Amidst the third wave of the coronavirus pandemic which has left the country shaken, Kenya is mourning the loss of one of its most brilliant scientific minds.

Prof. Norah Khadzini Olembo, one of Africa’s modern biotechnology leading lights and champions, succumbed to mouth cancer after a long battle.

The late Prof. Olembo retired as Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Nairobi, Chiromo Campus, where she was instrumental in training and nurturing many biotechnology and biochemistry young minds.

Unlike many scientists of her time and caliber, Prof Olembo, did not shy away from science policy advocacy. Indeed, she founded the Biotechnology Trust Africa (BTA) to help speed up adoption of innovative agricultural biotechnology products, such as tissue culture bananas and citrus fruits among others.

In addition, she was a founder member of the African Biotechnology Stakeholders Forum (ABSF), which spearheaded the quest for adoption of modern biotechnologies, including genetically modified organisms (GMOs). She later became the Chief Executive Office of ABSF.

Prof Olembo led the high-level advocacy team of the Kenya Biotechnology Consortium that reached out to all arms of government, leading to the adoption of the National Biotechnology Development Policy 2006 and the passage of the Biosafety Act 2009 at a time when most African countries were skeptical about the technology and were therefore more inclined to promulgation of restrictive biotechnology governance structures modelled on the ill-advised Africa Union’s Biosafety Model law.

While serving at the Kenya Industrial Property Institute (KIPI), professor Olembo distinguished herself as a defender of intellectual property rights of Kenya innovators and academics.

Veteran Science Journalist Otula Owuor, who is also the Executive Director of ScienceAfrica Ltd, is full of praise for Prof Norah Olembo for standing up to cartels who wanted to make Kenya a dumping ground for deadly nuclear waste. “She effectively ensured that Kenya had the ability to stop nuclear waste from being dumped into the country,” Mr. Otula Owuor said.

Among academic achievements were a Post-Doctoral Degree in Molecular Biology from Courtauld Institute at the University of London in the United Kingdom, Post Graduate Degree in Biochemistry   Master’s degree in Zoology and a Bachelor of Science in Zoology, Botany and Chemistry at the University of Nairobi.

Prof. Olembo chaired and sat on a number of local and international boards, including the Kenya Radiation Protection Board, the African Technology Policy Secretariat, the Pest Control Board, Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI), and Canada’s International Development Research (IDRC).

Prof. Olembo is survived by her three children.