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Julia Ojiambo: First Kenyan Woman To Receive A Ph.D. Degree From The University of Nairobi

Prof. Julia Auma Ojiambo life is full of many firsts. From her humble background, she went on to be the first Kenyan woman to join the prestigious Harvard University and then became the first African woman to be appointed as a Minister after independence.

She was also the first Kenyan woman to receive a Ph.D. from the University of Nairobi (UoN) and later on went on to be the first African woman to be appointed a lecturer in the same institution. 

Here is her inspiring full story as told by WoK.

Julia Ojiambo Background

Julia Auma Ojiambo was born on 29th November 1936 in Kadimbworo village in the then Samia Location of Busia District, North Nyanza. She was the sixth born in a family of nine children. Her father was the late Rev. Saulo Okelo Majale and the late Mama Tesera Were Okelo.


In the early ’50s, there wasn’t any elaborate girls’ secondary school and Julia was among the eight beneficiaries of the African Girls High School (now Alliance Girls) pilot project in Kenya. Thereafter, she was posted by the Ministry of Education as a teacher at Friends School Kamusinga after sitting for the Cambridge School Certificate examinations in 1954. She was 17 at the time.

She would later join Vihiga Teachers College and on April 26th 1956, she became the first African female student to join Royal Technical College (now University of Nairobi) where she graduated with a Diploma in Home Economics in 1958.

She would later win a United Nations Fellowship to pursue Community Nutrition in London University and graduated with a Degree in Community Health.

She would later win another scholarship to pursue a Master of Science Degree at Harvard University thus becoming the first Kenyan woman to join the prestigious university. She later came back to Kenya and pursued her doctorate at the University of Nairobi medical school.

Also Read: Fridah Mokaya: First Black Woman To Receive A PhD in Nuclear Physics

Career Journey

While still at the University of London in the United Kingdom, Julia started her career journey by working for British Broadcasting Channel (BBC) World Service as a broadcaster.

She would later quit the job after completing her undergraduate studies and came back to Kenya where she was employed by the UON). At the university, she served as the first African Assistant lecturer and the first African woman warden.

In a bid to help the Kenyan housewives, she transformed the Kenya Housewives Consumer Organization to Kenya Consumers Organization and served as its African woman chair.

After completing her PHD, she embarked on a career as a scholar working as a lecturer for the University of Nairobi and later Kenyatta University. She would then establish the Center for the Advancement of Women and Children – an NGO that helped create awareness on human rights matters through civic education.


Prof Julia Ojiambo would later switch from academia to politics where she also had a good share of firsts.

She became the first woman to contest for a presidential election and the first female assistant minister in the Kenyan cabinet serving as Assistant Minister for Housing and Social Services and later Assistant Minister for Basic Education.

She was also the first woman chairperson of the Labor Party of Kenya and served as the Member of Parliament (MP) representing Funyula constituency from 1974 to 1982.

She was a staunch supporter of the Kenya African National Union (KANU) party and served as its director of Youth and Women.

She would later join Ford Kenya before later establishing the Labor Party of Kenya (LPK). In 2007 LPK was dissolved to form Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) in preparation for the general elections.

Disagreements in the party cause a split in the party with one section led by Raila Odinga, William Ruto and Musalia Mudavadi remained at ODM while Kalonzo Musyoka and Julia Ojiambo formed ODM-K.

She would later be Kalonzo’s running mate and after Kalonzo was appointed as Vice President, he was expected to nominate her as a Member of Parliament but failed causing the duo to fall out and since then she has stayed away from Kenya politics.

She has received several honors including the Moran of the Order of the Burning Spear (MBS) in 2003, Elder of the Burning Spear (EBS) in 2016 and the Chief of the Order of Burning Spear (CBS) in 2018.