Thomas R. Odhiambo

Last updated
Thomas R. Odhiambo
Born(1931-02-04)February 4, 1931
Died(2003-05-26)May 26, 2003
Nairobi, Kenya
Nationality Kenyan
Alma mater Maseno School
Scientific career

Professor Thomas Risley Odhiambo (February 4, 1931 – May 26, 2003) was a Kenyan entomologist and environmental activist who directed research and scientific development in Africa.

Kenya republic in East Africa

Kenya, officially the Republic of Kenya, is a country in Africa with 47 semiautonomous counties governed by elected governors. At 580,367 square kilometres (224,081 sq mi), Kenya is the world's 48th largest country by total area. With a population of more than 52.2 million people, Kenya is the 27th most populous country. Kenya's capital and largest city is Nairobi while its oldest city and first capital is the coastal city of Mombasa. Kisumu City is the third largest city and also an inland port on Lake Victoria. Other important urban centres include Nakuru and Eldoret.

Entomology scientific study of insects

Entomology is the scientific study of insects, a branch of zoology. In the past the term "insect" was more vague, and historically the definition of entomology included the study of terrestrial animals in other arthropod groups or other phyla, such as arachnids, myriapods, earthworms, land snails, and slugs. This wider meaning may still be encountered in informal use.


Life and education

Odhiambo was educated at Maseno School in Kenya, [1] Makerere University in Uganda and Queens' College, Cambridge in United Kingdom.

Maseno School

Maseno School is the oldest formal education school in Kenya. It was established in 1906 by the Missionaries of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) as a school for the children of African chiefs. The first administrator of the school was Rev. James Jamieson Willis fondly remembered as J.J Willis.

Makerere University university in Kampala, Uganda

Makerere University, Kampala is Uganda's largest and third-oldest institution of higher learning, first established as a technical school in 1922. In 1963, it became the University of East Africa, offering courses leading to general degrees from the University of London. It became an independent national university in 1970 when the University of East Africa was split into three independent universities: University of Nairobi (Kenya), University of Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), and Makerere University. Today, Makerere University is composed of nine colleges and one school offering programmes for about 36,000 undergraduates and 4,000 postgraduates.

Queens College, Cambridge college of the University of Cambridge

Queens' College is a constituent college of the University of Cambridge, England. Queens' is one of the oldest and the largest colleges of the university, founded in 1448 by Margaret of Anjou, and has some of the most recognisable buildings in Cambridge. The college spans both sides of the river Cam, colloquially referred to as the "light side" and the "dark side", with the Mathematical Bridge connecting the two.

He founded the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe) and helped to establish three institutions of learning: the Third World Academy of Sciences, the Kenyan National Academy of Sciences and the African Academy of Sciences.

The International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology is an international scientific research institute, headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya that works towards improving lives and livelihoods of people in Africa.

African Academy of Sciences academy of sciences in Africa

The African Academy of Sciences is a non-aligned, non-political, not-for-profit pan African organization. The AAS’s vision is to see transformed lives on the African continent through science.

He inspired different Kenyan scholars and leaders, notably, academician Odhiambo Siangla and politician Kalonzo Musyoka.

Kalonzo Musyoka Former Kenyan Vice President

Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka is a Kenyan politician who was the tenth Vice-President of Kenya from 2008 to 2013. Musyoka served in the government under President Daniel arap Moi and was Minister for Foreign Affairs from 1993 until 1998; subsequently, under President Mwai Kibaki, he was Minister of Foreign Affairs again from 2003 to 2004, then Minister of the Environment from 2004 to 2005. He was an unsuccessful candidate in the 2007 presidential election, after which he was appointed as Vice-President by Kibaki in January 2008.

He encouraged the younger generation of thinkers to venture into the fine arts, investigate its relation to history of life sciences and to go out and create global academies and research institutions using technology. His inspiring effect led to the re–emergence of accumulated indigenous knowledge and technology systems in the modern African world. He led visions on agricultural development in Africa by initiating effective scientific projects leading to advancement in growing indigenous crops and disseminating methods of insect control. Educated in Cambridge University, UK, Prof. Odhiambo completed a PhD in 1965 under the supervision of the guru of insect physiology, Vincent Wigglesworth, producing a ‘phenomenally productive’ thesis on the reproductive physiology of the desert locust, producing a series of 14 papers on the topic. He marked his arrival into the world of insect science through a sole-authored short communication in Nature journal titled, Metabolic effects of corpus allatum hormone, in the desert locust, Schistocerca gregaria. [2]

Founder of ICIPE (International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology) Upon his return to Kenya, Prof. Odhiambo, took up a position as a lecturer in the Department of Zoology at the University of Nairobi. In 1967, he was approached by the Science journal to write a review on the status of science in Africa. [3] In the article, Prof. Odhiambo observed that scientific research was urgently required in the then postcolonial Africa, to develop environmentally safe strategies to increase agricultural production, and to address prevalent tropical and vector borne diseases. He stressed that the science conducted in Africa should have at its heart the elevation of the livelihoods of smallholder farmers.

At the same time, Prof. Odhiambo noted, the indigenous scientific community in Africa was ‘woefully small’, and the continent was hardly equipped, from a financial and infrastructural point of view, to effectively tackle the challenges at hand. He, therefore, proposed that Africa's best long term solution towards conducting effective research was to concentrate efforts in a few centres of excellence.

Giving the example that eventually led to the establishment of icipe, Prof. Odhiambo recommended that Africa's insect research could be located in one centre that would have the best equipment, which would be put to the best advantage. Such a centre would have a permanent staff; it would also train young researchers from Africa and offer opportunities to other scientists from across the globe looking for ‘periodical renovation’. In Prof Odhiambo's words, the insect science centre of excellence would become ‘a powerhouse for the initiated and those wishing to be initiated into research’.

Prof. Odhiambo's ideas got support from, among others, Carl Djerassi, a world-renowned American scientist. Together, Odhiambo and Djerassi set the wheels in motion for the launching of icipe. Eventually, they gained the support of 21 national academies of science across the globe, who became sponsors of icipe, providing the needed external research directors.

icipe was declared open for business in 1970, one of its objectives being the creation of motivated and highly talented ‘human capital’ in insect research and related areas of science, to enable Africa to sustain herself and to lead the entire pan-tropical world in this area of endeavour.

Prof. Odhiambo later remarked: “The idea was actually very simple, get the very best people and then if you have more money, put buildings and equipment around them.”

In the beginning money was in short supply at icipe, and the Centre's headquarters consisted of a number of rented wood-frame barracks perched on the hillside of Chiromo Campus at the University of Nairobi. The first postdoctoral researcher arrived to work in a garage that flooded when it rained and the budget was improvised from week to week.

Today, icipe stands as a centre of scientific excellence and training in Africa. And as Prof. Odhiambo had hoped, it is indeed staffed mainly by indigenous African scientists. icipe currently has a staff of more than 400, and the Centre collaborates with over 200 national systems, research institutes and universities around the world.

Prof. Odhiambo's vision of holistic science is today embodied in the Centre's 4Hs paradigm, denoting human, animal, plant and environmental health. Its major research areas include disease vectors, such as mosquitoes and tsetse, as well as pests of cereals and horticultural crops. icipe scientists are also conducting research into beneficial insects such as bees and silkworm moths. [4]

Honors and awards

Books and publications

Further reading

See also


  1. "Maseno Old Boys". Maseno School. Retrieved 2011-08-04.
  2. "Our History | icipe - International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology". Retrieved 2017-11-16.
  3. DOI: 10.1126/science.158.3803.876
  4. "Our History | icipe - International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology". Retrieved 2017-11-16.
  5. "Honoring Africa's Leadership - The Hunger Project". The Hunger Project. Retrieved 2017-11-23.

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