Hilary Ngw’eno was more than a pioneer journalist
Most of those who have eulogised Hilary Boniface Ng’weno, do not know that he had some misgivings about how educated people regarded Weekly Review—the most potent magazine on political journalism Kenya has ever had.
He confided these misgivings to Wycliffe Aura, then a Librarian at the Department of Information in the Ministry of ICT & Youth Affairs.
According to Aura, Ng’weno used to complain that most of the educated people he met profusely talked about Rainbow, a monthly children’s magazine he published in the 70s and 80s, saying it greatly influenced them in many ways.
Ng’weno, beginning in the early 2000 until recently, mined photographs in the Department of Information’s rich heritage of photographic library for his Makers of a Nation: The Men and Women in Kenya’s history, a documentary series about the evolution of Kenya as a nation.
It was during one of his visits to the Department’s library that he complained that Kenyans had higher regard for Rainbow than Weekly Review. He could not understand how anyone could place Rainbow above Weekly Review which he had committed most of his energies to.
I am one of those Kenyans whose reading habits were weaned on Rainbow during my secondary school years in the early 80s. I did not know who the author of the children’s magazine was.
All I remember doing throughout my stay at Kivaywa Secondary School was that I dutifully walked to the Post Office at Matete Market in Kakamega County every first Saturday of every month to buy a copy of Rainbow Magazine.
It was in 1986, while attending the then compulsory three months para-military training programme for pre-university students at the National Youth Service (NYS) Training School, Gilgil, that I got the opportunity to meet the legendary journalist Mundu khu Mundu as Moses Wetangula would say.
Ng’weno was among public personalities who delivered lectures to pre-campus students as part of the training programme.
I remember Ng’weno talking to us about the role of the media in society as a mirror: To accurately record what is happening to enable citizens make informed decisions.
He said there was an uneasy relationship between the State and the media as some of the things media wrote were unflattering.
I found this intriguing because it was the same State which had asked him to speak to us!
I vividly recall a composed figure talking without notes, and without reading a prepared speech like the speakers we had before him. I saw a personality sure of himself and conscious of the weight of responsibility the government had asked him to deliver to the young students.
I saw a man who stood tall and continued standing tall while writing about Kenya public affairs with a missionary zeal.
Those who have written tributes about him have glossed over three things peculiar about him. The first is that Ng’weno was a man of letters besides being a journalist. He brought knowledge, intellect, skill, purpose, vision and values to Kenyan journalism.
The second is that Ng’weno believed in going to the primary sources of information.
Believing in the primacy of primary sources as foundation for accuracy and integrity in any communication worth its salt, Ng’weno turned to the Department of Information in the Ministry of ICT & Youth Affairs for his Makers of a Nation.
Thirdly, Ng’weno was not only honest but a humble man. He paid for the photos he got from the Department of Information without flinching. To crown it all, he interacted with the Librarians at the Department with humility. For a man who dined with the high and mighty, I personally found this very humbling.
It was during my haunts in the Department’s Library that I got the chance to meet Ng’weno up and close.
He was soft spoken and patient. I could see him patiently ploughing through mountains of photographs, looking for that one photo that would meet the needs of the narrative he had at hand. I silently saluted him for that.
Fare thee well Hilary Boniface Ng’weno.— The writer is the Communications Officer, Ministry of Education.