As the passing on of high-profile political figures hogs media headlines, the education sector lost an icon in the person of Nellie Wanjiku Njuguna.
The proprietor of St Nicholas schools in Nairobi died within a fortnight that plunged the nation into mourning Senator GG Kariuki (June 30), Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Nkaissery (July 8), former Cabinet Minister Nicholas Biwott (July 11), and former diplomat Bethuel Kiplagat (July 13).
Mr Biwott aka ‘Total Man’, was arguably the most powerful minister in the Moi era, while Mr Kiplagat chaired the ill-fated Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC), whose findings are yet to be publicly shared.
While acres of newspaper space have been dedicated to the politicians, not an iota (unless I missed it) has been written on Mrs Njuguna — one of Kenya’s greatest educationists — outside the obituary pages.
I might not be writing this opinion if I had not been challenged by Mr Chris Kirubi, the guest speaker at a Strathmore University media breakfast last Friday.
The industrialist and chairman of Brand Kenya spent the better part of his address dressing down journalists for what he called their warped sense of news, and hate of their country.
Mr Kirubi is among Kenya’s richest men. He is also a philanthropist and faults the media for their fixation with failure.
He actually called journalists “gravediggers’”, who delight in failed enterprises as opposed to success stories.
The owner of 98.4 Capital FM did not spare his own staff.
He accused them and others of rarely according him space despite his great contribution to the economy.
The industrialist is associated with Centum, Haco Industries, UAP Insurance, Nairobi Bottlers and the biometric health card that has saved the health sector billions in fraudulent claims.
In an eerie turn of events the following day, the funeral service of Mrs Njuguna at the Holy Family Basilica proved Mr Kirubi’s point.
The attention the beleaguered Nakumatt chain of supermarkets has received, is proof of this.
For the time-conscious Catholic Church to have granted four-and-a-half hours to mourners to eulogise Mrs Njuguna was a statement in itself, as was the inclusion of regular opinion writers for the Nation, Dominic Wamugunda and Lawrence Njoroge.
The two university dons (Nairobi and Jkuat) were among the eight concelebrants at the funeral Mass.
Like Kirubi, they lamented that a woman who had accomplished so much for the education sector was hardly known to the media.
One of the priests noted that three weeks before she succumbed to leukaemia, Mrs Njuguna had lamented in a magazine article the habit of waiting until one is dead to eulogise one.
“What’s the point?” she had asked.
Mrs Njuguna was in the league of Dr Eddah Gachukia of the Riara Group of Schools and university, and Mrs Mary Elizabeth Okelo, the co-founder of Makini Schools.
But while Dr Gachukia holds a PhD in literature and Mrs Okello a Bachelor’s degree in history, Mrs Njuguna was a primary schoolteacher before she went to the UK to study nursing.
However, after a short stint at the Kenyatta National Hospital and the Nairobi City Council, she quit nursing to start St Nicholas kindergarten, which had evolved to a primary school and a high school by the time she died at 80.
Editors and media proprietors have the ability to change the narrative from doom and gloom to celebrating national heroes and Mrs Njuguna was one.
As Mr Kirubi noted, a foreigner visiting Kenya for investment opportunities would be forgiven for taking the next flight out, thinking that he had landed in the wrong place, what with negative stories!
Ms Kweyu is a freelance writer and consulting editor. [email protected]
Mrs Njuguna had lamented in a magazine article the habit of waiting until one is dead to eulogise one.