• Each year, about 3,800 French and 300 foreigners receive the badge with 53 years being the average age of admission.
International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (Icipe) Director General Segenet Kelemu has been awarded the insignia of Officer of the Order of Merit by the French embassy.
She was presented with the National Order of Merit ( L’ordre National du Mérite) badge by the French ambassador to Kenya, Arnaud Suquet in a colourful ceremony held in Nairobi.
Speaking during the awarding ceremony, Suquet said the award is the second most eminent national order in France.
He said its purpose is to recognise and reward “distinguished merits” in different fields such as science, economics and politics among others.
The Order now has 177,000 members, where 337,000 have been admitted or promoted since the creation of the order.
This is according to the grande chancellerie de la légion d'honneur.
Each year, about 3,800 French and 300 foreigners receive the badge with 53 years being the average age of admission.
At least 57 per cent of members are decorated in a civilian capacity, 43 per cent in a military capacity.
Some 50 per cent are women where gender parity applies to civilian awards.
“Kelemu has a long outstanding career in science and this is why the French government wanted to recognise and appreciate the work of this global leader,” Suquet said.
“The little girl who helped her mother in Finote Selam, Ethiopia has become an international player with an impact on key issues for our planet and mankind. Africa is lucky to have you and we are lucky to have you as a partner. ”
In appreciation, Kelemu reflected on her challenging upbringing saying how hard it was for her to access opportunities in her home country.
“I grew up in a small village in Ethiopia with nothing. No electricity, no running water and I didn’t have shoes to put on until I joined high school,” she said.
“When I was a kid, I never imagined that I would one day become a scientist because I didn’t even know of a profession called science. I also never imagined that I would become the boss of the only global science organisation that specialises in insects and is based in Kenya.”
“Receiving this award is such an honour.”
Kelemu said a lot of children are often too ambitious but rarely know what opportunities they have out there.
She added little to no access to opportunities denies a child the exposure they need.
“It is possible to have dreams but they can’t come to life without exposure. When I see kids being raised in the countryside just as I was, I am always telling myself, Oh My God, this could be a scientist, engineer, or doctor but is a waste of good talent because there are no opportunities for them. If there are, then they don’t know about them.”
Kelemu added that she would have told her younger self to continue being ambitious, with or without exposure.
“Opportunities were created for me by free education in Ethiopia, free scholarships in the US, and now here I am. I am proud to say that I am a product of the global village that is enabled by scientists.”
Kelemu has served as Icipe’s director general since 2013.
Prior to that, she served as the director of the Biosciences Eastern and Central Africa (BecA) Hub at ILRI.
She also served as the VP for programmes at the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) for about a year.
As a molecular plant pathologist, her research involves better understanding of molecular determinants of host-pathogen interactions and the development of new plant disease control strategies such as genetic engineering and biopesticides.
Suquet noted that under Kelemu’s leadership, many of Icipe’s results were obtained in cooperation with researchers from around the world including French researchers from the Institute for sustainable development (IRD) and the Agricultural Research Centre For International Development (CIRAD), which have regional offices in Nairobi.
Kelemu has also received a number of awards and distinctions including the 2014 L’Oreal UNESCO award for women in science.