Prof Julia Ojiambo: First Kenyan Woman to Join Harvard University

  • Julia Ojiambo
    Professor Julia Ojiambo, First Kenyan Woman to be admitted at Harvard University.
  • Professor Julia Auma Ojiambo was a KANU party member who actively participated in party activities. Due to her known interest in women and youth affairs, Ojiambo was elected as the KANU director of Youth and Women Affairs.

    Under this docket, she set up the Youth for KANU ’92 also known as the KANU Youth Wingers in preparation for the 1992 general elections, a group that was accused of unruly behavior.

    William Ruto, who had just come out of university, worked as a member of the Kanu Youth League as a Personal Assistant (PA) to Professor Ojiambo. The opportunity helped introduce Ruto to politics and has since risen through the ranks to become Kenya's Deputy President. 

    Prof. Julia Auma Ojiambo, a Kenyan woman politician, academic, researcher, and gender activist.

    Professor Julia Auma was born on 29 November 1936 in Busia County. The 85- years- old's education history and achievements has made a curation of impressive milestones.

    Dr. Ojiambo was the first African female student at the Royal Technical College, currently known as University of Nairobi.

    This pioneer single student at the Home Science Department of UON graduated with a Diploma in Home Economics in 1958. 

    She later won a United Nations/FAO/UNICEF Fellowship scholarship to study Community Nutrition at London University where she graduated with a Bachelors Degree in Community Health.

    While in London, Prof Ojiambo briefly worked at the BBC World Service as a broadcaster on the special East African channel. 

    After completing her undergraduate studies, Ojiambo was employed by UoN as the first African woman Assistant Lecturer and the first African woman warden. 

    Prof. Ojiambo won a second scholarship and became the first Kenyan  woman to be enrolled at Harvard University, the Ivy League research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts USA. Here she undertook a master's degree in Public Health.

    In addition, she won a third scholarship. She became the first African woman to receive a PhD degree from the University of Nairobi with a joint program with McGill University.

    After her graduation, Julia embarked on a career in academia as a lecturer at UoN and later Kenyatta University.

    Influenced by the desire to participate in more challenging ventures, Julia immersed herself in the political arena. 

    In 1974, she contested the Busia Central Parliamentary Seat against the sitting MP, Arthur Ochwada, a commendable politician, former freedom fighter who had strong ties to the first family as he was married to the then President Jomo Kenyatta’s granddaughter Lucy Nyokabi. 

    Ojiambo won and became first female MP from Western to be elected to Parliament. 

    However, she was the second woman to be elected to parliament after Grace Onyango of Kisumu.

    Julia became the first woman Assistant Minister with her appointment in the Ministry of Housing and Social Services. She was later appointed as Assistant Minister for Basic Education in 1982.

    Notably, in 1975 she attended the UN Conference on Women which sought to emphasize the persistent struggles faced by women in Mexico.

    During the 2007 general elections, Julia became part of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) coalition.

    However, disagreements caused a split in the coalition which saw Raila Odinga, William Ruto, Musalia Mudavadi, and Joseph Nyagah forming one camp under ODM.

    Julia Ojiambo and Kalonzo Musyoka formed their own party dubbed ODM-K. While both Julia and Kalonzo declared their intentions to vie for presidency, party nominations ousted Dr. Julia from the contest.

    Hence, the controversial 2007 elections in Kenya that were accompanied by rampant violence saw Kalonzo unsuccessfully contest the presidential seat under the ODM-K party ticket with Julia as his running mate.

    Although expected to nominate Julia as a Member of Parliament, Kalonzo did not, culminating in the demise of their political alliance.

    Prof. Julia Ojiambo is also a recipient of various national honors, in recognition of outstanding service.

    The national honors include; Chief of the Order of Burning Spear (CBS) in 2018, Elder of the Order of the Burning Spear (EBS) in  2016 and Moran of the Order of the Burning Spear (MBS) in 2003.

    The Chancellor, Dr. Vijoo Rattansi (right) confers the Honorary Doctorate Degree, Doctor of Science (Honoris Causa) on Prof. Julia Ojiambo (left) on December 11, 2020.
    The Chancellor, Dr. Vijoo Rattansi (right) confers the Honorary Doctorate Degree, Doctor of Science (Honoris Causa) on Prof. Julia Ojiambo (left) on December 11, 2020.
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