Prof Charles Odidi Okidi,

Prof Charles Odidi Okidi, who died on April 19, 2021.

| File | Nation Media Group

Charles Okidi: The humble professor who rose to greatness

What you need to know:

  • On April 19, 2021, Prof Okidi took his final bow, ending his earthly sojourn, after a short illness.
  • He was buried on April 26, 2021 at his rural home in Kamwania, Kendu Bay, Homa Bay County.

On the evening of January 22, the University of Nairobi hosted a webinar to launch the memoirs of Prof Charles Okidi. The book is entitled: In Pursuit of excellence: Memoirs of Prof Charles Odidi Okidi.

The launch was a year late as it had been put off last year when coronavirus struck and the country went into partial lockdown. But the year-long wait did not extinguish the fire; the launch was elegant, elaborate and well attended with participants from across the world.

Even so, Prof Okidi did not speak much during the launch. Like the elder he was, he knew that a brewer never gets drunk on his own brew. He left the show to others, among them, his academic peer Prof Shem Wandiga, previously deputy vice-chancellor at the university, and himself a distinguished scientist, who made an insightful exposition of the life and times of Prof Okidi.

Prof Patricia Kameri-Mbote and Dr Collins Odote, best known academic prodigies of Prof Okidi, steered the conversations. Vice-chancellor Stephen Kiama was the chief guest and singled out Prof Okidi as a rare breed of the older generation academicians who not only excelled in their professional pursuits, but was instrumental in creating institutions and leaving behind a legacy of unparalleled service.

In retrospect, this auspicious occasion turned out to be the last major public function of Prof Okidi, an academic who served the university for more than 40 years. On April 19, 2021, Prof Okidi took his final bow, ending his earthly sojourn, after a short illness. He was buried on April 26, 2021 at his rural home in Kamwania, Kendu Bay, Homa Bay County.

Fortunately, he left a rich memoir that will inform and inspire generations to come. It is like he had a premonition that his earthly sojourn was nearing the end and therefore he had to commit everything to pen and paper.

Prof Okidi led a rich and full-filling life. Like most of his generation, he grew up in the village – Kamwania, Kanjira, in Kendu Bay, Homa Bay County, on the shores of Lake Victoria. His early life was a tapestry of adventures; courage, failures and triumphs. He beat several odds to emerge from the village, join Maseno School and later pursue degree programmes – bachelors to doctorate – in the US.

Writing foreword in the book, Prof Nicholas A. Robinson, the executive governor of the International Council for Environmental Law and Professor of Environment at Pace University, New York, gives insights into the man.

Extraordinary life

“The lodestar guiding Charles Okidi cannot be found in the celestial realms. His extraordinary life reveals how he created his own compass. He created his own opportunities, again and again, and knew that if he strove for excellence in all that he did, he would build a firm foundation for all his endeavours.”

This is seminal and aptly captures the life and times of Prof Okidi.

A specialist in environmental law, particularly law of the sea, Prof Okidi’s life was a journey of determination, single-mindedness and expanding own horizons. After his “O” level at Maseno School he enlisted at Kiganjo Police Training College as cadet officer trainee and later worked as a police officer in various stations for four years before bolting out to pursue university education in the US.

He went to Alaska Methodist University in the US for a bachelor’s degree and subsequently, The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, Massachusetts, for master’s and doctoral degrees. Later, he undertook a post-doctoral fellowship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Centre for International Studies.

Upon returning home in 1976, he was employed at the University of Nairobi where he was to spend most of his life. However, sometime in the late 1980s, when serving as a senior lecturer and realising that he could not be promoted to higher academic ranks, he walked out to join Moi University, where he became the founding dean of the Faculty of Environmental Studies.

But it did not mean he severed his relationship with the University of Nairobi, for he came back there and that is where he concluded his exemplary academic life. Prof Okidi formally retired from the university in 2018 but continued to serve the institution as Professor Emeritus, supporting postgraduate students and writing scholarly papers.

Some of his outstanding achievements include founding the Centre for Advanced Studies in Environmental Law and Policy (CASELAP) at the University of Nairobi. He served in various university committees and won several honours and awards.

Indeed, in recognition of his contribution to global scholarship in international environmental law, his colleagues published a book in 2019 entitled Blazing the Trail: Professor Charles Odidi Okidi’s Enduring Legacy in the Development of Environmental Law, a collection of 25 papers by various authors who present Prof Okidi multifaceted perspectives on the subject. The book is edited by Prof Kameri-Mbote and Dr Odote.

Outstanding academic service

Prof Okidi published widely, wrote volumes of academic papers, attended tens of conferences, supervised many master’s and doctorate degree candidates, and developed several professional programmes. Academics was his life and true, he was always at his office at the UoN even over the weekends or in his twilight years, unless he had travelled.

Those he supervised for higher degrees attest to a man with deep insights into issues, methodical and highly demanding in terms of quality and standards. For his outstanding academic service, former President Mwai Kibaki appointed him founding chairman of Karatina University, which he nurtured from infancy to maturity.

In between his academic pursuits, Prof Okidi served at the United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) between 1995 and 2002, where he was instrumental in helping 13 African countries to develop national environmental laws. He also served the government in various levels, including leading a team of experts that developed the country’s National Environmental Action Plan that birthed the National Environmental Management Authority (Nema).

Notwithstanding his academic and international profile, Prof Okidi was a down to earth person. He was a believer in the inner good of humanity. A disciplinarian to the core, he believed in doing the right thing at every stage.

He was an epitome of humility, service and selflessness. His involvement with community development programmes and support of local institutions such as Ogenya Girls Secondary School in his village show a person who was truly committed to uplifting his community. In his later years, he set up

The Integrity Schools, which he had fashioned to become a centre of academic excellence and character development. This is pet project on which he had purposed to spend the rest of his life supporting. He has left it at infancy.

For a man with such a humble background, Prof Okidi rose to greatness through sheer willpower and fortitude. He leaves behind wife Doreen and two married children, Lillian and Festo, their respective spouses Fred Wasike and Laura, and grandchildren.

As William Shakespeare says in Julius Caesar: “The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes”.

Fare thee well Prof Okidi

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