Graduate Spotlight: Ted Iha – If at first you don’t succeed, dust yourself off and try again


It’s the annual sports day at the kindergarten. Parents have woken up bright and early to cheer on their children in races and games that include potatoes, spoons, hoops and sacks. In troops of six, the little energetic, sometimes in their own world, four-year-olds line up in their lanes all gunning to be the first to touch the ribbon at the end of the race. In a matter of minutes, a winner is declared. But… there is a prize for all as everyone is a winner. Two decades later, when faced with failure or disappointment, the now-in-their-twenties sprinters realise that they may have never learnt how to deal with failure or disappointment, because it was always sugar coated with a prize. Yet failure is something that each person has to contend with at some point in their lives, and rarely with sweet effects. And success is bound to come to those who work on making it the second time when they fail.

In 2021, while a second-year Communications student, Ted Iha had a brush with failure. He confidently put his name in the hat in the race for the president of the Student Council. It required setting out a manifesto, engaging in debates with fellow nominees, and campaigning to the student body. After all the effort, he lost. In 2022, while a fourth-year student, he once again put himself in the ring. This time, he came in first and is now the head of the 14th Council, the council with the most female presence in Strathmore’s history.

“I’m not normally sure I’ll succeed in my first try so I go into whatever I’m doing psychologically prepared for failure. But I always want to succeed the first time so I try so I push the limits as much as I can and find the most efficient way to succeed. But if I fail, sawa, I try again until I get it.”

This resilient attitude has become a part of him because of the circumstances that life has thrown at him. He has had to push through moments when the body doesn’t move at the same pace as the mind. At times he’s on a cocktail of drugs, some of which, sometimes knock him out.

“Because of the illness – sickle cell anaemia – I’ve always had to play catch up. I’m used to running the race or playing the game one knee down. So I’ve come to look at it as – when I’m back from an episode, I’ll fight hard to achieve. It’s both a blessing and a curse to be unwell.”

He’s had immense support from the SU community, “Any day I get unwell, I rush to the University’s medical centre and get what I need. The doctors and nurses ensure that I am served as fast as possible.” His classmates too had his back. During the 2023 final SHSS dinner, the graduating class had a lineup of quirky and humorous awards that rightly recognized that the four years at SU was not all about academics, but also a time of growing up, growing friendships and growing relationships. In these awards, they honoured Ted for being the student who was most absent from class. Did they know what he was going through?

“They did. They are the same ones who helped me catch up with the school work I missed. Everyone’s support helps. This semester I got really sick and had to be admitted. I sent a blood donation call to two or three groups. Within the hour, enough donors came in such that I had more than the three pints I needed. That’s something that only happens when people care for your well-being. When I got back, the lecturers were understanding, they helped me get my cats done. I think I’ve had a very good support system here in SU so I can never complain.”

He says the illness has taught him to seize the moments and become really good at what he does within the shortest period of time.

“It’s about trying to achieve your goals regardless of what you are going through. I played table tennis all the way to nationals; but this meant that on the days I could, I had to train more than the rest. On the days for debates, I would push my skill set. When it came to leadership, I ensure that when I’m present, I’m managing and delegating what I can and overseeing it so that even in my absence, things go on. I’ve had to get to a point where I become very flexible, surviving without fixed timelines because I don’t know what my day will end up looking like.”

Ted’s day-to-day as the President involves being the bridge between the students and the administration, a sometimes dicey position to be in. What has that experience been like for him?

“It depends on how you approach the negotiating table. Both parties will not always be 100% happy all the time. But you also don’t want them unhappy 50% of the time.  One has to choose battles to fight strategically and ensure that your goals are met. From Don Kamoya, President of the 12th Council, I learnt to approach things in a negotiating tone and serve with humility, and from my immediate predecessor, Collins Okoh, I learnt that there will be days when I have to stand my ground and do so firmly. I’ve had to know how to say no, craftily, because I won’t always have ‘yes’ as an answer.”

Beyond the Student Council, Ted is an avid debater. He was part of the team that organized and hosted the Mashujaa schools’ tournament that brought debaters from across East Africa to Strathmore. He also played a part in the hosting of the Pan African Universities Debate Championships (PAUDC) debate championship in 2022.

“My plan after graduation is to start an academy that will empower individuals with public speaking and debate skills. I’m keen on mentoring and growing others. At the end of the day, the job market is kind to those who have versatile multimedia communication skills. Chasing money is good but you can also chase money and combine it with impact.”

Are you going to miss Strath?

A lot.

This article was written by Wambui Gachari.

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