Outstanding Kenyan alum killed in helicopter crash

Saitoti, former international banker, was a top presidential contender

George Saitoti '67 was one of the first recipients of the Alumni Achievement Award.

George Saitoti ’67, who grew up as a Masai cattle herder and rose to become an official with the World Bank and a leading politician in his native Kenya for the last generation, died Sunday when the police helicopter in which he was traveling crashed in a forest near Nairobi. He was 66.

Saitoti, who was Kenya’s internal security minister and a leading candidate in upcoming presidential elections, died along with his deputy, Orwa Ojode. Two pilots and two bodyguards also perished, officials said. The cause was being investigated.

Kenya’s government declared three days of mourning for the crash victims.

The death of Saitoti is a “great tragedy that has befallen our country at this time as we are making elaborate preparations to hold peaceful elections,” Prime Minister Raila Odinga said.

Saitoti came to Brandeis in the fall of 1963 through the Wien International Scholarship Program and studied economics and math. He starred for the track and field team, ranking as one of New England’s best in the high jump, and also enjoyed spending time in Cholmondeley’s, the coffeehouse in Usen Castle.

In 1988, he was one of the first winners of the Alumni Achievement Award, the highest honor Brandeis bestows upon its graduates. He was recognized along with public relations pioneer Terrie Williams ’75 and mathematician Karen K. Uhlenbeck M.A.’67, Ph.D.’68.

“He took great pride in having graduated from Brandeis and visited campus several times after his graduation,” said Myles Weisenberg ’78, vice president of development. “He lived half a world away, but he enjoyed connecting with students from Kenya and learning about their experiences on campus.

After graduating from Brandeis, Saitoti moved to England to pursue advanced degrees in math. He earned a master’s degree from the University of Sussex and a doctorate from the University of Warwick.

Saitoti served as head of the mathematics department at the University of Nairobi and founded the African Mathematical Union, which he led from 1976-79. He was executive chair of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in 1990-91 and led the African Caribbean and Pacific Group of States in 1999-2000.

He joined Kenya’s Parliament and served as minister for finance from 1983-89. He was vice president for 13 years and also held the positions of minister for education, minister for provincial administration and acting minister for foreign affairs.

As one of Kenya’s most experienced politicians, he was considered a front-runner in next year’s race to succeed President Mwai Kibaki.

Categories: Alumni, International Affairs

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