Calestous Juma, RIP

Written by  //  August 17, 2020  //  Africa, Biodiversity, Science & Technology  //  No comments

16 December 2017

The literary genius of Africa’s leading innovation scholar, Calestous Juma

Calestous Juma, the towering Kenyan scholar of technology and development, died on Friday (Dec. 15 2017) at the age of 64 in Boston, Massachusetts.
(Quartz) Juma, who was a faculty professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School, was known for his work on innovation, and how that intersected with sectors including agriculture, education, health, and economic prosperity. As a prolific and luminary academic, he combined rigorous evidence with intellectual diligence, producing work that ennobled him to many people across the world.
But Juma was loved by many readers precisely because he had a unique literary gift. His lucid language and passionate arguments had a way of not only connecting academic discourse with everyday problems but also forcing readers to look further and deeper into the impact of technology in their lives. Much like Carl Sagan was a science popularizer and Oliver Sacks was a lyrical writer on neurology and mental health, Juma made stories about global and African innovation accessible.
Throughout his books, essays, and papers, he meticulously dissected complex systems and ideas to reveal the unknown or argue for the unconventional. And in a continent where the narrative is almost always skewed or one-dimensional, his Africa-centric views were noteworthy in how they brought out a humane portrait focused on adventure, exploration, and purpose.
Juma was a man given to almost oracular significance, writing about modern advances in science and technology and how they would impact developing countries long before those ideas became mainstream. In his 1989 book The Gene Hunters, he examined the ethics of modifying existing species to create new plants and animals, and how this evolutionary process presided over by large corporations would impact food production and smallholder farmers in Africa.
Juma addressed issues like biodiplomacy—the intersection of technological innovation and international relations—and In Land We Trust (1996), he discussed the concept of “ecological jurisprudence” about land ownership and sustainable use of natural resources. The New Harvest (2010) showed how food price hikes could trigger national security crises like the Arab Spring protests, offering a model for a way out.
In his last book Innovation and its Enemies (2015), Calestous drew on centuries of economic history along with well-crafted anecdotes to explain why people resist innovation. The notable book looked at the underpinning problems of why useful innovations create social tensions, invite prohibitions, and how they are eventually accepted into the mainstream. Juma studied why, for instance, the Ottoman Islamic empire resisted the printing press to print the Quran, the socio-economic and political reasons why coffee brewing was banned, how dairy companies suppressed the spread of margarine, besides focusing on the recent battle to commodify transgenic crops and genetically-engineered salmon. Juma essentially showed how entrepreneurship and innovation was, after all, a creative process: first mocked, then shunned, fought, and finally accepted.
Despite his productivity, Juma complained about how African media outlets sometimes didn’t carry reviews of works from African writers. In an email to this author in Nov. 2016, he talked of why newspapers across the continent didn’t critique books from African authors so as to inculcate a culture of reading. “It is not because Africans don’t publish. Newspapers think that running a book review is doing the author a favor,” he wrote. “My latest book has been covered widely across the world in over 50 languages including Albanian! Efforts to get the attention of African newsrooms yielded nothing.”
Yet Juma was still able to break through and attain global recognition for his work. Through his books, he came up trumps to show us how the Internet of Things, digital learning, and open-source movements all provided opportunities for inclusion, collaboration—and most importantly, improving lives. And it is that ability to creatively, intelligently, and compassionately express ideas that he will sorely be missed.

21 December
Calestous Juma, 64, champion of sustainable international development
Boston Globe obituary

12 January 2018
Calestous Juma (1953–2017)
International-affairs scholar who championed science for African development.
By Linda Nordling
(Nature) “Africa,” Calestous Juma wrote to me in 2015, “is diverging between those who want to talk and those who want to do something practical.” Juma was one of the latter. An international-development scholar, he championed the harnessing of science, technology and innovation for development. He founded Africa’s first science-policy think tank, led major United Nations science initiatives and wrote influential books. Juma, a Kenyan professor at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, died in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on 15 December, at the age of 64.
Juma’s trademark mix of candour and humour inspired many African presidents, including Paul Kagame of Rwanda, to invest in national and continental research schemes. For African academics, Juma was an ally connected to the world’s most powerful presidents and prime ministers. Yet he was loved for his approachability — especially by journalists such as me, with whom he shared a special bond.

UPDATED  17 August 2020

Biography
Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
Calestous Juma died on December 15, 2017 at age 64 following a lengthy illness. He continued his work until his final days.
Calestous Juma was Professor of the Practice of International Development at Harvard Kennedy School and Director of the Science, Technology, and Globalization Project at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. He also directed the Center’s Agricultural Innovation Policy in Africa and Health Innovation Policy in Africa projects, both funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Professor Juma also served as Faculty Chair of the Edward S. Mason Fellows Program and the Innovation for Economic Development and Technology, Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Africa executive programs.
Juma was previously Executive Secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity [1995-98] and Founding Director of the African Centre for Technology Studies in Nairobi. He co-chaired the African Union’s High-Level Panel on Science, Technology and Innovation. He was also on the jury of the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering, the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation, and the Africa Food Prize.
He was an elected member of several scientific academies including the Royal Society of London, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the World Academy of Sciences, the UK Royal Academy of Engineering and the African Academy of Sciences. Juma also served on the boards of several international bodies including the Aga Khan University and the Pan-African University.
With a doctorate in science and technology policy studies, Juma wrote widely on science, technology, and environment and won several international awards for his work on sustainable development. His new book, Innovation and Its Enemies: Why People Resist New Technologies, was published by Oxford University Press in 2016. His current book projects cover regional integration in Africa and innovation for economic development. He also had a broad following at @Calestous on Twitter.

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