Amos Kiriro Kirani: Appreciation of an unsung education hero

From spearheading construction and expansion of primary and secondary schools to construction of teacher training colleges and institutes of science and technology, the educationist has left a legacy few can ever match

 Irungu Ndirangu

good man passed away recently. Amos Kiriro, lovingly referred to as “Kiriro wa Githomo”,  (Kiriro, the Educator) died aged 84 on Sunday, July 22, and was cremated three days later at a Nairobi crematorium.

His many friends, relatives and admirers gathered at the All Saints Cathedral, Nairobi July 27th for the memorial of one of Kenya’s greatest unsung heroes. The lowly, the young, the great and the good narrated how the affable, soft-spoken Amos touched their lives.

A story is told of how he courted his wife Alice. When he met her, he was brutal and plain: “I am looking for a wife. And that wife is you”.

In the congregation was former Cabinet Minister George Muhoho, Muhoho Kenyatta, James Kamunge, Retired Anglican Church Bishop Peter Njenga, Provost Evans Omollo, retired University of Nairobi registrar Waweru wa Muchiri and retired Barclays Bank of Kenya executive, Fred Mbiru.

At independence, Amos Kiriro was among a tiny clique of Kenyan professionals who set out to create a new Kenya in the vision of former President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta. They laid the foundations of a young nation. Ironically, little is known about this group and their relationship with Mzee Kenyatta.

Kiriro left indelible foot prints in the education sector, starting off as principal at Kigari Teachers College, Embu in 1967 and later being instrumental in teacher training, expansion of primary and secondary education in Nairobi and founding of institutes of science and technology across the country.

At Jogoo House, Kiriro joined the late Education Permanent Secretary Peter Gachathi; the late Director of Education Herbert Kanina (in charge of quality assurance, curriculum development, examinations and certification and Alex Gitau, officer in charge of examinations at Mitihani House. Some of their most significant inputs include the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development and the Teachers Service Commission.

This group is credited with the roll out of Harambee Secondary School system to expand high school opportunities for masses of poor Kenyans locked out of tertiary education by the colonial government. They conceived and launched the Kenya Junior Secondary School Examination (KJSE) for Harambee School students terminating their education in Form Two. Kigumo Bendera High School in Murang’a was the first such harambee school.

I met Kiriro early in 1968 after my formal education had come to an end at Form Two.  A crash programme was undertaken to train S1 grade teachers by converting part of the former Kahawa Military Barracks into an-arts based teacher training college (now Kenyatta University).

For science teachers, the group negotiated with the Swedish Government for the construction and equipment of a pure sciences purpose built campus named Kenya Science Teachers College, (KSTC), along Ngong Road, Nairobi. The group also laid the groundwork for the colleges of science and technology to produce technicians.

Amos Kiriro became a founder member of Kiambu Institute of Science and Technology, later becoming chairman of its board between 1975 and 1995. All of these individuals were close to Mzee Kenyatta. 

Cultural ambassador

B. Mareka Gecaga, a senior executive at BAT Kenya, became founding chairman of Murang’a Institute of Science and Technology. Mzee Kenyatta was the patron of both institutions.

Kiriro also authored a book Kiambu Institute of Science and Technology1973 to 2000, published in 2001. He served in the board of many schools including Hospital Hill Primary, Nairobi, Kenya High, Kiambu High and most recently, Limuru Girls, where Amos Kiriro Hall was built in his honour.

Kiriro was a deep Christian and Kikuyu revivalist. He saw no conflict between his Anglican Christianity and Gikuyu traditional revivalism, which he openly promoted.  He spearheaded the initiation of Kikuyu boys through church sponsored events.  He served the Anglican Church in many capacities especially in the Diocese of Mount Kenya South under Bishops Obadiah Kariuki, Sospeter Magua and George Muiru,  culminated in construction of Bishop Magua House along Ngong Road in Nairobi.

The educationist also authored and co-authored many publications for the Anglican Church including A Century of God’s Household (1900-2000) and A History of St Paul’s. Later in life, Kiriro went into broadcast journalism, hosting a regular programme on Kikuyu marriage, customs and initiation on Kameme FM. He authored a book, Kikuyu Marriage Simplified published by Longhorn Publishers as his legacy to the future of the Agikuyu culture.

I met Amos Kiriro in 1968 after my formal education had ended at Form Two at Kigumo Bendera High School. I was seeking to train as a P2 teacher. He found me, looking like a waif, reading notices on a board at Kigari Teachers College in Embu county.  He sized me up,  enquired my background and why I had not gone to a government secondary school despite my good KPE grades in 1964 and 1965.

He admitted me but said he did not want me to walk from Embu Kirimari to Kigari again. From that day to the day he died, he always called me “Son”. The man transformed my life and the life of my family beyond measure. I will forever be grateful to Kiriro. He assisted a boy he did not know.

The writer is former People Daily Managing Editor and teaches  communications.  [email protected]

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