The sun has set on the life of James B. M. Bukusi or “Sir James”. This tribute may reveal to you where his life may have touched yours. The son of a visionary church leader, he enjoyed many firsts in his life. Born in 1934 he grew up in the intense African bush deep in Busia County long before modern life came to his part of the world. In the days in which he grew up, most people were born, lived, married, had children and died within a radius of 20 miles. Nevertheless, his father had seen the coming of the railway and sent his son a thousand miles away to get an education and become a part of a future he knew would one day come to be. That journey would launch Sir James on his world tour.
He made his way to Makerere College in the 1950s. One of less than half a dozen black schools on the continent. He would learn as much from his classmates about Africa as he would learn about English and Math. He was later to teach science at Friends School Kamsinga with the American volunteer Doyle Allan Bradley. By the mid 1960’s freedom came to our land and national duty called. The boy from the backwoods of the dark continent found himself in Britain managing the affairs of hundreds of African students in capitals all over Europe. At that time, racial undertones were still very strong and overt. However, in the diplomatic service, he would meet kings, queens, and high-ranking state officers as he looked after the welfare of his wards thousands of miles away from home.
He came back home in the 70s and settled in Jogoo House Nairobi. He rose through the ranks to become an Assistant Director in the ministry of education. As a senior officer, he oversaw education programs all over the country and served in Nyeri, Mombasa and Nairobi. The education of citizens was critical to the success of the nation and in the 80s’ he saw the fruits of nation’s visionary education program when the “Kenyanization” and “expatriate leaving” initiatives ensured that self-rule became a fact and not just a hope. The learning that he started in his youth became his career and defining marker in life. He never left the civil service.
He retired in the 90s’ and went back to the much changed village of Mabunge - that still has no tarmac road! He became patron of the local school which he saw grow from a dilapidated primary school classroom block to give birth to a fully-fledged secondary school feeding students into the national university system. He passed on with a vivid memory of faces, names, people he had met, places he’d been and of course a razor sharp wit. They called him “Sir James” because of the very “British” manner in which he conducted his business as an administrator.
His village mates will remember him and many of them will have passed on by now. He and his college mates established a bold legacy of scholarship for generations to come. I recently visited the 90-year-old college and stood where he stood maybe 60 years ago. But there are those whom he taught in his early years who may still be around. The many students he assisted in the Foreign Service may remember him too. Jogoo House has a record of him. But you too may also know an uncle, aunt, brother, sister or a friend whose life was touched by his... let them know he is gone.
Many people look for mentors and role models to emulate. And I do not know how many people Sir James taught or how many hundreds he inspired in his life, or how many thousands he oversaw in his administration of education, but perhaps it is better to celebrate his service and keep the record as a secret in heaven. Sir James leaves behind two widows; Selina and Christine, children, grandchildren and three generations of students around the world. He passed on at 80 years old, articulate to the very end and quite able to read without glasses on April 16th 2014. He now belongs to the ages.Thank you for all your condolence messages