Thomas Ariba Ogada: the first black Kenyan fellow of the RCP

Thomas Ariba Ogada (1936-2002), professor of medicine at the University of Nairobi and a former Kenyan ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, was the first black Kenyan elected as a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians. Over a distinguished career, he had a major influence on the development of medical education and medical services in Kenya.

He was born in Eldoret, the main town in the Rift Valley area of Kenya, in 1936, when the country was still ruled by a white, British colonial government. His father, Mikail Kiyogo, was chief of the Luo people; his maternal grandmother was a traditional midwife and inspired Ogada to become a doctor.

He attended the Alliance High School in Kikuyu, a Protestant mission school, which had opened in 1926 as one of the first schools in the country to offer secondary education to African people. He went on to study medicine at Makerere University, Uganda, then the only medical school in East Africa, and qualified in 1965, two years after Kenya gained independence.

After junior posts in Nairobi, Ogada travelled to the UK, where he worked at the Royal Northern Hospital in north London, at the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh, and developed his interest in haematology. He gained a diploma in tropical medicine and hygiene and passed his membership examination of the Royal College of Physicians in 1972.

In 1973 he returned to Kenya, as a lecturer at the newly-established medical school at the University of Nairobi. In June 1975, he was appointed as a consultant physician and chief of the section of adult haematology at the Kenyatta National Hospital. At the University of Nairobi, he went on to become a senior lecturer, professor of medicine and finally dean of the faculty of medicine. After leaving his post of dean, he was director of medical services at the Ministry of Health for two years.

From 1980 to 1984 he was president of the Association of Physicians of East, Central and Southern Africa, helping the development of medical services in the region. He was elected a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in 1982 and of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh in 1983.

During the late 1980s, Ogada increasingly took on several significant international roles. He was ambassador and permanent representative of Kenya at the United Nations in Geneva from 1989 to 1992. He also represented his country at the International Labour Organization, the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Red Cross, the UNHCR (the United Nations High Commission for Refugees), and at the United Nations Disarmament Conference and United Nations Human Rights Commission. He was president of the United Nations Trade and Development Board from 1991 to 1992. After leaving Geneva, he went to Brazzaville in the Congo as the WHO’s regional adviser.

He returned to Kenya in 1998, continued in his advisory roles and was medical director of the Aga Khan University Hospital in Nairobi. He was appointed Moran of the Burning Spear for his services to Kenya. In semi-retirement he also farmed, cultivated sugarcane and bred pigs.

Tragically, Ogada was killed in a car crash on 18 February 2002. He was just 66. He left a wife, Margaret, three daughters and two sons, and a continuing legacy as a leading figure in the development of medical education and medical services in post-colonial Kenya.

Sarah Gillam, Editor Munk’s Roll

Sources used in writing this post:

T Ogada J R Coll Physicians Edinb. 2003; 33; 224 [Accessed 30 June 2020].

Somers K. Thomas Ariba Ogada BMJ 2003; 326; 450 [Accessed 30 June 2020]. 

Sarah Gillam ,
Editor, Munk's Roll

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