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HomeinstitutionsDavid Wasawo: Kenya's First Professor Who Hailed From Gem In Siaya County

David Wasawo: Kenya’s First Professor Who Hailed From Gem In Siaya County

David Wasawo was described by many as one of the most brilliant minds the country has ever produced. He was a pioneer professor and scientist in the country whose impact spread across the borders of Kenya. 

Here is his inspiring story as told by WoK,

Background and Education 

Born in 1924, in Gem, Siaya County, he pursued his early education in Maseno. He passed the Kenya Junior Secondary School Examination in 1941 and was named the best candidate in the country.

He joined Alliance High School where his brilliance continued to shine and the school’s legendary headmaster Edward Carey Francis would in a 1965 interview say he was the most brilliant student he ever taught.

Upon acing the Cambridge Overseas School Certificate Examination, he joined Makerere University College as it was the only institution of higher learning in East Africa.

He studied Biology at Makerere University before proceeding to Oxford where he graduated with a Master of Arts in Zoology. He became the first East African to get a science degree. 


In 1952, he returned to teach at Makerere University and became the first African lecturer in the Faculty of Sciences. He went on to serve as the Head of the Zoology department and Vice Principal ar the institution, becoming the first East African in Makerere to hold the latter position. 

In 1965, he joined the University of Nairobi college where he went on to serve as its first deputy principal until 1970 when the University appointed a new vice chancellor. He went back to teach and became the first Kenyan Professor and Head of Zoology Department and Dean, Faculty of Science at the University. 

He retired from the University 1971 and went on to hold other positions in the government and international organizations. 

From 1971 to 1973, he served as a scientific advisor to UNESCO, Tanzania. He helped establish the Tanzania Scientific Research Council. He was vice president of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The professor also served as chief of the Natural Resources Division of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. 

In 1979, David Wasawo became managing director of Lake Basin Development Authority and in 1982 became development advisor in the Ministry of Energy and Regional Advisor. 

Professor Wasawo would go on to serve as a development advisor to several agencies including: Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), GTZ, World Bank,UNEP, and the African Institute for African Policy Analysis. 

In 1998, he returned to the University of Nairobi as chair of the council and from 2006 to 2013, he became chancellor of Great Lakes University of Kisumu (GLUK). 


He passed away on 4th February 2014 at the Agha Khan Hospital. The former Prime Minister Raila Odinga eulogized him as Kenya’s first African professor and the current Kisumu governor Anyang’ Nyong’o, said he set the standard for academic excellence in Kenya that has never been broken.