The Center for African Studies mourns the loss of Calestous Juma

December 18, 2017

Calestous Juma

The Center for African Studies is mourning the loss of Calestous Juma, Professor of the Practice of International Development at the Harvard Kennedy School. Professor Juma served on the Center for African Studies (CAS) Executive Committee and as a CAS Faculty Affiliate. He passed away on the morning of December 15, 2017.

Professor Emmanuel K. Akyeampong, Oppenheimer Faculty Director of the Center for African Studies, reflects on Professor Juma's life and legacy:

It was with a heavy heart that I received news of Calestous Juma’s passing on Friday, December 15, 2017 at the age of 64. As a friend I was aware that this was just a month after his mother Clementina had passed away in Kenya on November 16, 2017. Clementina was 93 years old, and Calestous, his wife Alison, and their son Eric had visited with her in August, just after the contested Kenyan elections. Clementina was buried in Port Victoria in western Kenya on December 2. Calestous was too ill to attend but was represented by his son Eric. Calestous will be buried on January 6, 2018 in Port Victoria, returning to his beloved hometown. He will be buried in a state funeral in recognition of his many contributions to Kenya.

I need not rehash Calestous’s distinguished career in science and technology. We shared the conviction that Africa’s economic growth would be premised on strong agricultural productivity. We believed that technology could play a transformative role in African agriculture. As faculty director of the Center for African Studies, I have sought to include health and technology and innovation as key pillars in the work of the Center. I reached out to Wafaie Fawzi and Calestous respectively for assistance in these two areas, and both served on the executive and steering committees. With the support of other faculty colleagues and members of our advisory board, we have created a robust initiative on “Climate Change, Technology, Agriculture, and Health in Africa.” At the dinner of our first advisory board meeting in December 2016, Calestous laid out brilliantly the outlines of this initiative. He had spent several hours earlier that day at Mass General Hospital, but he insisted that he would be at the Harvard Faculty Club for the dinner in the evening. This was too important a matter for him not to show up. Calestous wrestled with cancer in the last two years of his life. But he soldiered on with his scholarship and his commitments, giving us all the hope that he would defeat the cancer. On November 6-7, 2017, we held a landmark conference at Harvard on “Agriculture, Nutrition, Health and the Environment in Africa.” Calestous’s incisive mind was ablaze, but I noticed the physical toll and wondered at his resolve to be present at the two-day conference. Calestous was determined that illness would not get in the way of his passion for knowledge, and he did not want us to relate to him any differently because of his illness. And with his brilliant mind, it was easy to forget that he was not well. He worked feverishly on his memoirs and what will be his last academic book. Alison shared that in the last days, as he became weaker, he dictated concluding sections of his memoir to his son Eric, who sat on the sofa and typed away on his laptop.

On December 3, I left for Uganda, Kenya, and Ghana with a group of climate and computer scientists. Calestous was eager that I meet with potential donors in Kenya, who could also assist in fundraising. He introduced me to his friends via email, and I set up meetings for Nairobi. I was looking forward to giving him an update on these meetings. I understand now that as he wrote these emails, his health was fast declining. But even in those waning moments, his commitment to a stronger Center for African Studies and a prosperous Africa did not waver. Going over our WhatsApp messages, he sent me a lengthy one about his mother on November 20, when his mother passed. He informed me of his mother’s belief that the best contribution one can offer to a community is to give its children and youth better nutrition, healthcare, education, and opportunities to express their self-worth. Calestous inherited these ideas from his parents. At his mother’s funeral, the formation of the John and Clementina Juma Institute of Science and Technology (JIST) was announced as a not-for-profit institute to advance the ideas on technology and entrepreneurship that his parents – and Calestous – cherished. Calestous leaves behind huge shoes. He will be missed. His life was a gift to many, and he was a blessing to me. Rest in peace, good friend.

Emmanuel Akyeampong

Oppenheimer Faculty Director

Center for African Studies


Image credit: Martha Stewart/Harvard Kennedy School