The death of Kenyan-born biotechnology and innovation scholar Calestous Juma has robbed the world of one of the brightest academics championing for agricultural innovation. He was 64.

Prof Juma also championed the cause of innovation and technology in transforming African countries, and his widely read books and papers covered the environment, biotechnology, education, artificial intelligence, and land politics in Africa.

Until his death on December 15, 2017, Juma was a Professor of the Practice of International Development at Harvard University, was a member of several scientific academies and was editor of the International Journal of Technology and Globalisation and the International Journal of Biotechnology.

“Whoever you were, he replied quickly and courteously, eager to let you have the benefit of his learning and experience. We will miss him,” Kenyan President Kenyatta said in his condolence message.

Prof Juma was a member of the National Social and Economic Council, an advisory organisation that was set up by former President Mwai Kibaki to provide timely, accurate and independent economic and social advice to improve the management of the economy.

By the time of his death in Boston hospital, Prof Juma directed the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs’s Agricultural Innovation Policy in Africa Project and Health Innovation Policy in Africa projects funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Ash Carter, the director of the center, said Juma “had no ego” and was a “fount of insight, optimism, and good humor.”

“If you’ve ever walked through our hallways and heard a boisterous laugh, that was Calestous. If you’ve ever seen a faculty member delighting in pick-up soccer along the shores of the Charles River, that was Calestous. If you’ve ever had your assumptions challenged and curiosity stoked all at once, that was Calestous.”

He was also on the jury of the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering, the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation, and the Africa Food Prize.

Prof Juma holds a doctorate in science and technology policy studies and has written widely on science, technology, and environment.

His new book, Innovation and Its Enemies: Why People Resist New Technologies, was published by Oxford University Press in 2016.

In 2012, 2013 and 2014 he had been listed among the most influential 100 Africans by the New African magazine.

The Budalang’i-born scholar began his career as a science teacher in Mombasa between 1974 and 1978 before becoming the first science and environment journalist for Daily Nation between 1978 and 1979.

He later started his own magazine, Ecoforum and worked as an editor and researcher at the Environment Liaison Centre in Nairobi between 1979 and 1982. The scientist, who attained a teacher’s certificate from Egoji Teacher’s College in 1974, also held a PhD in Science Policy Research from the University of Sussex.

May he Rest in Eternal Peace.


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