Tributes from heads of state, philanthropists and academics have abounded in social media and newspapers in recent days following the death one of Africa’s greatest innovators and thinkers, Calestous Juma, who died in Boston, Massachusetts, at the age of 64 on 15 December, after a long illness.

New African magazine hailed Juma, a former jury member of the Rolex Awards for Enterprise, as “Africa’s intellectual giant”, while academics from Harvard University, where he taught, described him as “a pioneering, prolific and influential scholar/practitioner in science and technology policy for sustainable well-being”.

Renowned for his teaching and for his clear thinking, Calestous Juma’s voice commanded respect not only in academia – his analysis and judgement were sought by the United Nations, governments and many organizations.

Juma grew up on the Kenyan shores of Lake Victoria, so it was fitting that one of the first tributes was from Kenya’s president, Uhuru Kenyatta: “Earlier this evening, I learned of the death of Professor Calestous Juma with profound dismay. We have lost one of our most distinguished scholars and patriots.”

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a supporter of Juma’s work, acclaimed him “a tireless champion for economic social development in Africa”.

The Rolex Awards benefitted greatly from Juma’s knowledge and insights in 2012, when he was a member of the Rolex Awards Jury, and in the years since. “We at Rolex were deeply saddened to hear of Calestous Juma’s death,” said Rebecca Irvin, Head of Philanthropy. “His insights, on projects and applications for our Awards, have been invaluable – particularly on the question of innovation, on which he was an authority commanding international respect.
Calestous was most generous in his advice. Up to shortly before his death, he continued to help us to evaluate applications for the 2018 Rolex Awards.

“The world has lost a great thinker, a man who inspired his continent and the world. But his legacy remains, in his books, in the African Centre for Technology Studies, which he founded, in the students he taught and in the countless people and projects he has supported and promoted. We send our deepest condolences to his family and his colleagues at Harvard,” she added.

During his lifetime, Dr Juma’s contributions were recognized worldwide by dozens of awards and fellowships – he was a fellow of the Kenyan Academy of Sciences, the African Academy of Sciences, and the World Academy of Sciences; and he held honorary or foreign membership of the US National Academy of Sciences, the Royal Society of London and the UK Royal Society of Engineering. New African magazine named him one of the most influential 100 Africans for three consecutive years — 2012, 2013 and 2014.

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