The late Professor Calestous Juma has had a profound impact on the fields of science and technology in Africa. More so when it comes to finding ways to use science and technology in aiding sustainable development on the continent.
Professor Juma, who succumbed to a long illness and passed away on 15 December 2017, founded the African Centre for Technology Studies (ACTS) and served as its Executive Director until 1995. He would then be appointed Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, Montreal.
He also co-chaired the African Union’s High-Level Panel on Science, Technology, and Innovation. During this period, he pushed for the creation of a system of scientific and technical universities in Africa, and for the use of technology to improve the continent’s agricultural output.
He served, and made a meaningful impact, on several international organizations related to science and technology that I’d need several more articles to cover them all.
It was when he was a Professor of the practice of international development at Harvard University’s Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) and Director of the Belfer Center’s Science, Technology, and Globalization Project that I first came into contact with Professor Juma. It is this interaction and friendship that developed afterward that I hope will show to you the impact he has had across the world.
Having published the inaugural Technology in Africa – 2013 Digest a year before I came into contact with Professor Juma, in 2014 I felt I could take it up a notch and use the digest (which was a hobby at the time) to highlight technological innovation in Africa but also address some of the challenges holding various countries and the continent as a whole back. I approached several publications and universities across the continent to see if they were keen to collaborate. None were keen. I then took a shot and sent a cold e-mail to Professor Juma to see if he was keen to contribute to the digest as his work resonated. To cut a long story short, not only did he agree to contribute but after reading the draft he, to my surprise, facilitate that the Technology in Africa – 2014 Digest be published by Harvard University.
Mine is not a unique story of interactions with Professor Juma as many have attested to his humility and always being available to offer guidance and advice whenever possible.
His science and technology contributions were not only academic. Professor Juma helped engineer, among others, a cooking stove whose improved efficiency minimized the adverse health effects of indoor smoke. His experience with that process — users balked at the lack of smoke, which had helped them keep mosquitoes away — helped him understand the importance of “inclusive innovation.”