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Two Kenyan students won Rhodes Scholarships last month, joining four others from Harvard to earn the award, which recognizes academic and philanthropic achievement.
Shakirah Hudani ’03-’04 and Mwashuma K. Nyatta ’02 both grew up in Kenya and came to Harvard as undergraduates. The scholarship funds two years of study at Oxford University.
Currently taking the fall semester off to continue thesis research in Rwanda, Hudani, a social studies concentrator, said she was excited to win the scholarship, which honors academic and philanthropic achievement.
“I was thoroughly surprised and over the moon when I received the news. It’s still sinking in!” she wrote in an e-mail.
Hudani, from Nairobi, spent the past two summers in Rwanda studying the judicial system’s response to the country’s 1994 genocide.
Particularly interested in the prison system and its intricacies, Hudani said her work currently centers on “the confessions process amongst genocide suspects.” She plans to return to Harvard to complete the spring term.
During a semester off in her sophomore year, Hudani worked for the chair of the Constitution of Kenya Review Commission.
While the rewriting of the Kenyan constitution is ongoing, Hudani feels that she was able to make a “tangible contribution.”
Her humanitarian efforts have also extended to internships with the Asian Human Rights Commission and with the East African Flying Doctors Society.
Hudani, who plans to earn an M. Phil in Medieval Arabic Thought, hopes to study Islamic law and philosophy with the intention of examining its position within the context of a “non-Arab Islamic world.”
In spite of undergoing a grueling interview process—in which she discussed topics that touched upon everything from Kenya’s new draft constitution to Islamic law in Nigeria, the Rhodes process “was a great experience,” she said, noting that she enjoyed meeting the other candidates.
For Nyatta, receiving the Rhodes made both Kenyan—and family—history, as Nyatta’s recent scholarship marks the first time that siblings have both won the award.
His sister Inosi was named a scholar in 2000.
Nyatta, an economics concentrator, described winning the scholarship as an honor, adding that he felt that there was also some responsibility attached to the Rhodes.
“In my particular case, this community to which I would be bound is Kenya and Africa. I am already bound to them voluntarily, but to have an institutionalized connection that has implications for my career choice and professional future is a little daunting and something that I still think about,” he wrote in an e-mail.
Nyatta joked about the reactions of his family and friends.
“Some friends in New York were a little too glee-filled about my being sent away to England for two years,” he said.
His interest in his native country, coupled with his interest in the arts, compelled him to apply for the scholarship, Nyatta said, noting that he “wanted to ask questions about [development and identity] in conversation with other students and at a place where I felt I would be challenged.”
Nyatta said he plans to study cultural anthropology at Oxford—more specifically, he hopes to explore the changing role of literature, music and film in post-colonial societies as well as “the role of the arts that these industries produce in reflecting and shaping issues of identity and nationalism.”
Nyatta, who currently works for McKinsey and Company in New York City, hopes to become a musician. In his spare time, he performs and records music.
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