Prof Calestous Juma was a globally known researcher whose predictions came to pass
5 months ago, 3 Jan 08:05
Prof Calestous Juma passed away recently. He was a famous man and author, more outside Kenya than within. He was revered across Africa, in agriculture, research, and diaspora circles and on the internet, where he was a prolific writer and debater on Twitter with 114,000 followers who shared 161,000 tweets on subjects like Africana, culture, technology, academia, jobs, energy and coffee. His passing also sparked some debate in Kenya about his apparent lack of recognition. That famous as he was and a professor at Harvard, he never got a state commendation and even another discussion on whether he would have been so revered internationally if he had lived and worked in Kenya at a local university. The consensus was that brilliant as he was, sadly, he would probably have been frustrated, denied funding, promotions, and freedom to research and work. I met him back in 2009 in Nairobi, when he gave a talk at Aly Khan Satchu’s Mindspeak series on July 17 at the Nu Metro Westgate and we exchanged a few emails after. His lecture that day, eight years ago, was on his thoughts on events happening at the time, and his thoughts for the future, and what Kenyans and Africans could do to be part of the modern world’s sixth innovation wave that would involve elements like renewable energy, nanotechnology, and fibre. GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOODS He said that Africa had largely missed out on the first five, which began with the first one from 1785-1845, driven by water power, mechanisation and textile industries. Prof Juma argued that Africa had to move away from the polluting technologies of the past that were environmentally unsustainable and on to green technologies He was an advocate and ambassador for genetically modified (GMO) foods for years and argued that this was one way Africa could make a leap in food security for a growing population - through drought-resistant GMO seeds on which farmers would not need to use pesticides and fertilizers, and modern agricultural practices. In his talks, he praised the president of Malawi for charting a new path for his country, by doubling up as his country’s minister for agriculture and shifting food subsidies from consumers to farmers. These moves resulted in surplus harvests and in food security within a short time into his presidency. CHEAPER MODEL Prof Juma’s talk was at the time of the arrival of the first undersea cable in East Africa, which would quadruple internet speeds at a time when software and hardware costs were heading to cost a tenth of what they were a decade before. The prevailing African model for undersea cable was the West African SAT3 one, whose business model had seen internet access priced expensively and the bandwidth underutilised. He argued that the model for East Africa should be a cheaper one that would enable free bandwidth to universities so they would digitise their records and for their lecturers to teach the diaspora right from Nairobi. One that would have an affordable internet to ...
Category: oped opinion