Oduor Ong’wen HONOURING PROF. CALESTOUS JUMA
I double checked when my colleague, Seth also known as Dikembe Disembe, posted the news of the transition of Professor Calestous Juma. When I did indeed confirm the sad occurrence, I renewed my hatred for the mediocrity that rules our country and society – coming especially just two days after nondescript persons have been conferred with state medals for eating githeri with unwashed hands. Of course, Calestous didn’t deserve any commendation because he served Kenya; served Africa; served the world; served humanity.
I first met Calestous through the media – the NATION newspaper to be specific. In the late 1970s and early to mid 1980s, he was a regular letter writer in the MAILBOX, letters to the editor. I enjoyed reading his letters.
I did not meet him physically until mid 1993. I was then working at World Bank Monitoring Unit, a project that assessed impact of MDB projects and policies. Prof. Juma was then the Executive Director of the African Centre for Technology Studies (ACTS) – a Centre of excellence he had helped establish. We worked very closely with him and other scholars like Prof. Odingo, Prof. Okoth Ogendo, Dr. Dominic Walubengo and Dr. John Mugabe among others on climate change issues. Those days nobody took our warnings about global warming as hot air. Two decades down the road, it’s now everyone’s worry, save for Donald Trump.
During COP 5 (Fifth Conference of the Parties) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change held in Berlin in 1995, it was agreed that UNFCC Secretariat be established in Paris and Africa to produce the first Executive Secretary. I was one of the people proposed by Anglophone Africa. We had no difficulty settling on Dr. Juma (as he then was) and he made Africa proud.
At the end of his tour of duty as the UNFCC Executive Secretary, Harvard University had seen the intellectual elephant that Calestous was and did not waste any time. He was offered a chair at this prestigious university. He hasn’t disappointed.
We have had occasions to meet whenever he came visiting his motherland. The last time was late 2015. I remember Calestous asking me what I was doing Orange House instead of teaching in some university. I jokingly told him that academics don’t change society in Africa. But politicians ruin the continent. I chose to work with an intellectual politician who was driven by the desire to change Kenya, Africa and the world.
His parting shot was that Kenya and Africa needed leaders of Raila Odinga’s ilk. He then narrated to me how his efforts to establish a technology Centre of Excellence but frustrated by the national and local political interests.
Calestous Juma is a good example of a prophet not being honoured at home. If we had a purposeful society, Calestous would have been revered by Kenya. Sadly, we fete mediocrity and ridicule industry.
FARE THEE WELL GREAT SON OF BUDALANG’I