In Summary
  • The kind of commitment to an intellectual cause that Ogot’s life evinces is a great lesson on the philosophy of life.
  • From a man who loved mathematics but instead became one of the most celebrated African historians, deciding to record and retell his people’s stories and histories, we can learn that individual destinies can be refashioned.

  • How come Prof Ogot never got seduced by the dollar to leave for greener pastures elsewhere?

  • How did Ogot commit himself to the expansion of university education in Kenya when most of his peers preferred the elitist preservation of higher education for a select few?

Bethwell Allan Ogot celebrates his 90th birthday today. One would imagine that in retirement, Prof Ogot would be sitting under a tree, sipping porridge from a gourd, gazing at a newspaper and dozing off to be woken by a visitor or the chirping of birds, telling stories to visiting grandkids and hosting neighbours and relatives who drop in once in a while.

No. Prof Ogot writes on.

STANDS TALL

The professor continues with his research as he has done all his adult life. An avid reader and dedicated writer, Ogot will be having a ‘bookish’ birthday at his home in Yala, Siaya County, when he launches his book, History of Kisumu City 1901-2001: From an Inland Port to First Millennium City. At the same time, he will most likely be introducing his latest book in the ‘Kenyan cities’ series, History of Nairobi City from 1897-2010, which is in press.

Yet this birthday celebrations will and should not just be an Ogot family affair.

For Prof Ogot is not just a son of the Yala soil. This is a pre-eminent Kenyan, East African, African and a world historian. Here at home, Prof Ogot stands tall among the men and women of letters. Here is a man to be admired as a true teacher, researcher, writer and intellectual. He first published a book in 1964, an edited collection of essays, East Africa: Past and Present and has one in press this year, 55 years on. He has authored, co-authored, edited, and co-edited 38 monographs to date; apart from tens of individual essays, public lectures, opinions, among other academic writings.

He isn’t just prolific in that sense, he has also written on different subjects, from history to economics to oral traditions to literature. In history, his forte, his writings have been founded on the life and history of his people, the Luo, before venturing into the neighbouring communities, to the rest of Kenya, East Africa, Africa, the African diaspora and the rest of the world.

NATIONAL AFFAIRS

Prof Ogot is a local scholar with a regional and global reach. Of his first seven books (edited/coedited/authored), six were East African as evidenced by the phrase ‘East Africa’ in their titles. These were published between 1964 and 1967. From East Africa: Past and Present (1964), Problems of Economic Development in East Africa (1965), Racial and Communal Tensions in East Africa (1965), East African Cultural Heritage (1966), Research Priorities in East Africa (1966), to Law and Social Change in East Africa (1967), all these books sought to properly insert Kenyans, Ugandans, Tanzanians, the Sudanese, Somalis, Ethiopians, Burundians, the Rwandese, the people of the region, into world history.

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