Dr Rev Lawi Imathiu speaks during the opening of KeMU Meru town Campus in 2012. PHOTO/ KeMUDA blog
By David Muchui
When Rev Dr Lawi Imathiu announced a vision of establishing the Kenya Methodist University 27 years ago, some delegates of the Methodist Church in Kenya (MCK) Conference in Shanzu, Mombasa, laughed off the ambitious plan as a pipe dream.
The vision might have been too lofty to comprehend then, but we are glad somebody dared to dream because Kenya Methodist University (KeMU) is now one of the top private universities in the country with a population of over 10, 000 students in six campuses.
During the university’s 13th Graduation ceremony, the man behind the dream and vision for the establishment of KeMU was honored by the institution by being conferred with a Doctorate (Honoris Causa) in Divinity and Leadership.
Rev Dr Imathiu was born in 1932 at Kaaga and pursued his primary education at Mwirine and Kaaga Primary Schools and later Kaaga Junior Secondary School.
In 1950, he joined Meru Government Teachers College until 1952 and went into teaching while studying privately for Secondary School certificate.
He later joined St Paul’s Theological College in 1954 and Epiworth Theological School, Zimbambwe in 1958.
After serving as a Methodist Minister for three years, he joined Lincoln Theological College in England and later London University for Bachelor of Divinity. He then went to Claremont School of Theology in USA where he graduated with a Masters Degree in Divinity in 1983.
While reading the citation for Rev Dr Imathiu, KeMU Vice Chancellor Prof Alfred Mutema described the former Methodist Presiding Bishop as a visionary leader, a man of courage and self-determination.
Probably, these must be some of the attributes that powered the passion to see a university in Meru despite the seemingly blink future forecast by the prevailing circumstances of the formative stages.
With Kaaga Rural Training Institute, which was founded in 1958, already offering technical skills church leaders saw the potential for a university at a time when Rev Imathiu was at the helm of the Church in Kenya.
In 1986, a delegates’ conference held in Shanzu resolved to establish a university and in 1987 a working committee was formed to study the possibility of setting up the university.
Rev Dr Imathiu recounted how he embarked on creation of awareness and sought support from the government of Kenya immediately after the Conference.
”Seeing the enormous task ahead of us I led a delegation of Church leaders to President Moi where we convinced the President to be the Patron of the University. We embarked on fundraising from individuals, churches and organizations that enabled us to start initial construction,” Rev Imathiu remembers.
Bishop Imathiu laid the foundation of the initial classrooms, administration block, staff apartments, girls’ hostel, named after a Korean Methodist Maria Um, as well as the chapel.
“Rev Imathiu provided leadership on fundraising for the development of the University. He went as far as using his personal car and growing tomatoes and vegetables to support the initiative,” said Prof Mutema.
In efforts to ensure that funds kept flowing in for development and scholarships, Rev Dr Imathiu was instrumental in the establishment of Kenya Methodist University Development Association (KeMUDA).
It is out of the association that the University received a donation of one million dollars which went to the construction of the Administration block.
Then known as the Methodist Training Institute (MTI), the institution received a letter of interim authority in June 1997 leading to the establishment of KeMU.
KeMU was awarded the charter in June 2006 by President Mwai Kibaki making real the vision that Rev Dr Lawi Imathiu and other leaders had two decades ago.
Besides his role in the establishment of the University, Rev Dr Imathiu oversaw the establishment of several schools in Meru.
Other influential positions he has held include the Vice Chairman and Chairman of the World Methodist Council, Trustee of All African Conference of Churches (AACC), Nominated member of Parliament (1975-1980), Africa Secretary of World Methodist Evangelism, Trustee of Kenya Young Men Christian Association, Council Member of Meru University of Science and Technology, Chairman of Ameru Leaders Forum, Chairman, Gikuyu, Embu, Meru Association and Goodwill Ambassador for Cohesion and Integration Commission.