They say experience is the only prophecy of wise men, and this could not be more accurate for Professor Robert Obudho. Having been in the education industry for decades, he is a sagacious man in every sense of the word.
He was born in 1942 in Awendo, Migori County, and like many during his time, Obudho did not have much of a choice in matters career. Therefore, after his O-levels in Kisii High School, teaching seemed most fitting.
“Teaching was not my profession of choice. In fact, I wanted to study medicine; conducting medical research seemed very attractive,” he explains.
ROBERT OBUDHO’S EDUCATION
In 1962, Obudho was among a group of 80 students who were sponsored by the government of Kenya to go study abroad. “It was a great opportunity that I could not let slide, and looking back it was truly worth it,” he shares.
He joined the State University of New York at Albany for his undergraduate with a focus on geography, business, accounting and education. Upon completion of his undergraduate studies, Obudho came back to Kenya. Between 1966 to 1967, Obudho undertook a post graduate diploma in geography. He was thereafter posted to the University of Nairobi where he lectured for about a one-and-a-half years, after which the government sent him back to the US for postgraduate studies in urban geography in order to contribute to the country’s urban planning sector. He thus obtained his Master’s at Rutgers University, New Jersey, and later on a Ph.D. in urban and regional planning from the same institution.
While doing his postgraduate studies, Professor Obudho began teaching as an associate professor at the University of New York at Albany and was also privileged to work with Johnson & Johnson – a leading medical multinational in the US.
“I was lucky to get this opportunity; sometimes I wonder if I was qualified,” he jokes.
He quickly rose through the ranks to the extent that he was part of the top management in charge of formulating the company’s initiatives for Africa and Latin America.
“What I loved about the US is the working culture. Americans love to work and make the dollar and therefore there’s a lot of motivation,” he points out.
In 1986, he came back to Kenya after resigning from Johnson & Johnson marking the end of a successful career spanning 11 years. His experience and the time he spent in the US stood him in good stead when he applied for a lecturer’s job at the University of Nairobi. He became a full professor of urban and regional planning in 2000 and also a member of the University’s Council where he served for about 11 years.
All-things require planning
Urban planning in a nutshell refers to the steps taken to manage and organise urban centers as the population increases. Obudho has a sincere passion for urban and regional planning and he has not only helped establish the department at the University of Nairobi, but he is also active in spearheading the development of policies for various sectors in the country.
As a result of his notable efforts, urban and regional planning is now offered as an area of study in undergraduate and post graduate level in many institutions of higher learning in the country, and rightly so. Professor Obudho opines that as a country, there is a lot of planning that needs to be done.
“As we speak, the government lacks a national urban policy, which is a fundamental part of any developing country. We are currently working to develop a regional planning policy in line with that,” he offers.
He also believes that the government needs to develop a policy for education. “As a teacher, I am also interested in higher education policy in Kenya. Universities need a yardstick through which performance can be judged. It will not only define how things are done but also help to account for funds,” the professor says, adding that his main agenda is to develop policies in education as well as regional and urban planning.
Although we have made mistakes as a country in terms of planning, Obudho is optimistic that we can salvage ourselves. “We have to acknowledge our mistakes and learn from them,” he says.
Despite being an educator, Obudho admits to being business oriented. As such, he supports the entrepreneurial revolution currently being witnessed among the Kenyan youth.
“Our society is one of employees and renters,” he says in jest, adding that the disconnect in our system is that the drive to go to school is to seek employment and not to create employment.
“Entrepreneurship is the name of the game, and young people should strive to step out of their comfort zones,” he says while encouraging young people to create wealth and not become liabilities, and to think and plan for the future. “Failing to plan is planning to fail,” he adds.
Evidently a man of many hats, Professor Obudho does not shy away from expressing his love for writing. “I believe that everybody can teach but what sets me apart from many teachers is that I write what I teach,” he says.
To this end, he has written several books on urbanisation as it relates to many other topics. He is also the founder and editor of African Urban Quarterly, as well as the executive director of Suba Books and Periodicals Distributors Limited and the managing director of Books Parlour – both book distribution companies.
ROBERT OBUDHO’S – HOW I MET MY WIFE
Professor Obudho met his wife, Prof. Peninah Aloo-Obudho, while they were both students at the University of Nairobi. She is a Professor of zoology as well as the Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academics, Research and Students Affairs) at Karatina University. Together, they have four children – Dr Justus Omondi Obudho, Grace Akinyi Obudho, Gerald Riwo Obudho and Christine Adare Obudho.
The key principles that guide Obudho’s life are hard work and planning, traits he is keen on passing on to his students. “I tell my students how important it is to have a plan, to contribute something to society and for them to remember to go back to their communities to give back,” he shares.
Determined to walk the talk, he has donated books to universities such as Rongo University, Bondo University, University of Nairobi and Kenyatta University, as his way of giving back to the community. “I have realised that it is important to excel in career, but we have to contribute to the society that brought us up,” the professor notes.
Professor Obudho is a consultant for the Kenya Government, the World Bank, and various UN bodies. He is also a member of the Geographical Association of Kenya, Population Association of Kenya, International Geographical Union and the Vice Chairman of University of Nairobi Alumni Association. His proudest accomplishment, aside from meeting his former students, is being the first person to include urban planning in institutions of higher learning in the country.
Professor Obudho has undoubtedly made an impact in the country in more ways than one. He is, in his own right, a leader whose footprint will be a point of reference many years to come.