Google honours Professor Okoth Okombo
Google honours Professor Okoth Okombo

Google has today published a doodle to honour and celebrate Prof Okoth Okombo. Prof Okombo is regarded as one of the founders of the scientific study of sign language in Africa and a distinguished scholar in the field of Nilotic Language Studies.

The Doodle created by Kenyan artist Joe Baraka appeared on Google’s homepage in Kenya and coincided with what would have been the late scholar’s 71st birthday. Baraka is a young upcoming artist known for using digital media to tell stories. In addition, a collection of 10 interesting facts about the scholar has also been published on Google Arts and Culture co-hosted with the National Museums of Kenya. 

Prof Okombo was the founder and director of the Kenyan Sign Language Research Project, based at the University of Nairobi. The project has led to the publication of scientific works on the structure, vocabulary, and sociological properties of the deaf language.

It contributed to the recognition of the deaf community and subsequent introduction of practical use of the Kenyan Sign Language (KSL) in schools, the electronic media, court and parliamentary proceedings, hospitals, church services, and many other domains of public life.

This opened up new opportunities in life for deaf people and created new career paths, where students undertake graduate studies in sign language and are employed as sign language interpreters.

He sat in a number of local and international scholarly organisation boards, including the Amsterdam-based Functional Grammar Foundation, the Kenya National Academy of Sciences, the World Congress of African Linguistics (serving as an executive committee member), and the World Federation of the Deaf (as the Sign Language Regional Expert for Africa).

He was the founding Chairman of the Department of Linguistics and Literature (CEES) at the University of Nairobi where he was later elected Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences.

His achievements in the field of sign language research and development were recognised by the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD), which elected him International President of the WFD Sign Language Scientific Commission between 1992-1995.

As part of the commemoration, a memorial virtual public lecture will be hosted by the University of Nairobi and published on the University’s YouTube channel. Prof George Magoha, the Cabinet Secretary for Education, Science and Technology and Prof Stephen Kiama, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Nairobi, will be among the speakers at the public lecture. 

“Local doodles provide a way for Google to connect with Kenyans about what matters to them and to help commemorate important moments. We have previously honoured Kimani Maruge, novelist Dr Margaret Ogola, Nobel Laureate Prof Wangari Maathai, and today we are celebrating a renowned scholar, Prof Okoth Okombo,” stated Shikha Monga, Country Marketing Manager, Google.

Google started honouring deceased people, events, anniversaries and holidays with doodles designed by one of its engineers in 1999. The company has since then honoured an array of African personalities such as South African singer and activist Miriam Makeba, and Stephen Keshi, former captain and coach of the Super Eagles, Nigeria’s national soccer team.

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