Hilary Ng’weno; The nuclear physicist who conquered media

Hilary Ng'weno died nine days after turning 83. He is survived by his wife Fleur and their children.?

Hilary Ng’weno, the nuclear physicist who ventured into media has breathed his last at the age of 83.

The news of Ngweno’s death spread like wildfire on the evening of 7, July 2021. He has died at a time when news travels faster than light.

For the media, his death is a blow to an industry reeling from the loss of yet another luminary, the late Philip Ochieng who died in April 2021 at the age of 83.

Ng’weno was an accomplished storyteller, editor, author and media owner.

His larger-than-life media profile transcended print and broadcast media by the time he slowed down in retirement a few years ago.

Studied at Harvard

Born and raised in Nairobi, Ng’weno went to Mangu high school before going to the United States where he studied physics and mathematics at Harvard University.

When he returned to Kenya, it was not to teach physics, but to take up a reporter role at The Daily Nation newspaper, starting a course of life that would later be described as “critically important in postcolonial Kenyan history.”

“I left Harvard and worked for nine months as a reporter for the Daily Nation, then I was appointed its first African editor-in-chief. That’s the only training I have ever had in newspaper work,” he said in an interview in 1975.

Tributes from fellow journalists

Joe Odindo, a veteran editor mourned Ngweno as the “greatest of Kenyan journalists” and “one who did more for the profession than any has ever done.”

He said Ng’weno set up an indigenous Kenyan media, opened new frontiers for Kenyan media including children writing, humor, analysis among others, and trained an illustrious cadre of journalists.

“For Hilary, it was always a first. In terms of who he trained, the question becomes who he didn’t train. A whole lot of us went through his able hands. Wachira Waruru, Kwendo Opanga, Jaindi Kisero, Peter Warutere, to mention but a few,” Odindo said.

Odindo also celebrated Ng’weno for making the written and spoken word powerful enough to shape the history of Kenya.

In 2020, Kenya Editors Guild (KEG) crowned Ng’weno with a lifetime achievement award for his contribution to the development of Kenyan journalism.

In the citation read out by Martin Masai, he was described as “a venerable editor” who trained and mentored many of the finest journalists Kenya.

“Even in retirement, he continues to give his best in the service of Kenyan journalism,” KEG said.

Ng’weno left the Nation after a few years in what was said to have been “issues of principle around editorial control and direction.”

Ventured into entrepreneurship

Ng’weno came together with colleagues and founded Joe magazine and later, The Weekly Review.

In the 80’s, Ng’weno dabbled in TV production and dared to produce a show that discussed teenage sex. The show only aired for two episodes on Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) TV - the national broadcaster.

On retiring, Ng’weno is said to have transferred most of his archives to a centre based at the Moi University. He also engaged in documentary production, capturing the country’s history.

Besides Weekly Review and Joe magazine, Ng’weno was associated with Rainbow, Financial Review, and Nairobi Times, which later transformed into Kenya Times. 

He died nine days after turning 83. Ng’weno is survived by his wife Fleur and their children.