By Prudence Minayo
Daystar University is the oldest private university in Kenya and a market leader when it comes to producing world class journalists. The university has been in existence for more than four decades and counting. It is known for being one of the best schools for aspiring media and communication practitioners. The university has grown to have three campuses in Kenya offering 58 degree programmes.
The institution has churned the country’s top journalists and media gurus including Larry Madowo, Waihiga Mwaura, Johnson Mwakazi, Liz Ntojira, Betty Kyallo and comedian Eric Omondi.
The university was founded by Dr. Donald Smith and his wife Faye Smith. The name Daystar was coined from 2 Peter 1:19 given that the couple were Christian missionaries.
Dr. Donald Smith and Faye went to South Africa in 1952 as missionary teachers. This was the same year the state of emergency was declared in Kenya. The apartheid rule in South Africa proved difficult and three years after arriving in the country, the government took over all mission schools. The government said the schools were preparing Africans for a life forbidden by the apartheid regime. Instead, another form of education called Bantu was introduced by the apartheid government. The couple believed this education only prepared Africans to be servants and since they were opposed to apartheid, they refused to stay on as teachers in South Africa.
The two developed a publishing house in Johannesburg, South Africa. They would release a monthly Christian magazine titled Our Africa. They trained and hired Africans.
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“All the work at the magazine was done by staff that had no experience; I had worked on a daily newspaper so the group assumed that made me qualified. I think we pulled it off despite all our ignorance and inexperience and the magazine succeeded,” Dr. Donald said in a past interview
The publication grew to become the fourth largest in the continent. However, some of its sponsors were unhappy that Africans were involved in running it.
Things changed drastically as most African countries began gaining independence. The apartheid government didn’t want awareness about its practices. The managing editor was arrested and only released after the Smiths protested. Not wanting to aggravate the government, their sponsors dropped them.
Move to Zimbabwe
The Smiths were forced to close the publishing house and moved to Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. Starting over once again, they secured jobs with Rhodesia Christian Press. They trained Africans for roles in the press and turned Rhodesia into a successful enterprise.
In 1966, Smith began training people in his home. At the same time, he undertook a second Masters degree and a PHD from the University of Oregon. The verandah and living room became classrooms while the guest cottage served as an accommodation place. They were able to rent a nearby building and founded the first international media institute.
They enrolled their first 35 students in partnership with Wheaton College, USA. The students came from 20 different nationalities and underwent a rigorous 6-weeks graduate credit.
Move to Kenya
The institution grew and the couple moved to East Africa, settling in Kenya. It is here that Daystar University would be born. The sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe in 1972 made it hard for international students to enroll. Hence, all operations moved to Kenya. It started as Daystar Communication College and two years later partnered with Messiah College in USA’s Philadelphia area to begin offering Bachelors and Masters’ programs.
The Smiths later relocated from Kenya to the USA and left the institution in the capable hands of a few professors including Prof. Stephen Talitwala. About 30 years after leaving Kenya, the Smiths returned in 2012 to settle.
Donald and Faye Smith have two children: Dr. Julisa Rowe and Prof. Vanice Smith. Julisa, a mother of two, lives in Nairobi with her husband Bill Rowe. She has a BA in Theatre Arts and English from Westmont College, an MA in Intercultural Ministries and PHD in Missiology from Western Seminary. Julisa is a lecturer in Music and Drama at Daystar University.
Prof. Vance attended Lenana School in Kenya before proceeding to Westmont College followed by University of Virginia for a PHD in English. He is a lecturer at Princeton University.