HARTFORD, CT, May 30, 2012 – Eddy Oketch ’15, can be forgiven if he was a bit skeptical at first. The top leaders from eight of the world’s economic and political super powers were gathering to meet at Camp David, MD, and a first-year student from a small liberal arts college in New England was invited to moderate a panel.
“Why me?” Oketch asked himself.
“They call this meeting the G8 Summit to denote the ‘group of eight’. This is the highest paradoxical form of humility,” Oketch wrote in a blog called The Visible Hand. “I am highly tempted to believe their intent is to portray themselves as ‘The greatest eight.’ They should as well just call themselves that.”
He suspected that the topics that would dominate the world famous conference would be energy, climate change, national security and the economic transitions taking place in the Middle East, Afghanistan and North Africa.
As it turned out, Oketch was both right and wrong.
Although many of the subjects that Oketch assumed would be discussed were, in fact, on the conference agenda, it was laudable, he wrote, “how their interest was vivid on global food security and nutrition, championed by President [Barack] Obama.”
A native of Kenya, Oketch, who established the White Fingers Peace Initiative (which has been renamed the Peace for Africa and Development Initiative or PADI) was already a well-known activist. Not only did he found the organization, which promotes peace and economic development in Africa, but the youth-based peace-building organization was instrumental in healing and reconciliation in Kenya during the 2007-08 post-election period of violence.
An aspiring mathematics and economics major at Trinity, he is working with colleagues in setting up community gardens to solve the problem of food security in Greater Hartford. Oketch also has been elected secretary of the Student Government Association for the 2012-13 academic year.
Given the plethora of activities both here and in Africa that Oketch has been involved in, it probably was a no-brainer that he would have been invited to participate in the G8 Summit. The first day was a full-day symposium devoted to food security and nutrition, and the PADI was an integral part of it.
Given all that he has accomplished, Oketch, 21, was nonetheless intimidated by “the overachievers and established world leaders” who were on the panel he was moderating.
As he wrote on his blog: “I mean, there was not a very regular face of my caliber in the audience of over 500 accomplished world leaders that I could look at and count on to dispel nervousness and lead well.”
Among the members of his panel were Ambassador Ertharin Cousin of the United Nations World Food Program; Tom Arnold, chief executive of Concern Worldwide; and Beverley Oda, Minister of International Cooperation in Canada. They shared the stage with Obama; Irish rock star Bono; U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; and Dr. Rajiv Shah, the USAID administrator.
Oketch called it an illuminating and educational experience and said his panel “sought to make the issue of food and nutrition more visible in the most local communities and concretely reach the rural girls and women.”
Oketch said the same degree of seriousness and dedication permeated the rest of the conference. In particular, he praised Obama for the president’s commitment, announced at Camp David, that “45 companies from major international corporations to African companies and cooperatives” have pledged to invest more than $3 billion to jumpstart the initiative.
“This is a commitment that if honestly and well-executed will reach and transform lives of over 50 million Africans,” said Oketch on his blog. “Now this is what the visible hand means to me, the hand of actions, not business as usual.”
Oketch spent a few additional days in Washington D.C., meeting with the U.S. ambassador to Kenya and other high-ranking officials. He was headed to Kenya, where he will spend the summer with his peace-building organization to plan a national youth entrepreneurship challenge and peace conference that will take place in August. He hopes the gathering will attract 400 influential youth delegates who will help ensure a peaceful transition to the upcoming Kenyan election.
Though he will be entering his second year at Trinity, Oketch has already built a formidable resume. In addition to his founding of PADI and his participation in the G8 Summit, he was a member of the first class to graduate from the African Leadership Academy. He has also twice participated in the World Economic Forum on Africa and the think tank of the MasterCard Foundation in Toronto, Canada as an adviser on youth entrepreneurship and engagement strategy. In November 2011, he went to Dartmouth University to present Mbele Africa, an intercollegiate student conference that brings together visionary students to explore opportunities facing the African continent.
Later that month, Oketch traveled to Malaysia on a one-week United Nations peace-building training mission, where he was named a UNESCO International Youth Peace Ambassador.
As for the G8 Summit, Oketch said it was not only an honor to have been involved, but that he learned many lessons that will serve him well in Kenya and on the African continent.
On his blog, he wrote: “The challenge of advancing food and nutrition security must not just end at the G8 debates or at this participation, but we must all join efforts to be visible hands and make this advocacy visible in our local communities and the actions we take in our own small ways. These surely can transform lives more powerfully and urgently as would a G8 initiative. That way, it will not be just a lucrative speech that we can end global hunger and Africa, as President Obama willed, can feed itself and export surplus of food again. It will be real.”