It was grieve, disbelieve and tears as the curtains came down on one of University of Nairobi (UoN)’s long-serving top scholars Prof Okoth Okombo on Wednesday.
He died while undergoing treatment at the Aga Khan Hospital, Nairobi. Okombo, 67, was a professor of Linguistics and Communication Skills in the Department of Linguistics and Literature at the university.
And yesterday President Uhuru Kenyatta led Kenyans in mourning Prof Okombo, he eulogised him as one of Kenya’s most distinguished scholars. He paid glowing tribute to the don saying his penetration and productivity had earned him the respect of his peers at home and abroad.
“In linguistics and communication studies, he cut a niche for himself as a true patriot who ensured the growth of nationhood through his profession.
I am deeply saddened by his death,” said President Uhuru, in a State House dispatch. Prof Okombo was the founder and director of the Kenyan Sign Language Research Project, based at UoN which saw stakeholders regard him as the father of sign language studies in Africa and a leading light in the field of Nilotic Language Studies.
Uhuru praised Prof Okombo’s contribution to the development of sign language, saying it had helped ensure equity between Kenyans by removing undue hindrances. UoN Vice Chancellor, Prof Peter Mbithi sent a message of condolence through his Twitter account.: “Renowned UoN linguistic Professor Duncan Okoth Okombo is dead.
Our hearts go out to his family, students, colleagues and friends. Rest in peace.” National Super Alliance (Nasa) leader Raila Odinga eulogised the don as an inspiration to generations of youth and scholars who passed through his classes some of whom joined him again in the halls of academia.
“We will remember and miss his eloquence, vision for education in Kenya, warmth and good humour. I join his family, the UoN and the fraternity of the academia in mourning this great scholar.
May God rest his soul in eternal peace,” Raila said. He hailed Okombo’s commitment to bridge scholarship and action particularly in the preservation of culture and languages: “He was remarkably successful in concretely translating his research findings and theoretical arguments into policy and practice,” Raila added.
Colleagues at the university also expressed shock and grief at his death. Dr Hezron Mogambi with whom he worked at the Department of Communication described him as a mentor to many and an inspiration to those who loved linguistics and communication skills with a passion.
“We shall all miss his intellectual prowess and academic finesse. A scholar who loved his work with all his heart and social to the core, Prof Okombo had time for all people of all ac