Professor Calestous Juma, FAAS, FRS, EBS (1953-2018)

Volume 15, Issue 1  | 
Published 12/07/2018

Calestous Juma was born on 9 June 1953, in Bunyala location, Kenya to Clementina Okhubedo Juma and John Kwada Juma. In High School he excelled in science and football and founded the school newspaper. In 1974, he became a science teacher in Mombasa, following his love of exposing young minds to new ideas and encouraging people to exceed their own expectations.

The Daily Nation in 1978 appointed him as one of the first science and environment newspaper journalists in Africa. Within a year he had been recruited by Nobel Laureate Prof. Wangari Maathai from where he joined the University of Sussex, UK. This move enabled Calestous to start exploring new theoretical frontiers. In 1983 he earned a MSc degree in Science, Technology and Industrialization. Dr Juma returned to Kenya in 1986, and in 1987 his first book Long-Run Economics, co-authored with Prof. Norman Clark, his supervisor at SPRU, was published.

He married Alison Field in 1987, Ottawa, Canada, when both were completing their graduate studies. He subsequently received his Doctorate (DPhil.) in Science and Technology Policy Studies on the topic of energy and biotechnology. Together they founded Initiatives Publishers in Nairobi in 1988, the first scholarly desktop publisher in eastern and southern Africa. They also founded the African  Centre for Technology Studies (ACTS) and Dr Juma ensured that ACTS had the ear of those in power, and listened to those who had no power. In 1998 ACTS was elevated from an NGO to an International Governmental Organisation (IGO) with a strong world-wide reputation.

Dr Juma moved fully to the international stage when, in 1995, he was appointed as the first permanent Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) – initially based in Geneva, Switzerland. Calestous oversaw the move and establishment of the Permanent Secretariat in its current home in Montreal, Canada. He skillfully navigated the often-stormy waters of international bio-diplomacy, finding the balance between the dictates of international environmental law, science and biodiversity and the realities of national and international politics.

In 1998 his son, Eric Kwada Field Juma was born in Montreal. Later that year, the family relocated to Cambridge, Massachusetts in the United States. Dr Juma joined Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government as a Visiting Fellow in 1999 where he became one of the most popular professors, beloved by the hundreds of students he taught. He was a role model for his integrity, humility, and dedication to problem-solving. For all his colleagues around the world, his optimism and sense of humour showed the way to work for a better future. He was very much a practitioner as well as a teacher.

Professor Juma co-chaired the African Union’s High-Level Panel on Science, Technology and Innovation and served as the Chancellor of the University of Guyana.  In 2006 the President of the Republic of Kenya bestowed him with Elder of the Order of the Burning Spear for ‘being a respected international diplomat who has assisted governments to solve diplomatic problems’.

That same year, he received a Doctor of Science (Honorary), University of Sussex, UK. It is not possible in this brief bio to mention the myriad awards, citations, positions and appreciations that Dr Juma has received, not forgetting his very many publications.

He was also a thought-leader on social media, with 114,000 Twitter followers at the time of his death. He used Twitter to provide intellectual resources, encouragement, and humour to his global audience, to better leverage scientific and technological knowledge for poor and vulnerable communities around the world. Professor Juma wrote widely on science, technology, and environment and won several international awards for his work on sustainable development. Professor Calestous Juma is survived by his wife Alison, son Eric and sister Roselyda Nanjala Kwada.



Last modified on Thursday, 12 July 2018 09:59

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