Those who have dealt with Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha will tell you that it is like walking on eggshells.
You never know what might set him off.
If County Director of Education Gitonga Mbaka suspected it from the numerous reports of the CS taking on junior employees, he became certain when Magoha berated him for being “stupid” and asked him to leave the meeting he was in.
For Magoha, being in government is not any different from being in an operating theatre. He still cuts through his subjects, only this time, it is not the scalpel making incisions, but his words.
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They come fast, angrily and for maximum effect, are delivered in public to an audience of subordinate officers who are either too embarrassed or shocked to react.
And although they numb their victims, Magoha’s words seek to injure. “Nikisema wewe ni mjinga ni uwongo (Would I be lying if I said you are foolish?),” Magoha posed to a stuttering Gitonga, in a video that went viral on social media.
To Magoha, whose multiple-page CV that he presented to law makers during his public vetting for the job spoke of the pride he took in his academic achievements, a fool, being made to look like one or anyone who acts like one is the ultimate insult. But Magoha does not suffer fools.
One of his biggest concerns lately was that he had been made to “look like a fool before the eyes of Kenyans” over his coronavirus response plans, and the CS took great offence. Yet he has been liberal in his use of the word for anyone who falls short of his expectations.
The latest incident took place last Friday in front of teachers at Langas Primary School in Eldoret. The CS had toured the region to inspect the progress of government-funded delivery of desks and preparedness of schools in accommodating learners while observing Ministry of Health safety protocols on Covid-19.
He made a stopover at Langas where he was not amused by the evident lack of hygiene and Magoha unleashed his wrath on Gitonga who wanted to give him a report.
“The situation on the ground is not good,” Magoha is heard saying in the video. The elderly education director tried explaining to the CS why the school was in such a state, noting that the issue would be handled but the CS dismissed him and ordered him to leave his meeting.
“I am not talking about a report, I am talking about what is here on the ground,” Magoha told the officer. “If I say that you are a fool, will I be lying? …You are a fool.” At that point, Magoha then asks who the person he had just insulted was and is told that he is the County Director of Education.
Gitonga is just the most recent of bodies that the CS has left in his path as his abrasive style sweeps over Jogoo House.
Magoha, with a permanent scowl on his face, has never sought to impress anyone. Video clips of Magoha humiliating some employee of the Education ministry have become commonplace. Staff at ministry headquarters got their introduction to the CS in style when he gave them a piece of his mind upon assuming office.
But while that combative temperament earned him plaudits for upsetting the order, Magoha is slowly parodying the image and reputation that got him in office in the first place.
The criticism against him is mounting, and yesterday, Public Service Commission clipped some feathers from his wings by withdrawing the power to manage the human resource functions it had delegated to him... to protect public servants against undignified and unwarranted attacks.”
Parliament is also weighing in on the matter. Cherangany MP Joshua Kutuny has said Magoha is acting like a bully and a dictator. “He has to apologise to the government officials he abused. It is also time that the appointing authority reviews his appointment,” the MP said.
His comment received backing from Murang’a Woman Representative Sabina Chege who said Magoha was treating adults like juveniles. “You can’t treat people as if they are children. You can still correct someone with decency. If you are a minister, it doesn’t mean you are above everything. I have seen the video clip and the person being addressed was an elderly man,” she said.
But Magoha famously said that his skin was as thick as a hippopotamus’ and would not be fazed by criticism or opposition to his method. “Have you measured the thickness of my skin? You will find that when I was at the University of Nairobi, my skin became thicker than that of a hippopotamus, so stop wasting your time,” Magoha said.
[Allan Mungai. Additional reporting by Lynn Kolongei]