Kenyan Senator and big brother of Derry's new Mayor speaks of her 'remarkable' rise from refugee to first citizen

Senator Ledama Olekina (far left) with a Kenyan political delegation, Derry politicians Colum Eastwood MP and Lilian Seenoi-Barr, and siblings
-Credit: (Image: Derry City and Strabane Council)


Kenyan Senator Ledama Olekina, big brother of Derry's new Mayor Lilian Seenoi-Barr, has spoken of her "remarkable" rise from refugee who fled threats over her work to save young girls from forced marriage to Derry's first citizen.

Lilian Seenoi-Barr assumed the chains of office at the Guildhall in Derry on Monday night, where she was joined by a delegation of African politicians including her brother Ledama - who represents the Narok province in the Kenyan Senate - and Senator Edwin Sifuna, Secretary-General of the ODM Party in Kenya.

Senator Olekina, speaking to media on Monday night in a conversation that touched on British colonialism in Kenya and the siblings' rise from a "very, very small community" of Maasai people, the African politician said "everyone in Kenya is very proud" of his sister.

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"It's amazing, it's a dream come true for her," Senator Olekina said. "I am very proud because she has been a go-getter ever since she was born. To see her fighting for the rights of everyone is something which is remarkable."

The now-SDLP councillor, who was elected last year to represent the Foyleside area on Derry City and Strabane council, arrived in search of safety in Derry in 2010 following threats against her for her activist work on gender equality - including work to end the practice of female genital mutilation.

"When she left Kenya to come here, it was because of the threats that she faced when she was saving young girls who were forcibly being married off, being circumcised," her brother said.

"I know that the city of Derry will really have a remarkable leader who cares about what she does."

He continued: "I'm so proud to call her Mayor, it's really good. I'm just praying to God to open many doors. We come from a very, very small community. Among the Masaai, we have seven clans and in my own clan even for me to become a Senator is unheard of, so for her to become a Mayor is something which really is a lot.

"We are very, very proud of her. Everything happens for a reason. I remember telling her if you have a focus you don't even need a friend. Her focus now is to be able to make sure that she gives the people of Derry and the surrounding community her best, and I believe she will do that."

Senator Olekina added: "Everyone in Kenya is very proud of her. I mean, I've been sharing images with the news and the people in Kenya and they are all saying 'you go girl'. It just shows us that we all have a common purpose and we all share the common prosperity. If we all come together we are able to make a lot of progress in our world.

"The British colonised us and we are now coming back to a land where the British are, and we are also coming to lead. It just shows that we are one, we are never divided. The more we look at each other as one world, the more that you can be able to have solutions to a lot of our problems."

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