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Magoha’s Abrasive, No-Nonsense Style Earned Him Friends And Foes In Equal Measure

The late former Education Cabinet Secretary Professor George Albert Omore Magoha was famed for many things, but the most outstanding would perhaps be his no-nonsense style of leadership in public service.

Prof. Magoha, an illustrious scholar and distinguished medical doctor, served in government as chairperson of the Kenya National Examination Council (KNEC) and Cabinet Secretary for Education where he is credited for instituting far-reaching reforms that earned him friends and foes in equal measure.

The 71-year-old full professor of surgery and consultant urologist has been described as a stickler for discipline and efficiency in the professional field.

At the Ministry of Education where he served as Cabinet Secretary, Prof. Magoha was faced with resistance from parents, teachers and education stakeholders, especially in the roll-out of the Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC).

Despite the criticism he faced, as the one in charge of the country’s transition from the 8-4-4 curriculum to CBC, Magoha stood firm and came out to express pride in how he steered the agenda to the best of his ability, even telling his critics that “the concept of CBC is here to stay.”

“If we would let the parents have their way, you can be sure this would be a messy process,” he said in April 2022.

As for those who felt “they are in a position to take their children to private schools,” he said unflinchingly, “they are free to do so.”

As Magoha’s decisions courted controversy among education stakeholders, so did they among human rights activists when it came to the agenda of gay students in Kenya.

The then Education CS went on record to state that students who are gay should be day scholars, not boarding schools so that they do not “bother” their classmates in their dormitories.

His comments would put activists up in arms against him, calling for his dismissal.

“You can be a good homosexual who does not disturb anybody you go and do your thing when you are out of school,” he later said to ‘clarify’ his earlier comments which he said had been misunderstood.

While still in the public service, Magoha at one point sparked public uproar when he publicly insulted Uasin Gishu County Director of Education (CDE) Gitonga Mbaka over the “untidy” state of Langas Primary School in Eldoret.

“Nikisema wewe ni mjinga ni uwongo? (Would I be wrong if I say you are stupid)? You are talking about a report and I’m talking about what is here on the ground. You can go, I said you get away from here, wewe ni mjinga kabisa (You are very stupid),” said Magoha to the much dismay of other officials who had accompanied him at the school.

In July of 2022, Prof. Magoha would set the stage for a battle with the Muslim community after he made remarks construed to have ethnically profiled a female journalist at a press conference in Nairobi.

Magoha purportedly implied that the NTV reporter might have ties to outlawed terror group al-Shabaab owing to the fact that she was donning a hijab, a head garment that is typically worn by Muslim women.

When she asked him a question after his presser, CS Magoha replied: “Kwanza wewe unatoka wapi? Who are you representing? Because if you’re representing Al-Shabaab I will not answer you.”

He later apologised, but only after condemnation from political leaders, the clergy and the Media Council of Kenya.

However, at the tail end of his tenure in the Ministry of Education, Prof. Magoha appeared to have mellowed and even apologised to Kenyans whom he offended by his mode of operation.

In August 2022 after the elections, Magoha thanked Kenyans for bringing out his good and bad traits while in government, saying serving in his capacity was not easy because he had to be firm in some situations.

“I want to thank you for having walked with me and having taken the good, the bad and the ugly side of me because that is a human being,” said Magoha.

“There is nobody who is perfect, I believe that in order for me to be given the opportunity to serve in this capacity it was purely by the grace of God.”

He apologised to Kenyans, saying: “I have been very firm and in between the firmness I have cracked certain jokes… if any of those jokes have gone to the wrong side, that was not the intention and my apologies to the general public about that.”

A week later, he took it a notch higher by saying most decisions he made in his reign are out of goodwill and not meant to hurt parents.

“I know they say I make a lot of noise but parents will miss me because of the good work I’ve done for them,” he said.

Professor George Albert Omore Magoha succumbed to cardiac arrest at the Nairobi Hospital. He was aged 71.

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