Towards the end of the first half of 2017, Prof George Magoha’s memoirs, George Magoha: Tower of Transformational Leadership, was launched.
While I do not exactly know what inspired Prof Magoha to allow us a glimpse into the journey of his life, I am certain there are numerous reasons why literature enthusiasts should appreciate his courage.
This is particularly so given what Oscar Wilde says in his Critic as Artist (1968) essay about biographies.
Through Gilbert, one of the two characters in the essay, he opines that every great man has disciples and it is always Judas who writes the biography. In this sense, he attempts to point out the synonymy between a biography writer and a sell-out.
His view serves to illuminate the level of phobia that ordinarily occasions the thought of one having the story of their lives told through the eyes and perspective of an observer.
A publication of East African Educational Publishers, Magoha’s memoir should stir our desire for a national shift of paradigm.
It is sad that over 50 years after the first liberation, our independence dreams as a nation still remain elusive. Luckily, Magoha’s story excites hope amid the despair, disillusionment and frustration that have littered the path along which Kenyans have walked so far. Let us make an about turn.
To begin with, there is need for a huge investment in our education sector. As Magoha acknowledges, the story of his life would most likely have taken a different turn had he not relocated from rural Gem to Nairobi in his formative years.
It is time we equipped our schools to the tune of Dr David Livingstone Primary School, which Magoha attended in Nairobi, as the bare minimum. The books, teachers and other facilities he found at the school made Magoha the person he turned out to be.
As recounted in the memoir, teachers played a crucial role in socialising Magoha into a tower of transformational leadership. Reading the book, I lost count of the number of times he invoked the names of his teachers, Dr Griffins and Dr Sperling, who left indelible marks in his persona and attitude at Starehe Boys Centre and Strathmore College, respectively.
It is not in doubt that teachers do an amazing job in our schools despite a myriad of challenges they face. However, considering that there is always room for improvement, they should always go an extra mile in shaping up the personality, attitude and skills of the learners under their charge.
They may, for instance, embrace the student plenary sessions during which learners are allowed to air their grievances and share experiences without victimization.
This is, notably, one of methods that Dr Griffins employed at Starehe Boys Centre to help inculcate confidence and leadership skills in the students in his school.
It is noteworthy, too, that Dr Griffins was nonetheless a strict, fair, firm and no nonsense disciplinarian.
Indeed, one would not need a typical Starehe Boys Centre model school to engage learners in activities that enhance their involvement in community service.
Teachers should, therefore, take the challenge and help learners nurture and hone their leadership skills. Parents should, for their part, always make informed decisions with regard to the social and academic welfare of their children.
It was Magoha’s mother, for instance, who insisted on his joining Starehe Boys Centre even though there were other available options.
Magoha himself acknowledges the possibility that his life might have turned out differently had his mother not stood her ground on this matter.
Most importantly, Magoha’s story is a reminder of the fact that we still have a chance to salvage our nation from the claws of social ills such as nepotism, ethnicity, tribalism and racism.
Magoha appreciates that his meteoric academic and career progression was facilitated by individuals with whom he had no blood, ethnic or tribal ties.
A worthy case in point is the encounter between Magoha and Prof Francis John Gichaga, who was the University of Nairobi vice-chancellor in 1998.
While, on one of his usual tours of the university, Prof Gichaga was surprised to find Magoha, then holding brief for the professor in charge who was away on a sabbatical, personally supervising the installation of burglar proof grill at the Department of Surgery.
Professor Gichaga asked him his name, noted it down on his notebook and went away.
This incident marked the beginning of Magoha’s rise among the rank and file of university leadership eventually culminating in his appointment as the Vice Chancellor in the year 2005.
He repeatedly underscores the fact that his progress has always been pegged on merit. Is this not a sufficient proof that meritocracy is, after all, not completely dead in our society?