Determination to Disappointment: A Kenyan-American’s Journey

Determination to Disappointment: A Kenyan-American’s Journey

By Joseph Owuondo

In the intricate tapestry of my life, I bear the distinction of dual citizenship, tethered to both Kenya, my place of birth and cultural foundation, and the United States, a land of boundless opportunities.

Kenya bestowed upon me my formative years, nurturing my cultural roots, and providing the canvas for my early education. It was on Kenyan soil that my journey into the professional world began, as I joined the ranks of an international development nonprofit organization.

However, it was on American soil that my horizons expanded, and my trajectory was forever altered. Within the United States, I etched my mark through the crucible of military service, donning the mantle of duty with unwavering dedication.

The Stars and Stripes, my chosen banner, facilitated my growth not only as a soldier but also as a servant of the greater good.

Civil service became my arena, and I embarked on a quest that culminated in an earned place within the very fabric of American society. Uncle Sam, in his magnanimity, paved the path to the terminal degree, guiding me through the hallowed halls of academia.

My comrades in arms, The Marines, entrusted their lives to my leadership, both in moments of tranquility and in the cauldron of combat. Post-service, the American government reposed its trust in me, endowing me with the stewardship of a contract administrative portfolio nearing a staggering billion dollars.

Yet, these accolades do not form the crux of my narrative. In my interactions with the Kenyan diaspora in the United States, a recurrent theme emerged.

The clarion call for Kenyans abroad, especially those armed with technical acumen and managerial prowess, to return and partake in the nation-building endeavor echoed with a resonance that could not be ignored.

It was at a Kenyan community gathering in the sprawling expanse of Los Angeles, two years ago, that I heeded this compelling call, opting to embark on the audacious journey back to Kenya. Friends and acquaintances marveled at the enormity of this decision, dubbing it a monumental leap.

My decision was fortified by the belief that Dr. William Ruto’s presidency would present an open platform for experts, scholars, and technocrats to contribute their intellect and experience to the betterment of Kenya.

Resolute in my principles, I resolved not to leverage connections for personal gain, remaining steadfast to the values instilled during my military service. Perhaps, in retrospect, this principle was a misguided one.

My mission, upon returning, encompassed a dual-fold purpose: the completion of my terminal degree on Kenyan soil and active participation in the Kenyan government, offering my expertise in public administration to facilitate growth, accountability, and an elevation in the quality of life for Kenyan citizens. It was a dream forged in idealism and a burning desire to make a meaningful impact. Yet, the harsh reality would prove to be a far cry from the vision.

I enrolled in a Ph.D. program, only to discover that the cohort had been admitted three years prior and remained in a state of dormancy. The classroom echoed with silence, devoid of the academic vibrancy I had anticipated.

To exacerbate matters, my endeavors to secure government positions, for which I was either qualified or overqualified, yielded scant results. The best response from various government agencies was to include my name amongst the sea of applicants, immortalized in the national newspapers.

As I pen these words from the sanctuary of my home in San Diego, California, I gaze back upon two years that appear to have slipped through the sands of time, a pursuit of grander goals that may have eluded my grasp.

The most poignant realization, however, is the probability that countless academics and technocrats share my sentiments of betrayal by the Kenyan educational system and the public service infrastructure.

Yet, the most heart-wrenching revelation of all lies in the plight of Kenyan graduates, ensnared in the clutches of poverty, grappling with the inability to provide for their families, let alone secure a single nourishing meal each day. In the face of such stark disparities, the soul yearns for a system that can unlock the potential of its brightest minds and ensure the prosperity of its citizens.

In the crucible of this experience, it becomes evident that bridging the chasm between expertise and opportunity remains a formidable challenge, one that requires not only individual resolve but systemic reform.

For Kenya, a nation rich in promise, the road ahead beckons with the potential for transformative change. It is a call to action, an imperative to bridge the divide and empower those who hold the keys to a brighter future.


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