Calestous Juma towers globally in science and technology
Known as the Smiling Face of Africa, the late Prof Calestous Juma set the agenda for science, technology, and innovation, not only on the continent but also globally.
This was clear when the world came together to celebrate his life and legacy on the fifth anniversary of his passing, attended by his family, colleagues, and admirers on December 15.
Hosted by science journalist Ehsan Masood, the virtual event drew at least 75 attendees from around the world.
Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, Prime Minister Emeritus of Uganda, delivered the keynote address. He spoke eloquently of how Juma had a humble beginning, which made him resonate with his people. And, as he was growing up, he started to see the challenges people were facing such as food insecurity and environmental degradation, which led to flooding.
According to Dr Rugunda, Prof Juma quickly recognised the impact of climate change and the loss of biodiversity well before it these were considered issues when he saw that some of the fish that the community depended upon had disappeared. He also observed how the Nile perch introduced in Lake Victoria had started to have an impact on the lake ecosystem.
While in Kenya, Prof Juma worked with the Nation Media Group, where he was instrumental in creating awareness of the importance of biotechnology and science. He later founded the African Centre for Technology Studies (ACTS), the first policy think-tank of its kind, where he served as Executive Director.
Prof Juma was appointed Co-Chair of the African Union board that studied challenges facing the continent to see how science and technology could be used to address food security and economic growth. He also became an advisor on sustainable development globally.
He was also appointed the first-ever Executive Secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, serving from 1995 to 1998. During the session, Alison Field-Juma, President of the Calestous Juma Legacy Foundation (CJLF) launched her late husband’s autobiography, titled The University Drop-In, co-published by CJLF and ACTS.
Angela Christiana, CJLF Executive Director, announced the opening of the Calestous Juma Innovation and Resource Hub pilot project on December 7, 2022, in Juma’s home of Port Victoria, Bunyala Sub-county in Busia County.
The inaugural group of trainees have completed their first course in computer coding at the Hub.
Former students of Professor Juma closed the event by sharing the lessons and stories that have stayed with them. “The CJ alumni are his living legacy,” said Christiana,“and as the beneficiaries of Calestous’ teachings, we plan to engage them in the work ahead.” The Foundation is engaging a broad base of supporters from around the world. Its work is made possible by donations and contributions.
Rosemary Okello-Orlale is the Director of Africa Media Hub- Strathmore University Business School