The Magoha tragedy: Three professors... three brothers... three deaths

Friends and relatives condole with Dr Barbara Odudu Magoha

Friends and relatives condole with Dr Barbara Odudu Magoha (centre), the widow of former Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha who died at the Nairobi Hospital on Tuesday after suffering a cardiac arrest. 

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

The death of former Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha has shocked the villages of Umiru, Yala and Ahono Ratudi, in Gem sub-county in Siaya.  

Ahono Ratudi is Prof Magoha’s ancestral home while Umiru is where he bought land and built his home.

His death has thrown relatives and friends into a spin since it’s the third in a span of three years. On August 31, 2021, Charles Agunga Magoha, the brother to the former CS died after a short illness at his home in Stockholm, Sweden.

Until a few hours before he passed on, Prof Magoha was involved in plans for the burial of Prof Alex Nyabera, his other brother, who died on December 6 last year. Prof Nyabera, who died in Texas, the United States, is set to be buried this Saturday at his home in Umiru.

The death of the three is not only shocking to Gem residents due to the quick succession in which they happened, but also because of the role the brothers played in the community, especially the former Education CS.

When the Nation team visited Prof Magoha’s expansive home surrounded by trees, an eerie silence hit us, indicating the sombre mood. His navy blue vintage Mercedes Benz is the only vehicle parked in the garage.

The late Professor George Magoha's home at Umiru Village in Gem Yala, Siaya County

The late Professor George Magoha's home at Umiru Village in Gem Yala, Siaya County on January 25, 2023.

Photo credit: Tonny Omondi | Nation Media Group

The security guards at the gate and the caretaker of the house are still shocked at the demise of their boss, recalling that they saw him a week ago.

Brother's burial

A few hours before his death, the former CS had called many workers and family members, including his sister Pauline Dola as they made preparations for their brother’s burial.

Gladys Akinyi, who has been cleaning the former CS’s house for 20 years, told the Nation that she spoke to her boss on the day he passed on.

“We were here with Prof’s sister Pauline and I remember she was called and asked to go and bring some furniture which was to be taken to Nyabera’s house. He was very okay, that is why I was surprised when I was told that he had died in the evening,” said Ms Akinyi. She said her salary from working for Prof Magoha has been her main source of income, helping feed and educate her children over the years.

She described him as a very calm and honest person who reprimanded them when they made a mistake, but he quickly forgot the transgressions.

At Prof Nyabera’s home, a few metres from the former CS’s, plans were underway to prepare his grave for burial on Saturday.

Masons preparing the graveyard of the late Prof George Magoha's brother Professor Richard Magoha

Masons preparing the graveyard where the late Prof George Magoha's brother Professor Richard Magoha's body will be interred on Saturday this week. The family said they will start arranging the burial of the late professor George Magoha's body after they bury his brother.


Photo credit: Tonny Omondi | Nation Media Group

Workers at his home were plastering and tiling the grave while others were busy constructing the toilets to be used by guests on Saturday and making the final touches on the newly constructed house.

Prof Magoha had been supervising the construction of the two-bedroom house that has been completed in two weeks.

Mr Francis Odhiambo, Prof Magoha’s foreman for over 15 years, has been on site, burning the midnight oil to ensure Prof Nyabera’s home is completed in time.

“Yesterday we spoke with the boss at around 10 am when he sent me via the phone to buy some bags of cement which I did and he paid via M-Pesa and we went on with the construction. When I learnt of his death, I started shaking because I could not believe it,” said Mr Odhiambo.

Mr Odhiambo said he noticed for the first time that his boss seemed forgetful and even reprimanded him by mistake, only to call back and apologise.

Welcoming

Mr Ezekiel Onialo Owenga, Prof Magoha’s neighbour in Ratudi, described him as one who loved people and welcoming.

“We have been neighbours for more than 20 years and I used to visit him a lot. He would go directly to the point and was always in the village on a mission to start something that would benefit the community,” said Mr Owenga. He said that the death of the two Magoha brothers confused many of them.

Family members of the late Professor George Magoha hold a meeting at their ancestral home at Ratudi Village

Family members of the late Professor George Magoha hold a meeting at their ancestral home at Ratudi Village in Gem Yala, Siaya County on January 25, 2023.

Photo credit: Tonny Omondi | Nation Media Group

“When Magoha died, we were confused about what to do, whether to postpone Nyabera’s burial and focus on Magoha or just proceed, but it has happened,” said Mr Owenga. 

Back at his ancestral home, Prof Magoha’s elder brother John Obare Magoha was receiving guests who came to condole with him.

While there were questions and confusion on whether there would be a change in the burial plans, Mr Obare, the family spokesperson, maintained that the burial would go on as planned.

“These are all my brothers and it is unfortunate that we lost George when we were preparing to bury Richard, but we will proceed as planned to bury Richard as per the schedule and start planning for George’s burial afterwards,” said Mr Obare.

He stated that Prof Nyabera’s body would be arriving in the country today before being transported on Friday to the Aga Khan Hospital Kisumu mortuary. 

Mr Obare dismissed claims of foul play or witchcraft.

“We are Catholics who were brought up in Christianity and believe in God. We cannot start saying that we are bewitched because death has visited us three times in a short period of time. My brothers’ time had just reached and God took them,” said Mr Obare.

Unwell

He stated that he spoke with Prof Magoha on Monday, asking him about Prof Nyabera’s burial plans and noticed that he was not very well.

“He mumbled words when we spoke and when I asked him how he was, he told me he was not feeling well but he would manage. We spoke about how to furnish Nyabera’s house and how to cater for the guests,” said Mr Obare.

Raila Odinga condoles with Dr Barbara Magoha, widow of Cabinet Secretary Prof George Magoha

Azimio leader Raila Odinga condoles with Dr Barbara Magoha, widow of former Education Cabinet Secretary Prof George Magoha, at their Lavington home on January 25, 2023.

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

In Yala town, residents were still in shock, even as they praised the former CS for his community work.

Mr Walter Bwanga, a youth leader in Yala, described Prof Magoha as development-oriented and had changed the face of the sleepy town.

“Magoha was hardworking and straightforward. He played a major part in the construction of the church, St Mary’s Yala School and the establishment of the Maseno University’s Odera Akang’o campus,” said Mr Bwanga.

His newspaper vendor, Mr Zachary Odhiambo, said his former client was a stickler for time.

“I have lost a customer who used to pay me Sh6,000 every month for delivery of newspapers. He was very strict and he wanted to receive his newspapers by 7.30 am. I used to be there by 7 am,” said Mr Odhiambo.

Prof Magoha was the son of the late Bernard Boniface Magoha and Mama Joan Sara Aloo Magoha of Ahono Ratudi Village.

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