Many Kenyans will remember Professor Jacob Kaimenyi as the tough-talking and firm Education Cabinet Secretary.
A dentist by training, Kaimenyi is a man for all seasons.
While in the Education docket, he was loved and hated by many owing to reforms he spearheaded.
It was during Kaimenyi’s tenure as minister that far-reaching reforms were initiated in the Higher Education arena, including criteria for appointments and promotion of lecturers.
Professor Kaimenyi had been plucked from the University of Nairobi where he was the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic Affairs and Professor of Periodontology, the speciality of dentistry that studies the structures of the teeth, diseases and other aspects of the teeth).
He says it was a good thing that the Cabinet had technocrats, not career politicians.
From varsity lecture halls, government minister and diplomacy, Kaimenyi is back from Europe and now in retirement at his Mulathankari home in North Imenti Meru, and appreciates that having been too busy serving the Nation at the highest level for so long, it is time to enjoy more time with his kin, friends and locals.
Kaimenyi, in President Uhuru Kenyatta’s second term, was appointed an Ambassador.
He admits because of his record as a CS he had expected to continue as a minister but politics got in the way.
So Kaimenyi flew out to Belgium to be in charge of the European Union and African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (79 countries), a big block.
Kaimenyi, 70, was among the first cohort of dental students in the Department of Dental Surgery under the Faculty of Medicine at UoN, which he joined in 1974.
Prior to that dental students were trained outside the country.
“The transition was not easy but I am very happy I did my best within the circumstances. I am a legacy-minded person, in terms of moving an agenda forward for the country,” he says.
Kaimenyi who was last year appointed the Chief Scout of Kenya, says as a Njuri Ncheke Council of elders member, he understood the importance of doing his duty to serve the country and God.
“So I have been under oath several twice to serve this country. The challenge was to do my best to serve my country and I continue to do that. Even though I am retired I am not tired”.
Kaimenyi says training as a dentist did not come easy for him and other students in the pioneer class, as it was replete with challenges.
“Prior to that dentists used to be trained outside the county. I was among the first dental students trained in Kenya,” he says.
Before that practising dentists were trained abroad in countries such as Britain, India and the US.
He did his internship at Kabete where he was lucky to be among two young dentists who won a Commonwealth Scholarship to go and study for a Master’s degree in dental surgery in India.
He started the curriculum review when he became Education CS, which gave birth to the Curriculum-based Competence (CBC).
Kaimenyi had been the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic Affairs) at the University of Nairobi and at the tail end of his tenure he was appointed Education CS under the new Constitutional dispensation, in 2013.
A believer in leaving a legacy in whichever academic or other position he held Kaimenyi wanted to make a change because he wanted to be a transformative leader.
“I realised that even though the Education Act as well as Universities Act were there, they were not operationalized because the relevant institutions based in law were not in place. So we had to do that and come up with institutions which were in those Acts,” he says.
One of the areas he worked on was nomadic education to address the plight of children whose children kept on moving from one place to another
“That is how we came up with Kenya National Commission for Nomadic Education. I am very happy it is up and running. It was important to make sure that our people from that region get opportunities”.
Kaimenyi also worked to establish a commission for science and technology in Kenya, TVETA where he appointed the first director.
It was also during his term when he put strict guidelines on repetition of classes as he was opposed to forcing students to do so unless there were sufficient grounds to do so.
By the time he left the ministry to move to the Lands docket, Kaimenyi made sure there was criteria for appointments and promotions in place and which was the same in all faculties.
“Some people did not like that. For example, I said for you to become a lecturer, in the long run, you must have a PhD. And to me, that was a gold standard, like in other places. But when I came in there were some people who were lecturers without PhDs, especially in Medical School where I had come from,” he reminisced, a frown creeping into his eyes.
He said there was resistance but it did not faze him.
“But I said yes, to be a doctor is a great thing, to do Masters is also great and you are wonderful specialists but we must be in tandem with the best practices in the region, continentally and globally. They must have PhDs and there was no excuse. I am very happy that today most pf them have accepted that challenge and have done their PhDs. I even supervised one of my former students who has a PhD.”
He believes his firmness in the various positions he held stood him in good stead.
“When you are a leader, first, you must be courageous to lead people into the unknown and have the spine to do what must be done as long as it is right and as long as it is not illegal. For example, when I was Minister for Education I never believed in the idea that government should fund students in private universities, because that is a private matter”.
He says; “One has to make a choice as a parent and as a student, to take your child to a private university or public university. If you take your child to a private university then you must be prepared to pay the school fees”.
He regrets that ‘somebody’ decided to take government funds to students in private universities, which he was against.
“In the process, we killed public universities funding, because they used to get a substantial amount of money from self-sponsored students to supplement what the good government of Kenya used to do and is doing. I am very happy that President William Ruto’s government has found it very appropriate to say no to government funding students in private universities”.
He said when he came in few women could become university councils because few women had PhDs in Kenya, and it was a requirement or one to become a chairperson of a university council.
“But I am happy because the policies that we came up with, that is now history. We have many women with PhDs who can be chair of university councils, even Chancellors and Vice Chancellors and walk with their heads held high”.
“I believe one should be a mentor and a good one at that
Kaimenyi has in the past chaired the Meru School’s Board of Governors (now management), Mulathankari Girls, Nkabune TTI, trustee of Meru University of Science and Technology, the precursor to Meru University of Science and Technology and Vice Chair of Kenya Water Training Institute and President, Commonwealth Dental Association.
He said by the time he left the Lands Ministry they had issued over four million title deeds as former president Kenyatta was keen to ensure Kenyans had land ownership, to develop their property.
“I am happy President Ruto has continued with that trajectory of issuing title deeds”.
Since 2018 when he served as ambassador Kaimenyi, who retired from public service from June 30 last year, has written five books on career, marriage, family, retirement and other issues.
One of them is titled 'Busy Office versus Responsible Fatherhood'.
“Because I believed and observed that irrespective of your station in life it is easy to be too busy and forget the most sacred and important duty in your life; parenthood. That is why I wrote that book. There are people who will tell you ‘I am married to the State’. No, you cannot be married to the State and forget you have children. If they are not taken care of, they resort to taking drugs, alcohol and all manner of vices”.
Other titles are, 'Don’t Hesitate’, meant to inspire people to take decisions and pursue their goals, 'Betrayal of Public Trust', 'Unending Surprises in Marriage', 'Move On', and 'What They Haven’t Told you About Retirement', which captures the challenges and other aspects of life in retirement.
A father of five children and seven grandchildren, Kaimenyi is now back with his wife Stella at their Mulathankari says the book on retirement, just like others, is a must read.
Kaimenyi is now leading the local Christian communities at Mulathankari Catholic Church and is more involved in community projects.