Prof George Magoha: Tale Of A Towering Medic And Academic

© Victor Ochieng’ (2023)

Tower of Transformational Leadership by Prof George Magoha; is one of the marvellous memoirs I read in 2022. The heroic book of this iconic academic and medic retails at Ksh 2,320 at Prestige Bookshop in the heart of Nairobi Town. Before the grim reaper plucked him from the garden of life, he served as Vice Chancellor of University of Nairobi, chairperson of Kenya National Examination Council (KNEC), Cabinet Secretary of Education. He also served at the helm of Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentist Board (KMPDB), Association of Medical Councils of Africa (AMCOA) and International Association of Medical Regulatory Authorities (IAMRA). 

George Magoha was born on July 2, 1952, in the Gem of Siaya County. He started schooling at Jina Primary School. However, when he reached STD 4, he relocated to Nairobi, in Jericho Lumumba Estate, where he joined Dr. David Livingstone Primary School in 1964. After that, he joined Starehe Boys Centre: started by Dr. Geoffrey Griffins in 1959. 

He was also member of a band called L’Orchestre Luna Success de la Capital, which later morphed to L’Orchestre Lunna Kidi. It was founded by Ochieng’ Kabbaselleh, who was a student at Pumwani High School. Magoha played a bass guitar for a year. 

When he left Starehe Boys Centre, he matriculated into the Strathmore College in 1971 for his A Level. He specialised in Physics, Chemistry and Biology at the advanced level, and general paper at the subsidiary level. 

After Strathmore College, he applied to study Medicine at the University of Nairobi. Serendipitously, it went through. However, shortly afterwards, the Association of African Universities (AAU) Interaf Scholarships became available. Fortunately, he featured under that scholarship scheme: to pursue Medicine in Zambia. He swapped with another student. He chose to pursue Medicine at the College of Medicine of the University of Lagos, in Nigeria. 

In April 1978, he qualified to become a medical doctor. He passed through the five years at the medical school, without repeating any exam. He applied for internship to the Chief Medical Director of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital. They posted him in the medical wards. He spent three months each in the major clinical specialities of internal medicine, surgery, paediatrics, obstetrics and gynaecology. His surgical internship posting was to the urology unit of the department of surgery. 

Call it a fortunate twist of fate. It was during his short stint in the anatomy laboratory, at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital that he met Odudu Barbara Essien. The sophomore medical student that later became the love of his life, wife. As Chinua Achebe writes in A Man of the People, they fell for one another, and called it a game. They tied the knot on May 15, 1982, and went for honeymoon in the Republic of Togo. Their only begotten son, Michael Augustus Achianja Magoha, now a neurosurgeon, saw sunrise on March 18, 1985 at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital. 

George Magoha successfully completed his internship in 1979. He applied for registration as a medical practitioner with the Nigeria Medical Council. After registration, he secured recommendation for surgical training at the National Postgraduate Medical College of Nigeria. The training was to take place at the Lagos University and Teaching Hospital.

After internship, he started preparing for the Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons (FRCS) Examinations. The Nigerian part of fellowship was a bit protracted. It involved a one-year senior appointment in the developed western world, and a thesis, too. His first postgraduate training posting was to the Surgical Accident and Emergency Unit of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital. 

In January 1980, the Lagos University Teaching Hospital gave him a study leave: to prepare for the FRCS examinations at the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland in Dublin. He later returned to Lagos to continue with further training. They posted him to the general surgery unit, within the Nigeria National Postgraduate Medical College at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital. Later as part of rotation, he served in other surgical specialities such as paediatric, cardiothoracic, orthopaedics and plastic surgery. Then, he proceeded to the University of Ibadan’s Medical School: to sit for another exam, which was within the Nigeria National Postgraduate Medical College. When he passed the exam, he rose to senior resident in surgery, hence posted to the urology unit at his request. 

George Magoha returned to Kenya in 1987: to teach at the University of Nairobi. He emerged as a strong candidate, because he had published six papers in peer-reviewed journals on the subject of testicular torsion, breast cancer, cancer of the prostate, and C-reactive protein concentration after renal transplantation. . 

He reported to work on January 6, 1988: to earn a doit amount of Ksh 6,000. In Nigeria, he was earning a colossal salary of around Ksh 100,000 in teaching and consultancy. Patriotism and altruism, gave him the drive. Above all, he was glad and grateful to return to his motherland, after being away in Nigeria, United Kingdom and Ireland for 15 solid years. His noble duties at the University of Nairobi included teaching undergraduate medical students, as well as postgraduate students pursuing general surgery and urology. 

He opened a part-time surgical and urological consultancy clinic at Hurlingham, in Nairobi. This was after obtaining a part-time private practice licence by the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Board (KMPDB). The university approved it on condition that he attends to patients only after work, on weekends or public holidays. 

In 1996, he became an Associate Professor of Surgery. He qualified for the promotion after supervising eight Master of Surgery students to completion. He had published 23 peer-reviewed scholarly articles, in both local and international journals. He had participated and presented papers in many local and international surgical and urological conferences. Such great achievements poised him for thrills and hills ahead. He was in charge of examinations in the department. In 2000, he became the Dean, Faculty of Medicine, unopposed. He was in charge of all academic programmes, to be part of Deans Committee and to sit at the Senate. 

It was at that point in time that there was an advertisement for the position of full professorship. He applied. For he had supervised to completion over 22 Master of Medicine Surgery theses, published 32 peer-reviewed publications in local and international scholarly journals, and participated in several academic conferences. After the interviews, he became a full professor of surgery at the College of Health Sciences of the University of Nairobi. 

In 2001, he acted as the Principal of the School of Health Sciences. He later became the substantive Principal in the same faculty. His work revolved around the management of three faculties: Medicine, pharmacy and dentistry. He joined the University Management Board (UMB). He also started attending meetings convened by the University Council. 

In April 2002, Prof George Magoha became the Deputy Vice Chancellor (Administration and Finance). He was in charge of administration, budgeting, finance, personnel issues and assets. 

On January 5, 2005, Professor George Magoha became the sixth Vice Chancellor of the University of Nairobi. He served for ten years. When he picked the job, he created an efficient team within the management. He focused on teamwork and decentralised system of management units. He signed a performance contract with the University Council, involving specific measurable targets. The most exigent target was to establish the maiden University of Nairobi Corporate Strategic Plan (2005-2010). He brought on board experts of Strategic Planning from the School of Business and the School of Computing and Informatics. 

Prof George Magoha attributes his success as a Vice Chancellor to professional training of his team. He focused on financial management, human resource management, integrity, performance contracting, ISO certification, student management, time management, public procurement, industrial relations, policy formulation, good corporate governance, team building and bonding. 

Therefore, through his managerial genius, the university excelled in teaching, research, scholarship, consultancy, community service, good governance and management. He also implemented the Module II academic programmes that kept the university afloat. Under his vigilant watch, the University of Nairobi grew in leaps and bounds. Student enrolment went up. Diversity of curricular offered increased. There was improvement in international ranking, increased asset base, revenue enhancement, high staff retention, new collaborations and linkages. 

University of Nairobi Towers came up during his tenure. Undoubtedly, it was the most ambitious and expensive project in that university since its provenance in 1970. They raised Ksh 2.8 Billion through firm financial management. Two donors also contributed towards the construction. The Chandaria Foundation contributed 50 Million. 

In 2006, Prof George Magoha enrolled for an executive programme at Stanford University, which brought together leaders and executive officers from different parts of the world: to learn new things and share experiences in corporate governance and best management practices. 

In 2014, Prof George Magoha represented public universities at the Kenya Universities and Colleges Placement Service (KUCCPS). Subsequently, in 2016, President Uhuru Kenyatta appointed him to serve as the chairperson of the Kenya National Examinations Council (KNEC). The appointment came at a point when the brand of the council was bad. Everybody expected the new blood to end the rampant cheating that dented exam integrity. So, when Dr. Fred Matiang’i was the Cabinet Secretary of Education, and Prof George Magoha was the chairperson of KNEC, they curbed the culture of cheating.  

In conclusion, Prof George Magoha was a gem from Gem, whose game was good. Before he succumbed to cardiac arrest, he had a brilliant thought of chronicling his experiences and accomplishments in the education sector where he had made a splendid record. He intended to pen a sequel of the Tower of Transformational Leadership. The heroic book was to talk about CBC implementation and explain how he managed the education sector as a Cabinet Secretary when Covid-19 pandemic reigned with rage. One of the proposed working titles of the book was: Weathering the Storm: How we managed the Education Sector under Covid-19. 

The reviewer is an avid reader, author and public speaker. [email protected]. 0704420232