- Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga said Prof Wasawo was Kenya’s first African professor and a distinguished scientist who inspired many to pursue university education in general, and sciences in particular.
It took us three weeks to get in touch with Prof David Peter Simon Wasawo in our quest to tell the story about a young university with aged professors.
The scholar was the Chancellor of the Kisumu-based Great Lakes University, reputed to be the home to many professors, particularly from Nyanza, who have retired from other universities.
After many unanswered phone calls, he eventually spoke to Lifestyle on January 18, with the help of his wife. It was then that we learnt the professor was admitted to the Aga Khan Hospital in Nairobi.
We had wanted him to tell us what motivated him to remain in the lecture halls despite his advanced age.
“Older scholars must remain in universities to guide the younger ones,” Prof Wasawo told Lifestyle, adding that the character of education is of a lifelong journey with no retirement age.
Since the professor said he had a problem with his throat and could not talk for long, we wished him quick recovery and agreed to set up an interview once he left hospital.
He did not.
Prof Wasawo died a few weeks later on February 4 at the age of 91. His brief conversation with Lifestyle was probably the last the great man — described by some as the “father of professors” or simply DPS — had with the media.
Hailed by fellow professors as one of the brightest brains to be born in Kenya, he maintained an active tie with academia.
His brilliance was best summarised by Edward Carey Francis, the legendary headmaster who taught him at the Alliance High School in an interview carried in the Sunday Nation in 1965.
When Carey Francis was asked who he thought was the most brilliant student he had ever taught, the man who shaped some of Kenya’s brightest minds at Alliance was prompt in his response: “Far and away, David Wasawo”.
Forty-nine years later, this was reflected in tributes to Prof Wasawo. Prof Ouma Muga fondly remembers him as “impossibly intelligent” and irreplaceable.
“If you go to Oxford University today you will see, inscribed on the list of honour, David Wasawo Osare, Bsc, Msc, Dsc, the brightest scholar at Oxford between the 14th and 20th centuries.
David Wasawo and Simeon Ominde, with whom I had interaction at Makerere, first as a student and later as a member of staff, and also with whom I had joint research consultancies, were impossibly intelligent,” Prof Muga said on Saturday.
“Prof Wasawo was one of the most infectious scholars in Kenya.”
“You could not work with Wasawo without his intellectual vision catching you. In the early 1980s I did research with him for United Nations and USAid on the impact of satellite system on analysis of African resources and prediction of disasters. He was one of the most intellectually capable scholars in the world.”
Prof Wasawo was the first East African to be awarded a degree in Science and post-graduate in Zoology at the University of Oxford in 1951, with groundbreaking research on the lung fish of Lake Victoria.
Senator Anyang’ Nyong’o describes Prof Wasawo as an excellent scholar committed to the highest standards of education.
“I have known Prof Wasawo since 1968 while a student at Alliance High School. He set the standard of academic excellence which has never been broken,” says Prof Nyong’o.
“He was a great teacher and contributed to higher education in Kenya to the best of his ability,” eulogised the senator.
Born in Gem, Siaya County, in 1923, Prof Wasawo started his early childhood education in Maseno in 1937.
He sat and passed the Kenya Junior Secondary School Examination in 1941 with a distinction and was declared the best candidate in the country.