
“With the mentorship I provide, I hope these students can also give back to society by continuously eradicating ignorance among villagers who are often vulnerable to conniving politicians. This way, knowledge learnt can begin to ameliorate society,” he says. The foundation has also helped build houses for teachers at ICE Lokori Secondary School and is currently in the process of starting a community library in Kapedo village. Together with some of his friends like Prof. Olubayi Olubayi, Kamotho Waiganjo and others, they have already donated over 1500 books towards the library.
Ekuru joined Karbarnet Boys High School in 1988 for his secondary education. While in high school he studied German and in form three got an opportunity to travel to Germany after winning a writing competition.
It was in high school that subtle hints of an interest in law emerged in him. He recalls severally standing up against fellow students who tried to intimidate their juniors by having them run errands or demanding services from them. He is glad his high school principal nudged him in the right direction by encouraging him to apply for a law degree. He was admitted to the University of Nairobi to study law in 1993.
While doing his pupilage at the Kenya School of Law, Ekuru worked as a research assistant with the forced migration programme from Oxford University. During his six months in the programme, he gained an interest in the plight of refugees and also had the opportunity to travel to various parts of Northern Uganda, South Africa, Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip to build knowledge and understanding on forced migration, in order to help improve the lives of some of the world’s most vulnerable people. These experiences cultivated his passion for humanitarian work.
He was elated to get the Chevening scholarship for his postgraduate studies at the University of Warwick in the UK in 1999 to further his knowledge on issues regarding forced migration. “I always thought a master’s degree in law was very tough but by the time I graduated in 2000, it felt like it was a walk over. It also further stimulated my appetite for more knowledge. To ground myself on the subject of forced migration, it was paramount that I pursue a doctoral degree,” he explains of his scholarly interests.
He took up a job as an assistant lecturer at the Warwick University in the UK, lecturing on Constitutional and Administrative Law while pursuing his doctorate studies on forced migration. Ekuru’s summer holidays were spent travelling to various refugee camps in Kenya to gain more insight into the dynamics of forced migration and also to build up on his PhD adequately. In addition, he published several academic papers and attended conferences in many countries.
“This consolidated my passion for human rights law, protection of human rights, equality and constitutionalism. Even before submitting my PhD thesis, I strongly felt that I had some unfinished business in Kenya. Of course the temptation of living in a first world country with great opportunities was appealing but I chose to return home and make my contribution to national development,” he explains.
His return to Kenya in 2005 was initially marked with disappointment. “Ironically, being 32 and having submitted his PhD awaiting its defence in 2006, I was turned down from several jobs I expressed interest in. Some claimed I was too qualified,” he says. He ended up doing some consultancy work while keeping himself abreast with civil right issues by working closely with the civil society.
Making a difference…
In 2006, Ekuru landed a job as an executive director at Kituo Cha Sheria, an NGO whose main role is to offer legal aid and advice to the poor and marginalised in Kenya and beyond. Though it seemed like the remuneration didn’t quite match his qualifications at the time, he was happy to take up the job, which involved humanitarianism, an area very close to his heart.
One of his greatest accomplishments during his three-year tenure at Kituo Cha Sheria is re-structuring the programmes at the organisation and introducing the forced migration programme. This led to the set up of a Kituo Cha Sheria clinic at Nairobi’s Eastleigh area to make legal aid and advice more accessible to the poor and marginalised refugees.
The 2007/2008 post-election violence in Kenya brought into play certain aspects of the Kenyan constitution that needed reviewing. Ekuru’s wealth of knowledge, experience and expertise in the areas of constitutional law came in handy when he was appointed Director of the Committee of Experts (CoE) on the constitutional review, to gather views from the public, deliberate on contentious issues and come up with a draft of the new constitution. Despite the task being tedious and demanding, he is proud of his input in shaping policy and governance in Kenya and bridging the gap by coming up with a constitution that enables everyone to have a share in the national cake irrespective of their socio-economic background.
This paved way for consultancy jobs for two US-based corporations as a senior advisor, where he was involved in the policies of transforming the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) into a modern military force and planning for the government of the new Republic of South Sudan in Juba in October 2010. He played a key role in shaping South Sudan’s government and is proud of the steps made by the country and gaining independence regardless of its current teething problems.
His experience and knowledge on constitutional matters got him several speaking engagements to the US, Ukraine, Germany, Switzerland, Zimbabwe, Egypt, Tunisia, Zambia and the Kenyan Diaspora community in Sudan. Ekuru also joined a team of consultants of International IDEA, a government membership body that specialises in constitution building processes and democracy issues and has been involved in reviewing the constitutions of Tunisia, Egypt and currently Liberia, where he has been serving as the Chief Technical Advisor on the constitutional review process since January 2014.
Working on the Kenyan constitution process gave Ekuru insight into the endemic problems in Kenya, key among them being paradoxical leadership with tribal inclinations which has resulted in many Kenyans being divided along tribal lines. In a bid to provide alternative leadership, Ekuru and other like-minded individuals began a political movement called G47, based on mobilising membership from the 47 counties in Kenya, and providing leadership that reflects a more unified Kenya. “For any society to change there ought to be sacrifice and commitment. My wish is that more people, and especially leaders, would believe in the concept of reform rather than perfecting its language without necessarily buying into it and merely paying lip service to it,” he challenges.
Ekuru also runs and practices legal work through his consultancy firm Ekuru Aukot & Company Advocates, where he is a partner. He also chairs the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) Council, where he and his team are currently in the process of linking research knowledge and innovation to industrialisation in order to advance Kenya.
Eating life with a big spoon…
Ekuru is not all work and no play. He enjoys travelling off-road, photography, nature and culture. “People should travel more locally and visit parts of this country that are often ignored such as Northern Kenya,” he says, as he shows me some of the beautiful photographs he took in 2012 on his way to the Lake Turkana Festival, an annual cultural festival that brings together different ethnic groups from Northern Kenya to celebrate their diverse cultures.
Whenever he travels out of the country Ekuru enjoys collecting good music. “I love music with meaningful lyrics and melody. Some of my favourite musicians include Ismael Lo, a Senegalese musician and actor, Salif Keita, an afro-pop singer-songwriter from Mali, Kenya’s Susan Owiyo and the late Ali Farka Touré, a Malian singer and multi-instrumentalist,” he says. Ekuru also enjoys reading autobiographies. [email protected]
Published in November 2014