When President Uhuru Kenyatta announced the nomination of Prof George Magoha as the incoming Cabinet Secretary for Education, it was only a matter of minutes before his 91-page CV started circulating.
Kenyans were intrigued at the wealth of experience and the thicket of scholarly work achieved by Prof Magoha, a man whom everyone I know who knows him describes as “no-nonsense” and a “performer”. In fact, my friend — who has worked closely with Prof Magoha in the past — says that Prof’s appointment was “long overdue” and was surprised that the President had not appointed him sooner.
But like a typical journalist, I was cynical about Magoha’s appointment. We journalists are trained to be sceptical; it is hammered in you not to believe the hype, especially when it comes to seemingly messianic individuals who are expected to step in to save the day.
I was pessimistic until Thursday, when the Prof appeared before the Parliamentary Committee on Appointments. My mind was changed and now I am a believer.
I am well aware that I might have to swallow my words in the future, but let me say this, Prof Magoha has my vote, and I believe — without a doubt — that he is the right man for the job.
It is not about his papers, really. I personally don’t ascribe to academic credentialism and I don’t think it is wise to judge an individual’s capacity to perform based on his academic qualifications alone. In the highly unlikely event that Magoha’s appointment is not approved by Parliament, let it be for other reasons, but not his confidence, courage and self-assuredness.
In a country where children are taught that confidence is equal to arrogance and fear is likened to humility, Prof Magoha’s self-confidence and the staunch belief in himself is what Kenyan children need to see and emulate; a man comfortable with himself, unintimidated by none and a man confident in his own capabilities.
Kenyan children do not just need a Cabinet Secretary that will ward off paedophilic teachers and ensure that they do not cheat in exams. These children also need, for the second time since Fred Matiang’i, a man they can look up to with admiration. They need an inspirational Cabinet Secretary, and that is what Magoha is, among many other things - such as being married to Dr Odudu Barbara Magoha, with whom they have a son, Dr Michael Magoha!
Prof Magoha’s story is profoundly motivating in many ways. His story teaches us that it matters not where you come from, but where you are going. A professor of surgery and consultant urologist who was born and bred in Jerusalem estate in Nairobi’s Eastlands.
A young boy who would work his way up from Jina Primary School in Yala and Dr David Livingstone Primary School in Nairobi to Starehe Boys Centre and later to study medicine at The University of Lagos.
A student of medicine who would go on to become a renowned consultant urologist and an award-winning researcher, commanding both local and international recognition.
A professor of medicine who would make the transition from the lecture halls to administration and later to public service, leaving a trail of achievements and earning himself reputation as a no-nonsense performer who is now at the helm of the country’s education management.
You can chalk that up to resilience and unmatched diligence, but whatever you attribute Prof Magoha’s success to, you will agree with me that the incoming CS for education teaches our children — through his own personal story — that anything is possible. That you can achieve whatever you set your mind to, for as long as you apply yourself in your studies, think boundlessly and work hard.
Finally, a young man who proved that you do not need to attend expensive schools or even Ivy League universities to become the best, that you can use whatever resource life affords you to achieve greatness. I love the story of Magoha because it is relatable and real, and many of us see ourselves in this man who is expected to turn around our education system.
I am unsure of what the future holds for Magoha, should Parliament approve of his appointment. What I do know, though, is that he has a herculean task ahead of him, a task that I am certain he can handle given his strong-willed stoicism. He will have to fight cartels that have infiltrated the system, oversee a new curriculum and bring back honour to our education system.
I don’t know about you, but I think Kenyan children are in a safe pair of hands.
Viva, Prof Magoha!