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A conversation with weatherman Nguatah Francis

Saturday April 20 2019

Nguatah Francis

Mr Nguatah Francis. The Nyeri County Director of Meteorology. He joined the Ministry of Transport in 1984, beginning a long career in public service. PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

WILLIAM RUTHI
By WILLIAM RUTHI
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We need Nguatah Francis now, perhaps more than ever before.

We need him to stride across the television screen with a cane in hand and say: “Look, it’s going to rain. The rain is coming.”

That’s what he’s saying to me on the phone. His voice is as lucid as it ever was. It is the kind of voice that makes someone believe, hope, have some faith.

In his day, when he walked into the room, his thatch of hair pushed back and stood in front of the board and proceeded to predict the weather, the public believed.

“It will rain, only that it will be inadequate for the scale of farming that we would expect,” Mr Francis is saying on phone.

A quick crash course on the TV landscape before the early 2000s: There was a time, until about 15 years ago, when the weather forecast was part of local television news.

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BLEAK DAYS

Not graphics, but a segment of about three and a half minutes with greetings and all. No one did it better than Mr Francis. There were other weather presenters on KBC TV, but Mr Francis was the culture.

“Hello viewer, my name is Nguatah Francis,” he’d say. And with that signature line the weatherman rode into the culture, popular culture too.

Even now, a spoken word artist or a hip-hop musician will throw in a line, mentioning his name, something in the neighbourhood of: You want the truth? Ask Nguatah Francis.

More than ever, the public wants the truth. The internet is crying out for answers, I tell Mr Francis. The people want to know why it hasn’t rained yet.

A few days ago, the Nation quoted the weather office in a headline that said there will be no rain. “You know when a part of your body is in pain, it is the worst pain you have ever felt at that moment,” Mr Francis says.

“But as soon as the pain is gone you forget it until some other pain comes and it’s the worst pain you’ve ever gotten. We shall get over it, the temperature will go down.”

DROUGHT

What the veteran weatherman is saying is that this kind of drought has occurred in the past. “Certainly, human activity has contributed to the current situation; we have tampered with the environment so we have had a role.”

He goes on: “There are reports of cyclones in the Indian Ocean denying us (the) moisture needed for sufficient rain. It will come and go. But there are certain things beyond our control, our prediction.”

With the liberalisation of the airwaves in the early 2000s that saw a deluge of new TV and radio stations, there was a sudden departure from tradition.

“There was change in the way stations wanted things done. They wanted young faces but the department didn’t have young people,” Mr Francis explains.

And so the Francis chapter folded and the man moved on. He was never employed by KBC.

“People didn’t know that at the time I was employed by the Ministry of Transport under which the Meteorological Department fell.”

AVIATION

The reason for this structure is that the aviation industry, which is part of transport, is one of the biggest clients of the weather department.

In any case, Mr Francis explains, weather applies to nearly all sectors of government and life in general.

“I worked at the airport (JKIA) for a while then I auditioned for presenter at KBC in 1987,” Mr Francis says. “I think my interaction with viewers caused people to think that I was an employee of the station.”

Mr Francis, 60, grew up in Maringo Estate in Nairobi. He studied at Dr Krapf Primary School before joining Starehe Boys Centre for his secondary education.

He was a schoolmate of former broadcaster, Cabinet minister and politician Raphael Tuju and political activist Mwandawiro Mghanga.

CAREER

At first he wanted to be a doctor. “While at Starehe I visited hospitals, but I realised that that was not my thing,” Mr Francis says.

“I did a Bsc in Meteorology at the University of Nairobi because I wanted to understand weather issues. Weather fascinated me a lot.”

He joined the Ministry of Transport in 1984, beginning a long career in public service. After his broadcasting gig, Mr Francis moved back to his old station at the ministry.

By 2006, he had risen to the rank of Provincial Director of Meteorology. Upon the adoption of the new Constitution in 2010, Mr Francis was appointed Nyeri County Director of Meteorology. It is his last posting as he is set to retire soon.

AWARD

Last year, President Uhuru Kenyatta awarded him a Head of State Commendation for his illustrious career. “I am an extrovert; I laugh; I sing; I walk a lot, and I enjoy living.”

He adds in jest: “It is the hair that sells me. The white is the result of global warming.”

What is next for the restless man? “I will rest a bit as I contemplate life as a senior citizen. I can be an elder in the church, or a farmer. What I know is that I will continue being a weatherman,” says the father of two adult daughters.