The Star (Kenya)

Prof Charles Okidi: Cheers to a scholar per ex­cel­lence

- OKECH KENDO @ es­tarkenya e writer is a lec­turer and com­mu­ni­ca­tions con­sul­tant

The Covid-19 gloom shouldn’t blur the re­tire­ment of Prof Charles Odidi Okidi from the Univer­sity of Nairobi, and the re­lease of his mem­oirs, In Pur­suit of Ex­cel­lence.

This in­spir­ing ac­count of the strug­gle for an ed­u­ca­tion was to be launched in March — the week Kenya re­ported the first case of coronaviru­s.

Prof Okidi charted an al­ter­na­tive route to some of the world’s top uni­ver­si­ties. He is a for­mer bi­cy­cle re­pairer and a po­lice­man who be­came an ex­pert in in­ter­na­tional law, en­vi­ron­men­tal law, and the law of the sea.

Kan­jira, where he was born, is the vil­lage of the leg­endary free­dom fighter Ojijo Oteko. Ojijo Road, which con­nects West­lands and Park­lands es­tates in Nairobi, and Ojijo Road in El­doret are mon­u­ments for Ojijo Oteko Polo Mor Imbo. He is Prof Okidi’s un­cle.

One needs to read Prof Okidi’s mem­oirs to un­der­stand the mak­ing of a man of su­perla­tive for­ti­tude. He is an in­sti­tu­tion builder, and a men­tor of schol­ars. e scholar is hon­oured abroad but hardly cel­e­brated in Kenya, af­ter 50 years of un­par­al­leled con­tri­bu­tion to academia.

When the re­tired pro­fes­sor was soar­ing glob­ally, cus­to­di­ans of op­por­tu­ni­ties at the only lo­cal univer­sity in the 1970s hardly re­sponded to his let­ters of in­ten­tion to re­turn home. At the same time, he was re­ject­ing tenured hire at Dal­housie Univer­sity in Hal­i­fax, Canada. He is the vice-chan­cel­lor Univer­sity of Nairobi never had.

Prof Okidi is the found­ing dean Moi Univer­sity School of En­vi­ron­men­tal Stud­ies, and found­ing chair­man of the coun­cil of Karatina Univer­sity. He is also the found­ing chair­man of the Kenya Wa­ter In­sti­tute, as well as found­ing di­rec­tor of the Cen­tre for Ad­vanced Stud­ies in En­vi­ron­men­tal Law and Pol­icy, Univer­sity of Nairobi, among other mile­stones.

Uon’s In­sti­tute of De­vel­op­ment Stud­ies is syn­ony­mous with him. This is where I first met him decades ago dur­ing fresh­ers’ ori­en­ta­tion week. He was later to in­tro­duce me to Dr Poly­cap Ochilo, a long­time lec­turer at Uon’s School of Jour­nal­ism.

Prof Okidi, known to his peers like Prof Shem Wandiga as COO, is the chair­man of In­tegrity School in Nd­hiwa, Homa Bay county. e school sym­bol­ises the guid­ing prin­ci­ples of Okidi’s life: In­tegrity, ac­count­abil­ity, and so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity.

COO re­jected a prime plot, which came with a buyer in Sabaki/malindi, when a 80-acre In­dian Ocean frontage was par­celled out for a field re­search sta­tion for the Moi Univer­sity School of En­vi­ron­men­tal Stud­ies. is was the 1980s of the Moi era when land grab­bing was stan­dard prac­tice.

COO was among the few who had the temer­ity and in­tegrity to re­ject a ‘pres­i­den­tial ap­point­ment’. He did when he was ap­pointed deputy vice chan­cel­lor of Keny­atta Univer­sity in 1987. He was busy build­ing the Moi Univer­sity School of En­vi­ron­men­tal Stud­ies.

He quit the po­lice force as a se­nior officer when he was due for pro­mo­tion. In­de­pen­dence came with op­por­tu­ni­ties for ed­u­cated Kenyans to re­place colo­nial of­fi­cers. e force of­fered a ready in­come to re­lieve costs for his el­der brother who was pay­ing school fees for his other sib­lings. He re­calls his el­der brother with grat­i­tude, know­ing the present is a child of the past.

COO has hun­dreds of pub­li­ca­tions to his name, with a cur­ric­u­lar vi­tae as rich as that of Ed­u­ca­tion CS Prof Ge­orge Magoha. e two are among top-grade pro­fes­sors, way above the 8-4-4 gen­er­a­tion.

Born in 1942, the year the colo­nial gov­ern­ment as­sas­si­nated Ojijo Oteko, Okidi stud­ied in the US in the 1960s, when such ad­ven­tures were rare. Amer­ica SDA church stands in Okidi’s vil­lage in mem­ory of Ojijo Oteko’s US ad­ven­ture, which is how COO knew about US ed­u­ca­tion.

With Ojijo Oteko, they are alumni of Maseno, sorry e Maseno School.

e em­pha­sis is de­lib­er­ate: COO re­peated Stan­dard 8 at On­galo In­ter­me­di­ate School in Karachuony­o, to get a ticket to e Maseno School.

is was his gate­way to US, first at Alaska Methodist Univer­sity, e Fletcher School of Law and Diplo­macy, Tufts Univer­sity, and Mas­sachusetts In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy.

e naughty boy joined Maseno School in 1959 through sheer grit. Naughty is de­lib­er­ately used, draw­ing from an in­ci­dent in Okidi’s mem­oirs. en San­dard 8 grad­u­ate, while wait­ing for Kenya African Pri­mary Ex­am­i­na­tion re­sults, teamed up with two oth­ers for mis­chief.

ey had been de­nied a chance to dance in the neigh­bour­ing vil­lage of Wagwe Wa­some. ey stepped out be­hind the home­stead, armed with stones. ey aimed the stones at the pres­sure lump, the source of light dur­ing that dark Karachuony­o night.

In­stead of flee­ing the wrath of dancers, the of­fend­ers hid be­hind a house in the home­stead, as mob sped along their home path bay­ing for the kill. One of the mis­chief mak­ers was Sinyo Awaro, who be­came a neigh­bour­hood ‘ter­ror­ist’.

Sinyo would steal and slaugh­ter a bull on his own. Sinyo grad­u­ated into crime, while COO took the high­way to academia. Choices had con­se­quences even then.

Young peo­ple will find this book a huge in­spi­ra­tion, which is COO’S pur­pose. In Pur­suit of Ex­cel­lence: Mem­oirs

of Pro­fes­sor Charles Odidi Okidi’ is avail­able at Pres­tige and Univer­sity of Nairobi book­shops.

 ?? / COURTESY ?? Mem­oirs of Pro­fes­sor Charles Odidi Okidi
/ COURTESY Mem­oirs of Pro­fes­sor Charles Odidi Okidi
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