He then joined the Royal College in Nairobi (1958-1960) before proceeding to the US for university education, first at Grinnell College, Iowa (1960-1962), where he attained his BA degree in Economics and Political Science and then to the University of California (1962-1965) for his MA and PhD degrees, respectively.
His stints at these universities helped him gain teaching and administrative experience, which he put to productive use.
He developed many competitive programmes, supervised many students, many of whom he assisted to secure scholarships abroad.
The passing on of Prof John Joseph Okumu on July 10, aged 84, calls for comments on his administrative and intellectual contributions and legacy. Okumu possessed vast academic experience in Kenya, Uganda and the United States.
He attended Rangala Primary School near his home in Ugenya, Siaya County, and later St Mary’s Secondary School, Yala (1955-56) and St Mary College, Kisubi, in Kampala, Uganda (1956-57). He then joined the Royal College in Nairobi (1958-1960) before proceeding to the US for university education, first at Grinnell College, Iowa (1960-1962), where he attained his BA degree in Economics and Political Science and then to the University of California (1962-1965) for his MA and PhD degrees, respectively. Hailing from rural Buholo in Ugenya, his education in Kenya’s and Uganda’s capital cities and then in the US made him cosmopolitan and urbane. But he still cherished the indigenous ways of the Luo.
After his education overseas, Okumu commenced his teaching at the University of Dar es Salaam (1966-1967); the University of Nairobi as lecturer and senior lecturer (1967 -1972); the University of Dar-es-Salaam as associate professor (1973-1976); the University of Khartoum in Sudan as a professor of political science (1976-1978); the Eastern and Southern African Management Institute (ESAMI) in Arusha, Tanzania (1978 -1987) as director; and then Moi University as head of department, dean of the School of Arts and Social Sciences and director of the Centre for Refugee Studies, now Centre of Peace and Reconciliation (1990-2012). Shortly after his formal retirement, he was contracted as campus director to establish Rongo University. He finally served as the chair of council, Maasai Mara University.
His stints at these universities helped him gain teaching and administrative experience, which he put to productive use. He developed many competitive programmes, supervised many students, many of whom he assisted to secure scholarships abroad.
During his long career, Okumu had time to do a lot of writing and publishing. He penned many articles in the then popular East African Journal, which analysed political events in Kenya, including, “The By-election in Gem: An Assessment” (June 1969). In 1970 he collaborated with Goran Hyden and Robert Jackson to write Development Administration: The Kenya Experience, and with Joel Barkan in 1973 to publish Politics and Public Policy in Kenya and Tanzania. The two books are primary references for students of public administration.
Okumu’s other intellectual legacy includes his works on Kenya’s international relations and foreign policy. His most outstanding articles include “The Place of African States in International Relations” (1971), “Some Thoughts on Kenya’s Foreign Policy” (1972), also published as “Kenya’s Foreign Policy” (1977), and “Foreign Relations: Dilemmas of Independence and Development”. Okumu’s response to Howell’s article “An Analysis of Kenya’s Foreign Policy” (1968) demonstrates he was occasionally quite intellectually combative.
Okumu was particularly incensed by Howell’s characterisation of Kenya’s foreign policy as ambivalent. Howell had argued that, on the one hand, Kenya’s foreign policy in the East African region and at home was conservative and restrained because of the fragility of Kenya’s political system and domestic economic weakness. On the other hand, he asserted that Kenya’s global foreign policy was radical because this stance helped the country to create national consciousness, which was necessary to cement Kenya’s fissiparous ethnicities through aggressive pan-Africanism. Howell went ahead to claim that this ambiguous stance in Kenya’s international relations served the country and Western powers well. Regional and domestic conservatism and restraint (read pro-Capitalist) attracted the needed foreign capital to Kenya while radicalism abroad was harmless and did not imperil Western interests in Kenya and the rest of Africa. Howell praised the leadership in Kenya for maintaining good relations with Britain, her former colonial master, but derided Tanzania for thinking about an alternative ideology: socialism. Howell’s blatant patronising and flattering attitude towards Kenya, together with the illogical nature of his argument, greatly incensed Okumu.