In Memoriam: Calestous Juma

I will miss his smile, I will miss his laugh, his sense of humor, his scholarship and his profound commitment to Africa, to science, to youth and to the new.  

Calestous Juma was born in Kenya on June 9, 1953, and passed away in the USA on December 15, 2017.  He was deeply devoted to global issues and even served for three years as Secretary-General of the Global Biodiversity Convention, and he was also committed to the absolute belief in the unity of science and the power of the scientific method.

 

I have had the privilege of knowing him and working with him closely on many projects, most notably when we co-chaired the High Level Group for the African Union (AU) on the Future of Biotechnology for Africa.  Our report, entitled “Freedom to Innovate”, was published in three languages and was very positively received by the AU.  Two years later we were co-chairing another High Level Panel on Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) for Africa.  Again, that report was endorsed by the AU.   In all these tasks, I was always impressed by his charisma and his deft inter-personal touch.

 

His academic work at MIT and at Harvard was notable.  Calestous Juma was Professor of the Practice of International Development and Director of the Science, Technology, and Globalization Project at Harvard Kennedy School. He also directed the Agricultural Innovation in Africa Project funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. 

 

He worked on many things, and he asked me to review a couple of chapters of his latest book as it was being submitted for publication.   It was on “Innovation and Its Enemies: Why People Resist New Technologies” published by Oxford University Press in 2016, and as expected, it was an outstanding and insightful survey of that subject.

 

As soon as he heard of the disastrous and unjust verdict that a lower Egyptian Court of misdemeanors had issued against me, he rallied to my cause.  And although he was engaged in his own fiercest battle with the mortal enemy of Cancer, he did not mention that and he did not hesitate to step forward and join me in my battle with those who would attack my integrity.  He was responsible for sending out so many messages to alert so many colleagues who joined in a campaign of solidarity with me against those in Egypt who had fabricated these accusations against me.  Calestous was that kind of friend.  He would talk about your problems and not about his own.

 

And now we say farewell to this wonderful man.  Farewell my friend.  You have done so much for so many all over the world, and especially for Africa.  You have formed a new generation of students and you have led battles for innovation and for youth, for nature and for development.  And I have been honored to be at your side in many of these battles. 

 

Farewell, dear friend, farewell.  May you rest in peace.