Described as the “father of communication and journalism” and a veteran and meticulous researcher and scholar, the soft-spoken Dr Joseph Mwololo Mbindyo cut the figure of the most ordinary person because of his unassuming nature and deep humility.
But there was no doubt for most people—particularly his students—within about five minutes of meeting him that you were in the presence of a great mind and person.
Mbindyo, as he was simply known, died at 70 on Saturday on the way to Kenyatta National Hospital.
Nowhere was this brilliance better demonstrated than in his supervision of students conducting research.
Many walked into his office with a vague, winding, general topic of the research that they wanted to study.
From this thread of a topic, Mbindyo first guided the student to deconstruct or break down the specifics of the general topic then narrow down to an area they could research in.
He would then steer the student to reconstruct or build the focused topic into a framework.
You walked in with a really ambiguous idea and—voila!—you walked out knowing clearly and in a stepwise fashion what your proposal looked like and how you would formulate it. This was a rare gift; almost uncanny.
This guidance continued throughout the research process and Mbindyo corrected the work in a manner that left even the most uncertain student with dignity.
Because of his expertise in research, he would often call out the few students who attempted to “cook” their data. But all with a lot patience and, sometimes, humour.
His analytical ability and in-depth thinking also resulted in the school developing high-calibre syllabi and graduates.
At a meeting to develop a bachelor’s degree programme, team members were highly frustrated and at their wits’ end as they could not figure out how to organise a diversity of course units within a structure.
Mbindyo listened and read through the various courses, left the meeting for about 20 minutes and, on his return, went to a blackboard and drew a framework that enabled the team to almost automatically slot in the course units.
His ability to think visually and use modelling assisted several doctoral students who got stuck as they did their research and wrote their theses.
A story is told of a conference that Mbindyo attended, which was hosted by Unesco.
As one of the keynote speakers, he delivered a speech that had the audience give him a standing ovation.
He was then introduced to the director-general of Unesco and asked to sit at the high table for the rest of the session.
He would become one of the most sought-after consultants on communication and media in Africa and worked for Unesco, FAO, UNFPA and UNDP, among others. He contributed greatly to development of training modules for FAO and UNFPA and training of practitioners.
Mbindyo was instrumental in the founding of African Council for Communication Education (ACCE) by scholars including the late Francis Ugboajah, the late Professor Alfred Opubor and the late Prof Paul Ansah, who established an environment and platform for scholarly engagement by African scholars and practitioners on communication and media concerns.
Under ACCE, many young African scholars were mentored and nurtured and the discourse on communication and media for and in development cultivated.
Students got the benefit of interacting with renowned African scholars at meetings and accessing materials at the resource and documentation centre hosted by the school in collaboration with ACCE.
The mention of Mbindyo’s name continues to elicit nostalgia in most alumni—particularly graduates of the postgraduate diploma in Mass Communication. As director of the School of Journalism (now School of Journalism and Mass Communication), he wielded his authority with great sensitivity, leading to a deep sense of camaraderie and fondness within the school.
His personality and demeanour allowed him to supervise and manage the school by relating to people at their level.
His brilliance never consumed him and he was “Mbindyo” to most staff and students and “Joseph” to some. Here was an extraordinary mind with extraordinary ideas expressed in the simplest approach and manner.
Mbindyo greatly influenced the growth and expansion of the school. He negotiated a programme with the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) where eight Kenyans were trained at the University of Western Ontario for their Master’s in Journalism.
It included two-week courses for practising journalists, hosted between UWO, the school and the media fraternity.
Trainers were drawn from faculty at UWO and the school, as well as the Canadian and Kenyan media.
Dr Joseph Mwololo Mbindyo’s lasting impressions from our interactions with him, and his legacy at the school, shall remain with us.
The alumni are well placed within the communication and media community in Kenya, Africa and globally. He has, indeed, left an indelible mark within the sector.
Dr Kiai is a former director of the School of Journalism of the University of Nairobi [email protected]