A nuclear physicist who crossed onto media and conquered it, Hilary Ng’weno’s death today was described as the ultimate blow to an industry reeling from the loss of yet another luminary, the late Philip Ochieng’.
An accomplished editor, author and media owner, Ng’weno’s larger than life media profile transcended print and broadcast media by the time he slowed down in retirement a few years ago.
Born and raised in Nairobi, Ng’weno schooled in Mang’u before crossing over to the US to study physics and mathematics at the prestigious Harvard University.
When he came back to Kenya, it was not to teach physics, but to take up a reporter role at the Daily Nation newspaper, starting a course of life that would later be described as “critically important in postcolonial Kenyan history.”
“I left Harvard and worked for nine months as a reporter for the Daily Nation, then I was appointed its first African editor-in-chief. That’s the only training I have ever had in newspaper work,” he told an interview in 1975.
Joe Odindo, a veteran editor mourned Ng’weno as the “greatest of Kenyan journalists” and “one who did more for the profession than any has ever done.”
He said Ng’weno set out an indigenous Kenyan media, opened new frontiers for Kenyan media including children’s writing, humor and analysis among others; and trained an illustrious cadre of journalists.
“For Hilary, it was always a first. In terms of who he trained, the question becomes who he didn’t train. A whole lot of us went through his able hands. Wachira Waruru, Kwendo Opanga, Jaindi Kisero, Peter Warutere, to mention but a few,” Odindo said.
Standard Group’s Editor-In-Chief Ochieng Rapuro paid glowing tribute to Ng’weno for reinforcing credibility as the hallmark of Kenya’s mainstream media. He said Ng’weno shaped the history of the country through his work.
“He’s certainly the father of long-form in-depth journalism in Kenya,” Rapuro said.
In 2020, Kenya Editors Guild (KEG) crowned Ng’weno with a lifetime achievement award for his contribution to the development of Kenyan journalism. In the citation read out by editor Martin Masai, he was described as “a venerable editor” who trained and mentored many of the finest journalists Kenya.
“Even in retirement, he continues to give his best in the service of Kenyan journalism,” KEG said.
Ng’weno quit the Nation after a few years in what was said to have been “issues of principle around editorial control and direction.” He closed ranks with colleagues to found Joe magazine and later, The Weekly Review.
In the 80’s, Ng’weno dabbled in TV production, breaking the ceiling of teenage sex discussions in a show which only aired but two episodes at Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC).
On retiring, Ng’weno is said to have transferred much of his archives to a centre based at the Moi University. He also engaged in documentary production, capturing the country’s history.
Besides Weekly Review and Joe magazine, Ng’weno was associated with Rainbow, Financial Review, and Nairobi Times, which later transformed into Kenya Times.
He died nine days after turning 83. He is survived by his wife Fleur and their children.?