Sharp-tongued Magoha mellows as term ends

Sharp-tongued Magoha mellows as term ends

Education Cabinet Secretary Prof. George Magoha. | FILE

Prof. George Magoha has throughout his three-year term at the helm of the Education ministry gained a reputation for being an abrasive and no-nonsense Cabinet Secretary.

He has earned this by his straight face, sharp tongue, signature photochromic rimless spectacles, baggy suits and his beloved KN95 mask.

Prof. Magoha has waded through muddy waters facing resistance from parents, teachers and education stakeholders alike.

As the one in charge of the country’s transition from the 8-4-4 curriculum to CBC, the CS has endured criticism against the education system as well as a myriad of teething problems, but he has vowed that there is no turning back. 

He recently came out to express pride in how he has steered the agenda to the best of his ability, and told his critics “the concept of CBC is here to stay.”

Admission of primary school pupils into secondary school has also been a major battleground with parents as their children are admitted into schools in faraway lands they never thought they would find themselves in.

Prof. Magoha has however consistently rode over the backlash. "If we would let the parents have their way, you can be sure this would be a messy process,” he said in April.

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 have courted controversy among education stakeholders, so have they among human rights activists.

He recently sparked debate after making comments about gay students that did not sit down well with a section of Kenyans.

According to the CS, 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.

The latest fight Prof. Magoha has found himself in is the one with Muslims across the country in July 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.

Things are, however, changing as his term nears the end.

The sharp-tongued Magoha seems to have mellowed. Lately, the CS has been crisscrossing the country to inspect government projects and also making ‘off-the-cuff’ comments as he shares light moments with parents and teachers.

After the sudden closure of schools earlier this month to ensure early preparations for the August 9 General Election, there was outrage from parents and stakeholders who argued that they were not prepared.

The CS uncharacteristically came out to apologise for the ambush.

Just last week, 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."

Then this week, he took it a notch higher by saying most decisions he has 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.

Quite sweet-sounding, depending on who you ask, for someone who lit up the blogosphere and sent Kenyans online into a frenzy after a mere photo of him smiling emerged.

As he winds up his term in office under President Uhuru Kenyatta’s administration, the CS has expressed interest in carrying on his leadership of the education docket through the incoming government.

He has said he wants more time to oversee the construction of CBC classrooms into completion.

But here is the catch; give him the freedom to “crow” however he pleases.

“If somebody else wants my services, they will have to convince me that they will give me the same leeway that this president has given me to serve. Si mnaona ninawika na hakuna kitu inafanyika?,” he said last month.

“I feel free. I have been given the freedom to do my work without interference.”


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