Fig tree where it all began

Rev JJ.Willis who founded Maseno school in 1909. Photo/JACOB OWITI

Standing in the middle of a well-manicured flower bed is a fig tree, under which the famous Maseno School started, 105 years ago. 

The Rev J.J. Willis, an archdeacon of the Christian Missionary Society camped under the tree in Maseno in 1906, on his way to Uganda where the society had established rapport with the Kabaka, whose area of authority then included what is now called Maseno.

Mr Willis was taken aback by the hospitality of the people, led by their chief Ogolla Wuod Ayieke, and the missionary coined the name Maseno from the name of a tree known locally as Oseno or Oluseno that stood next to the spot where the first missionaries were based.

Chief Ogolla gave the missionaries the land on which the school stands as well as Maseno University and several colleges.

In appreciation, Mr Willis promised to start a governance training school for the sons of chiefs. 

Mr Willis started the school with four boys, training them in basic masonry, carpentry and arithmetic.

Kings College, Budo, in Uganda that was also run by the CMS under the guidance of the Rev Willis started at the same time.

While the founder was more interested in training the sons of kings and chiefs, the Ugandans read mischief in the gesture and interpreted Mr Willis’ offer as a way to ship their sons back to his country once they were trained.

The chiefs thus offered the sons of their subjects instead. “The end result was that the sons of the subjects prospered more than the sons of chiefs and kings,” commented the current Maseno School principal, Mr Paul Agali Otula.

In 1909, the students protested, demanding the same curriculum as the children of white settlers, forcing the missionaries to make technical subjects optional.

From its humble beginning with four boys learning under a fig tree, there were 150 pupils by 1911 and a century later, the student population stands at 1,085. The school marked the centenary celebrations in 2006 with President Kibaki as chief guest.

“This is the first born school in the entire country. During the days of the state of emergency, it was the safest school because of the distance from the colonial government headquarters,” Mr Otula explained.

The famous Carey Francis served as the school’s head teacher between 1928 and 1940 before going to Alliance Boys.

Maseno School has the distinction of producing some of Kenya’s most important leaders, including Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, the country’s first vice president and JD Otiende, the first education minister in independent Kenya.

The first professor in Luoland who was also the first emeritus professor in Kenya, Prof David Wasao, was an old boy of Maseno School as was his father.

Among leading politicians today, Nairobi Metropolitan minister Njeru Githae, Immigration minister Otieno Kajwang’, Deputy Speaker Maalim Mohammed and Kisumu Town West MP Olago Aluoch all identify with


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