Calestous Juma: a life dedicated to finding answers to Africa’s challenges

Kenyan-born Calestous Juma, Professor of the Practice of International Development, Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard University, was passionate about finding solutions to Africa’s big challenges. He was acutely aware of the immense obstacles faced by the continent. Yet he approached each challenge with unfailing optimism, and sound advice.

Both Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga paid tribute to him shortly after his death on December 15. Odinga commented:

As a country, we are all better off because we produced Prof Juma.

Juma started his professional career as a teacher before becoming a journalist and then researcher at Nairobi’s Environment Liaison Centre. After completing a doctorate in science and technology policy studies at the University of Sussex in the UK, he went on to achieve global recognition for his research on technological innovation, genetic patenting and how to transform agriculture on the continent.

High up on his list of priorities was the continent’s food gap. His quest was to find pragmatic and innovative approaches to the problem. This included being highly critical of government policies that threatened the agricultural sector.

He also wrote extensively about disruptions that technological advances would trigger, and how Africa had the potential to lead the way.

Professor Juma engaged passionately and widely on these and other subjects. He used social media, and other media platforms like The Conversation, to share his wealth of knowledge and to engage with as wide a global audience as possible. As President Uhuru Kenyatta put it: “He was a jovial, generous and humble man.”

We at The Conversation Africa were deeply saddened to learn of Professor Juma’s passing. We recognise the enormous contributions he made to public life across the continent, and express our thanks for the fine work he did with us. Our thoughts and sympathies are of course with his family and friends at this time.