The Magohas: A family beset by tragedy

It is the story of raw anguish, a tale of rare brains plucked away at the peak of their careers.

At their parents' home in Ratudi Village in Gem constituency yesterday, you could have easily cut a piece of grief that hung loose. Mourners converged to condole with the family that has, on different dates, lost at least five children.

And on Tuesday, when news filtered that former Cabinet Secretary George Magoha had passed on, not a single close relative lent their ear to the news. At best, they believed it was a spin to create confusion.

Burial plans

At the time, burial plans for his US-based brother Prof Alex Nyabera Magoha who died in the US were in top gear. Nyabera passed away on December 6, 2022, in Allen, Texas, US. The cause of death is yet to be disclosed by the family.

His body had just been flown back to the country ahead of his burial scheduled for Saturday 28, 2023 at his Umiru home in Yala.

According to relatives, the late CS had been working his socks to ensure that his brother was given a descent send off and had planned to travel home ahead. Relatives said he had been travelling home every week to monitor progress in the preparations for the burial. At his brother's home, workers had been digging the grave as friends and relatives made the final touches ahead of Saturday's send off.

A few meters away from the burial site, the family had furnished his home and were just waiting for his burial date to mark the end of the dark stint in the family's history. Little did they know that the angel of death was lurking around and planning to strike again. Yesterday, friends and relatives described the double loss as a tragedy that is hard to comprehend and wondered at the unfortunate turn of events that engulfed the family.

"It is not easy to lose two relatives at the same time. We did not expect this to happen to us," said George Agutu, Magoha's cousin.

Rare bond

Agutu was among the relatives who had to juggle between overseeing the burial plans for Prof Alex Nyabera Magoha, the younger brother and welcoming mourners to the home of the famous academician, surgeon former CS. Only a fence separates the homestead of Nyabera and that of the elder Magoha, perhaps suggesting the close bond the two brothers shared in life.

The atmosphere is full of gloom, grief and disbelief as workers, neighbours and relatives struggled to come to terms with the twin loss.

A number of neighbours said they all thought people were confusing the two brothers, and that only one, Nyabera, had died.

"I first though they had confused him with his brother when I saw the news. I was heartbroken when I finally confirmed that we had lost Magoha," said a neighbour.

"At times you wonder why such a tragedy decides to occur when we are yet to heal from the wounds of losing Alex," added the neighbour. The death of the two brothers came about two years after the family lost another icon in the family-Charles Agunga Magoha, a flight captain in Sweden.

Other siblings the family has lost in the recent past include Consolata Magoha, a sister, and Michael Magoha, a brother to the late CS.

Agunga died in Stockholm in August 2021 after a short illness and was buried on September 11, 2021. He was the father of renowned professor and activist Maureen Dorothy Auma, who is based in Germany. Yesterday, a close family member told The Standard that they had prioritized education and ensured that all their children attained high qualifications. "The family was always focused on education and that is why all the siblings excelled," said the family member. Joseph Owino, a neighbour described the tragedy as shocking. "It is unfortunate that we have lost several members of the same family within a very short time," says Owino. For the former CS, his dream of continuing to transform lives through another stint in class came to an end. At the time of his death, the renowned surgeon had been planning to take up a new role at Maseno University after he was appointed Professor of Surgery.

At Maseno, the institution had already started preparing to receive him and had renovated an office befitting his stature of CS. A source at the institution told The Standard that his office was bigger than even the one occupied by the vice chancellor and was well-equipped.

"We were hoping he would also transform the department the way he transformed the country's education sector. The news is extremely shocking," said a staffer. Magoha, 71, served as the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Nairobi between January 2005 and January 2015. Besides being VC, Magoha served as Professor of Surgery at the institution's College of Health Sciences.

After exiting UoN in 2015, Magoha was appointed chairperson of the Kenya National Examinations Council between 2016 and 2019. On March 1, 2019, the then-president, Uhuru Kenyatta, nominated him for the position of Cabinet Secretary for Education, and was sworn into office on March 26, 2019.