Every day of management presents an opportunity for a leader to exert influence over the team and sway it towards a goal. The 3,650 days that Mabel Imbuga had at the helm of Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) have been enough to change the culture of the institution.
On August 1, Prof Imbuga quietly handed over the JKUAT leadership mantle to Victoria Wambui Ngumi, setting the stage for a new era. She thinks she succeeded in making peace with the university community.
“When I took over, we had few courses, insecurity was an issue but we managed to achieve a lot and now we are working with the community well,” she told a keen congregation that also included her family members.
Prof Imbuga’s story does not begin at the top of JKUAT leadership. She had always been at the university, rising through the ranks over a period of 21 years. And in the hot seat of the university administration she acquired the status of the proverbial cat’s nine lives, she outlasted four councils.
She shared her counsel: “If you fall seven times you should stand up eight times. If you put God first you can never go wrong. You can fall everyday but make sure you wake up every day.”
Prof Imbuga served as acting Vice Chancellor in March 2008 after taking over from Nick Wanjohi whose term had come to an end.
Before then, she was Deputy Vice Chancellor in Charge of Academic Affairs. A biochemist by training, Prof Imbuga taught at the University of Nairobi’s Chiromo campus before moving to JKUAT. Whatever was missing in her academic life, Prof Imbuga readily found it in her family. Her late husband, Francis, was a professor of literature and a leading playwright.
“My family is my spring-board. I got great support from my late husband. I’m humbled that you came to listen to me,” she told the audience during her farewell party.
Prof Imbuga is seen as a polished deal-maker who brought home several multi-million shilling projects.
It was during her tenure that JKUAT won bids to host the Pan African University as well as the Regional Maritime Technology Cooperation Centre (MTCC) for the Africa region. Others are the China financed Sino African Joint Research Centre (SAJOREC) which spearheads biodiversity research in Africa.
Besides, she was at the forefront of establishing the JKUAT Industrial and Technology Park which was instrumental in supporting the implementation of the government’s literacy programme for Class One pupils.
The university is also home to the JKUAT Instant Noodles factory as well as the Innovation and Prototyping Integrated Centre (iPIC), the Safari building, for small animals’ research, and the Nixtamalisation milling machine, a new technology aimed at boosting food security.
However, in her second term in 2013 Prof Imbuga fought off a case which challenged her reappointment even though she was later cleared to continue serving. A lecturer at the institution had lodged a court case challenging her reappointment by the then Cabinet Secretary for Education Jacob Kaimenyi, saying it violated the Universities Act that required a public advertisement for the vacancy.
In 2016, she was in the eye of the storm again when the Commission for University Education said she did not approve JKUAT’s decision to set up campuses outside Kenya.
At the time, Prof Imbuga had disclosed that Sh10 million had been committed as seed capital for the Arusha centre and another Sh21 million for Kigali campus.
Born on July 7, 1951, Prof Imbuga started off as a lecturer. She obtained her PhD in Biochemistry from the University of Nairobi in 1991. She has an MSc degree in Biochemistry and a BSc from the University of Nairobi.
Between 2005 and 2008, the mother of five served as Deputy Vice Chancellor at the university. She was Director, Institute of Tropical Medicine and Infectious Diseases, between 2003 and 2005.
From April 2006 to June 2007, she was acting Deputy Vice Chancellor Research Production and Extension, while from March 2006 to July 2006 she was acting Deputy Vice Chancellor – Administration, Planning and Development.
She became a Professor of Biochemistry in 2004. She also served as Dean, Biochemistry Department
She advises the new JKUAT leadership to embrace innovation, saying the institution will only progress if the management invests in new ways of doing things to create economic empowerment for Kenyans.