Kenyan ambassador on campus Monday


Elkanah Odembo, Kenya's ambassador to the United States, visits with participants during a Maroon Edition event during the fall semester. PHOTO: Beth Wynn | University Relations

Kenya's ambassador to the United States returns Monday, March 4 to Mississippi State to help honor Wangari Maathai, author of "Unbowed," the university's 2012-13 freshman reading program selection.

Elkanah Odembo, who first came to campus for a fall semester address, will join in a tree planting that celebrates the life and work of the late Nobel Peace Prize winner and African environmentalist who also was his close friend. The ceremony additionally will commemorate African Union's continent-wide designation of March 3 as "Wangari Maathai Day."

The public campus event begins at 11 a.m. at the southwest corner of the Drill Field. Joining Ambassador Odembo in making remarks will be MSU President Mark E. Keenum and Provost and Executive Vice President Jerry Gilbert.

Maathai, who died in 2011 at age 71, led in founding the Green Belt Movement. She went on to become internationally recognized for her persistent struggle for democracy, human rights and environmental conservation.

Her memoir was chosen last year as the university's latest selection for the Maroon Edition first-year common reading experience. Along with chronicling her environmental efforts and work with the poor and underrepresented, the book documents her determination to get a grade school and college education, including a doctorate from the University College of Nairobi.

"Each year, the Maroon Edition committee thoughtfully selects a narrative that will bring a powerful and inspirational message to not only incoming students, but anyone interested in participating in the program and the events surrounding it," said Linda Morse, the group's chair.

Morse said Odembo's willingness to contribute to this year's activities has "heightened awareness of not only Maroon Edition, but environmental responsibility as well."

Odembo became his country's ambassador to the U.S. in 2010, after having served in a similar position in France. He holds bachelor's degrees in biology and sociology from Maine's Bowdoin College, and a master's in public health/epidemiology from the University of Texas.

His career has mirrored the work of Maathai, including philanthropic efforts to improve the quality of life in Kenya through the responsible use of natural resources. Because of those and related actions, he has been honored with designations as a Fellow of the Africa Leadership Initiative and a Synergos Senior Fellow.

During his MSU visit, Odembo also will tour the university's golf course, where more than 6,000 trees are being planted as another sustainable effort of Maroon Edition.

For additional information on the ceremony, contact Morse at 662-325-7105 or

Harriet Laird | University Relations

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