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My Chance Encounter With Professor Magoha

As an Executive Committee member of one of the fastest-growing and member-driven Alumni Associations in the region, I am tasked with the role of ensuring that all functions of the Association are properly coordinated in line with our Association’s objectives.

One of my responsibilities involves drafting of the year’s calendar of events for deliberation and adoption by the Executive as well as implementing resolutions as so ordered.

If you have ever hosted an event, whether it’s a child’s birthday party or a wedding ceremony, you will no doubt agree with me that the preparations are similarly daunting regardless of the scope. This is where the saying that “It’s not over until it’s over!” rings truest.

It is noteworthy that prior to the registration of Dr.BAMU Alumni Association – Kenya, a few of us had met informally over lunch and resolved to elect an office, adopt a blue print and draft constitution for lodging with The Registrar of Societies.

Cabinet Secretary for Education, Professor. George Magoha.


For this purpose, a few Alumni had proposed a serene restaurant housed within the premises of one of the largest parastatals in the land as the convenient venue (unknown to us falling squarely under Professor Magoha’s ambit as the Board’s Chairperson).

Everything went according to plan and months later, after we had been issued with a Certificate of Registration, one of our main agendas would be to call for a Special General Meeting in order to address certain critical matters affecting our young Association that could not wait for the AGM later in the year.

In our attempt to cut costs since the new Executive Committee was basically funding the Association’s activities up to that point, we thought it would be prudent to utilise the same venue that we had held our first meeting if the attendant costs of hiring a hall could be circumvented.

With this in mind, the notice and accompanying minutes had been dispatched to all our registered members weeks in advance in readiness for the meeting.

I was the first one on the scene that cool and sunny, Saturday morning upbeat on the possible impact of the far-reaching resolutions set to be passed by the membership to bolster our young Alumni Association on an upward trajectory.

As I was offloading the last of the boxes containing Alumni paraphernalia and reports set for presentation from the car boot, our Chairman, Dr. Charles Nyambuga who had flown all the way from Kisumu that very morning arrived at the premises.

I was relieved to have some familiar face around as we prepared for the meeting which was set to take place later that afternoon.

As soon as I had locked the car doors, a smartly dressed, middle-aged man who had the gait of a professional athlete approached me with a stern look on his face and asked whether I had a written clearance to be in the premises.

I felt that this was a bit too early for our local TV producers to do their pranks, and besides that, I was not really in the mood for an inconsequential conversation with a stranger who possibly would never appreciate what it had taken for us to be standing on that soil at that very moment.

Perhaps realising that I was too set on my ways, the man turned back and headed towards a shiny, black fuel guzzler that I had barely noticed entering the premises a few minutes before, and seemed to exchange a few words with someone inside the vehicle who was obscured by its heavily tinted windows.

He then jogged back towards me and I immediately sensed some irritation building up inside me.

I was about to give him a piece of my mind and tell him that we were not in the premises to admire the buildings, but were preparing for a very important meeting which was a culmination of months and months of preparations and that he was standing in the way of that very objective.

The words “Mkubwa anakuita pale kwa gari” (The boss wants to have a word with you, he’s inside that vehicle.) rudely interrupted my thoughts no sooner had I cleared my throat.

I am mkubwa myself, so I thought, and felt that a fellow mkubwa would relate to the complexities of organising such an event better than my new -found acquaintance and would most probably give us a pass after exchanging some niceties.

I walked briskly behind our middle-man now in some exaggerated show of confidence in an attempt to avoid betraying any nervousness and was ushered to the front passenger side whereby the window was already halfway pulled down.

Suddenly, a booming voice from inside the car bellowed, “Who are you?” Perhaps out of my own self-importance then, I answered, “I am an official of Dr.BAMU Alumni Association – Kenya, and what seems to be the problem, Sir?”

The mysterious man pulled down the window and I didn’t immediately read too much into his forbidding and bespectacled face other than his designer suit and emotionless demeanour, obviously too engrossed in the tasks at hand such as sending the location pin to our members for directions and liaising with the caterers to ensure that the buffet would be copacetic, as soon as I was through with this unwelcome break.

“Dr. Who?” he scowled back.

I explained that our Alma Mater was named after a famed Indian nationalist, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, and was situated in a city known as Aurangabad, Maharashtra State in India. You can tell I didn’t want him to waste any of the precious time at our disposal on Wikipedia.

He then wondered aloud why he had not been informed of any activity taking place within the premises during that day and proceeded to call the C.E.O of the said parastatal for the memo.

I could hear the said C.E.O’s voice over the phone and from the distant mumble could tell he was practically fighting for his job.

At first, I thought the gentleman was taking the matter a bit too far and proceeded to explain that this would be a brief meeting of Alumni who have never met since finishing their studies in India years ago.

I remained adamant that a change of venue at that particular juncture was out of the question and threw the ball in his court, so to speak, by asking him to put himself in my shoes.”Our members were on their way from all over the country headed towards the venue, how could I now tell them that there’s been a change of plans at the eleventh hour?”, I posed.

Just when he was pondering on a reply, our Chairman, who had been on and off his phone all this time while closely following the dialogue stepped forward and politely addressed the said gentleman as “Professor!”

And just like a veil had been lifted from my eyes, it dawned on me that the person I had been engaging for the previous fifteen minutes or so was Professor George Magoha, the famed former UoN, no-nonsense Vice Chancellor!

Realising that his anonymous facade had been blown, the Professor stepped out of his vehicle and walked with us a few steps away from the his handlers’ earshot, whom I later appreciated were his bodyguard and driver.

To say that I was mesmerised would be an understatement.

I actually do not recall exactly what our Chairman told him that formed the tipping point because all of a sudden the Professor had softened his hard stance and was willing to have us accommodated within the premises as long as we abided by some conditions that he would introduce on the spot.

I could notice our Chairman casually throwing the word Alumni every now and then as they talked, probably trying to elicit nostalgic memories from the good Professor’s days as the University of Nairobi’s Vice Chancellor. From where I stood, it sort of disarmed him and I could tell there was some camaraderie developing between them.

I guess with their PhDs and both having a background in the academia, they could reach a consensus at a certain wavelength I could not appreciate at that instance.

The Professor hinted on the issue of the heightened security around the premises especially since returning from Cuba to vet the Doctors as commissioned by the President of the Republic of Kenya as the main cause of concern.

As a result, the confidential data within the offices warranted a security clearance for all our potential attendees, something which we could not guarantee as officials.

Then he turned towards me and said, “You look like an educated person; can you guarantee me and the Kenyan taxpayer that all your Association’s members that plan to attend your meeting today have a clean record and that there is no criminal amongst them who might try to compromise the security of this place?”

For a moment I was stuck at ‘educated person’, especially coming from the famed Professor and actually considered telling him, as a matter of fact, he was right on that note. Some part of my brain actually thought of pointing out that my Curriculum Vitae is filled with six solid pages that capture my enlightenment over the years, bits of which I was condensing in to words as we spoke – but I’m glad that thought dissipated as quickly as it had formed.

This particular moment flashed back in my mind recently during his vetting by the Parliamentary Committee on Appointments for the position of the Cabinet Secretary for Education, which in my view was a mere formality. You all know about his 91 –pages CV.

Prior to this, it had never occurred to me that a CV could contain a Table of Contents, and this reality kind of neutered my ego; I can say I am a more humble man now.

Before parting ways, the Professor stated his conditions – that we would only proceed with the meeting as long as it took place before 2.00 pm and that he would have to be present, as the authoriser, if he would be back by 1.00 pm from a meeting that he was rushing to.

The latter condition sounded like music to our ears. The Chairman and myself promptly updated this exciting development on all our social media platforms in an attempt to garner a larger turnout by influencing the undecided members.

At about noon, our Chairman received a call from the afore-mentioned C.E.O who relayed the message from the Professor that he regretted he would not be able to attend the Special General Meeting as earlier advised.

That meant we had to look for an alternative venue.

We were taken aback by the news but quickly accepted and moved on.

Fortunately, the Chairman had been constantly in touch with our very versatile Treasurer, Carol Muhando for a Plan B as soon as the Professor entered the scene, and gladly, two alternative venues had already been identified.

We resolutely packed our paraphernalia once again and dashed for the proposed venues’ assessment whereby we settled for one which in hindsight proved to be the best option among the three in terms of member convenience.

We later on held our Meeting as from 2.00 pm as scheduled after frantically making calls to all our members advising them of the sudden turn of events.

Gladly, our members were very supportive and I am proud to report that adhering to the far-reaching resolutions thereby reached has made us make tremendous strides as an Association in such a short time.

So when President Uhuru Kenyatta nominated Professor Magoha as the CS, Education, I sensed that the House Committee would never prepare enough for this phenomenal human being. As it turned out, the vocal MPs could not hold a candle to the Professor’s intellect and seemed wowed by his terse and unapologetic responses.

Importantly, what I learnt from our chance encounter with the Professor is to always stick to your word and walk the talk, which is otherwise referred to as integrity. Have a robust value system and decision-making will be easy.

Secondly, it is important to delegate but be hands on to ensure effective execution. Ensure that procedures are in place and are followed to the letter and enforce them whenever you get the opportunity to do so because you don’t know who is watching.

Our first General Meeting was a baptismal by fire as you can tell  and since then, our event preparations are more organised in the hands a very capable and experienced Social/Events Subcommittee in place for seamless execution.

In life you have to be versatile and be able to roll with the punches.

Lastly, I learned to be firm but kind.

To Professor Magoha: They should have handed you this mantle years ago, but we are nonetheless assured that with you at the helm, the new Competency Based Curriculum (CBC) will be implemented effectively and efficiently. Kenya’s future lies in your hands, Sir. You will deliver. Just continue being yourself.


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