In 1995, a lanky 21-year-old, then a student at the Kenya Polytechnic (now Technical University of Kenya) represented Kenya in the first ever Mr and Miss University beauty pageant. The next year he would begin to make university pageantry a staple across the Kenyan landscape. Fast forward to 2016 and Daniel Juma is a self-made peace activist and a reluctant politician.
Juma is not your average tall, dark and handsome guy. He is towering. In a different life he would have been an NBA player but he chose to start off as an events manager. We had our meeting at a Chinese restaurant along Mombasa Road. It would appear Dan likes to look East for everything!
“This brings back memories,” he says. “We began here with Big Ted, Big Kev and Leakey Odera. I crowned Big Kev as Mr USIU …see how far we have come!” And he has indeed morphed into many admirable roles.
Dan is credited with starting the now-famous university pageants but he downplays that achievement. Now, he says, he has a bigger vision than when he started his journey and at 41 years old, he feels ready.
“Even back then, youth in institutions of higher learning lacked credible role models. I wanted them to find that space and pageantry not only offered a feel-good element but it created a well-rounded individual.”
He was however, to abandon his first mission halfway after he joined the South Korean government to promote economic diplomacy.
They say you can tell how passionate one is about his job by how animated they get when talking about work. It is safe to say that Dan Juma found his calling with his appointment as an economics envoy for the Government of South Korea. He has even learnt the language. Just last year, he arranged a two-week cultural exchange tour with Hon. Raila Odinga and other leaders in a bid to import the South Korean model of development.
“I need Kenyans to learn integrity and service the South Korean way, which is why I took Raila Odinga and some governors on the tour. Upon our return, I decided to launch a movement to develop my constituency. I come from Ugenya and it is one of the least-developed constituencies. While a lot of the poverty is historical, the rest is largely due to our attitude as a people; I want to put a stop to the ‘serikali saidia’ syndrome,” he says.
Juma says that in South Korea they have developed rapidly because villagers come together to improve their living standards. “If for example they didn’t have a bridge, everyone would chip in and that bridge would be up within hours.” He adds that the South Korean government supports community initiatives all year round rather than just making promises in election year.
Juma says that the Korean model of development can be replicated in every constituency. “So far I have convinced my clansmen to embrace the system and together we have together erected solar security lights, built classroom and supported small-holder farmers. I just do not want to see young people begging to make a living, this must stop!” he stresses.
As the executive director of the Global Peace Foundation (GPF), his job is also to champion for peace. The Global Peace Foundation promotes an innovative, values-based approach to peace building, guided by the vision of One Family under God. “Because of GPF’s mandate, which cuts across the political divide, I can be with Jubilee today and with ODM tomorrow – it is all about work,” he says. Despite that, does he plan to run for office?
‘If I am compelled by the people, yes but now I just want to see Ugenya develop and become a model constituency in the South Korean way; that will make me happy,” he says.