ZB Owino: Magoha was a courageous giant who rejected ethnic narratives

Most Kenyans would probably only be aware of the Magoha of recent times.

In Summary

• The truth was that Prof Magoha was a born leader who could detect issues within the university fraternity and move to solve them fast

• Magoha was also a stickler for the rules

Education CS George Magoha
Education CS George Magoha

In the community where I come from, the fig tree is equated to overbearing presence and longevity.

The fall of the fig tree is an event immortalised in traditional folklore and music. So, too, does the fall of senior community leaders, whose deaths are the real fall of Ng'ou, the fig tree.

I never knew a day would come that I would mourn Prof George Albert Omore Magoha, for my life was so intertwined with his that he became almost a peer, albeit one I admired and revered totally. My story and his will be told another day, but I can offer a brief outlook.

I joined the University of Nairobi in 2001. It was my first time to venture into the country's capital. A young village boy brought up in Simerro, and then educated at St Mary's Yala, this was an unlikely pilgrimage. I was admitted to do my dream course, Electrical and Electronics Engineering.

The Vice Chancellor I found then was Prof Francis Gichaga, an engineer of the Civil field. Soon, the mantle would pass to Prof Crispus Kiamba, the perfect gentleman, and a man who formed the habit of referring to us as "my excellent students" to contain us.

At this point, I was at the College of Architecture and Engineering, and we had a Deputy VC in charge of Finance and Administration previously having been the Principal of the School of Health one Prof.George Albert Omore Magoha. This spurred my interest.

Ever the village hero, the little boy in me soon drove me into student politics. I've always drifted to the side of opposition politics, so I was gunning for this man! Predictably, we had many confrontations, but just the same way bulls size out each other in a kraal and ultimately decide which one takes which females, our confrontations ended with us establishing a deep understanding and respect.

The truth was that Prof Magoha was a born leader who could detect issues within the university fraternity and move to solve them fast, keeping the peace, which translated to students finishing their courses on time, a far cry from the situations before him.

Magoha was also a stickler for the rules. Long after UoN, while he served as KNEC boss, I approached him with an issue about exam cheating leading to results cancellation that touched on a friend. He promised to look into it and get in touch with me later. After two days, he came back straight with an answer: He wouldn't help me because the school had cheated, even though my friend may not have been aware as it happened.

“ZB you know from our university days, I’m not going to soil my reputation. I’m sorry,” I was impressed by the purity and honesty of the feedback, because many liaisons we form do not consider values.

Most Kenyans would probably only be aware of the Magoha of recent times. And here is one legacy that will outlive him for long. Confronted by the Covid-19 and staring at the collapse of the education sector, Prof Magoha went out like a bulldozer and took on the pandemic, pessimistic parents and lethargy in government to restore the school calendar within two years. As if on cue, Prof Magoha died on the very first day of the restored school year, as if he had all along been daring fate to stop.

Prof Magoha was a man of great courage, a forthright giant who refused to pander to ethnic and divisive narratives, a mentor who churned out degrees to multitudes of Kenyans, a reformer who changed every station he worked at and a believer in the excellence of every person.

The University of Nairobi Towers on….Principal College of Health Sciences, DVC Finance and Administration, Vice chancellor, the chief executive of KNEC and CS Education — impeccable records trail him.

I feel a personal loss, having known and worked with the man so long. But I celebrate a life well lived and a legacy unmatched. He left on his own terms, vintage Magoha.

To a giant, the real fig tree, fare thee well.

Engineer Fredrick ZB Owino is an expert in project management and a former student leader at the University of Nairobi.

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