Feature on The Standard Newspaper

Varsity student realises dream after walking into US congressman’s office

By Harold Ayodo (Published on 07/10/2009 )

He had the gumption to walk into the office of a US congressman to request for an internship and was rewarded in a big way.

Mr Rufus Karanja, a University of Nairobi student, had just completed a one-year academic exchange programme in June when he went to the office of Michigan congressman Fred Upton to look for an internship.

Impressed by his confidence, his staff gave the third year political science and communication student a form to fill. A month later he was informed that his request was successful.

Karanja has always been intrigued by the way the US political system works. “I got a phone call to report at the offices of the Congressman on June 15. I worked there for two months,” he says.

Karanja spent part of the time by the side of the Republican congressman as he went about his duties in and out of the office.

During his stint at the office, he was struck by the glaring differences between the US and Kenyan politicians. “Mr Upton did not have security, a fuel guzzler, and drove himself to meet his constituents. He insisted I call him Fred,” says Karanja.

“He set aside time to meet his constituents unlike here where the electorate struggle to secure appointments with their MPs,” he says.

First to arrive

The congressman was always the first to arrive in the office before 8am and left last after 9pm. The US Congress is a bi-cameral legislature of the Federal Government consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives chosen through direct election.

The congressman would note down the concerns and grievances his constitutients for discussion in congress. He rehearsed his speeches in the car on his way to public functions. Karanja assisted in research to prep Upton for media interviews. “Reading mainstream newspapers daily was part of my duties as we kept had to keep him informed,” Karanja says.

But his most demanding responsibilities came when Upton was attending Congress in Washington DC. “My job in Washington was to receive telephone calls from constituents airing their concerns for debate in Congress,” Karanja says.

He received an average of 200 calls a day most commenting on the Health Plan proposed by President Barrack Obama. “More calls came in at the height of the recession expressing concerns over lay offs,” he says.

The calls were all screened and passed to the congressman as he prepared for debates in Congress.

Michigan is the home of the motor industry, including General Motors and Chrysler that employ thousands of Americans. “Upton asked him a torrent of questions about the political situation in Kenya,” he says.

His CV got another boost when he shadowed another US State Representative and former Kalamazoo Mayor Robert Jones. “I was with Jones in his office for a day and was by his side as he performed his official duties,” Karanja says.

The oldboy of Nakuru’s Harambee Khalsa Primary School dreams of working with the United Nations or the African Union.

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