We Begin Somewhere

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic

This is a narration on actual events. It relates how life changes for korobo after staying jobless for a considerable duration. It also outlines how he changes with this change in fortune. Names and places have been altered to preserve privacy.

YOU NEVER KNOW

Picture a swarthy hard-boned guy in his mid-20s with brown-stained teeth and keen piercing eyes. Now picture him living in an almost slum-setting kind of housing area called of all names ‘sewerage’ in Nakuru, Rift valley province. That was Korobo and I must confess that the first time I met him his teeth made me look at him from the narrow prism of my more ‘sophisticated’ city upbringing that made me automatically assume that he might not be ‘all that smart’ at all. Having been born and bred in Jericho Estate within Nairobi’s less affluent Eastland’s areas and never having moved around Kenya I was totally unaware that Nakuru’s water due to high fluorination was a cause of many stained teeth in that part of Kenya. My one thought was that such people were reaping the results of poor dental hygiene – I was that ignorant!

The year was 2003 and we were in Kapsabet, a small town in the North Rift region. We were both working for what was to all intents a microcredit start-up that was growing very rapidly in both revenues and membership all over the North Rift and western region of Kenya. My being there was on account of having been inveighed repeatedly and then personally shanghaied by one of the key players in the start-up – a guy I’d studied with in India and who had then returned back home right at the time when the then president, Moi, was at the lowest ebb of his relationship with Kenya’s foreign support partners and all other multilateral agencies and International NGOs. Life was rough and employment even for a graduate was totally lacking. Kihanya came back with his academic transcripts, limited network of contacts (given that he’d stayed in India for over seven years) and little prospect of employment. However, what he lacked for in monetary resources he more than made up for in zeal, drive and ambition. Life in India had enabled him see developments that would only be appearing back home 15 years later and he was willing to try out some of the ideas he’d experienced back there here.

He first set up a commercial agency that managed office buildings and rental premises for clients offering a gamut of services ranging from building security, maintenance and repair, rent collection, tenant evictions right through to mechanized office-cleaning. Nakuru was by then a pretty depressed economy with vacant offices in many pristine buildings and Kihanya was able to set up operations within a spacious setting in a centrally located building in Nakuru’s CBD. The high unemployment rate then prevailing ensured a steady flow of prospective clients as well as jobseekers looking for menial employment as workers in office and residential buildings. He had the habit of buying two of the leading newspapers everyday and leaving these in the reception area; this ensured that there was always a small group of hangers-around busy reading the various pages and this made his operation look busy thereby attracting even more visitors. The business was mildly successful but more than that it made him a well-known figure in Nakuru’s CBD and enabled him develop a whole new network of friends and clients – this made up for what he had lost during his absence while studying out of the country. It also enabled him dial into the social and political pulse of the town that comprised a rich tapestry of Kenya’s national fabric.

Sometime around year 2000 he realized that an untapped potential lay in two aspects of life in Nakuru. Unemployed graduates and Internally Displaced People (IDPs) could be brought together to derive symbiotic benefits with some bit of monetary reward for the person who’d drive the entire process. He therefore convinced a couple of idle graduates to come together to offer free teaching to a group of children of IDPs. His rational was simple – the graduates had skills that would atrophy within a short duration if not channeled effectively within some useful manner; The IDPs on the other hand would be grateful for any kind of teachers provided these had some semblance of knowledge. Why not have the graduates apply themselves usefully as volunteer teachers while they awaited more gainful employment? The idea seemed attractive to quite a number a pretty soon a small but thriving educational centre was in operation at a premise donated by the local municipal corporation. However, it soon became apparent that whereas the IDP kids were now busy learning, their parents remained idle, destitute and desperate. Once again Kihanya’s quick mind formulated a solution where he organized them into small groups that raised small amount of money to lend to each other as initial capital in setting up tiny vendor businesses that would keep them minimally employed while granting them some semblance of dignity. The idea flourished with quickly and soon was a thriving informal microcredit operation. Six months after inception the need had arisen for a formal structure for it as well as a location to base a single-office base with Kihanya as its Manager. This was what grew up to become the start up where Robert and I worked together in Kapsabet town as Kihanya’s key business executives.

Korobo had graduated in 2001 from a national university with a degree in Managerial Sciences and of course the prospects for employment were distinctly absent; this was compounded by his being from Nakuru rather than Nairobi where the prospects might have been a bit brighter. Also, while on holiday at home during his sophomore year of study he’d scattered some wild oats which had resulted in the girl becoming expectant. His mother quietly brought the girl home and informed his son that on his return he’d find his wife waiting for him. By the time he was graduating he was effectively a married man with a wife and son to support and had no time therefore to land and take a break from hard work. Ever the resilient man he immediately erected a small roadside stand with a polythene roof and established a laundry business. He’d accept shirts and trousers from young unmarried bachelors who had neither time or inclination to do their own laundry which he wash, dry, iron and neatly pack for the owners to collect on their way back from work in the evening. The activity earned him enough income to pay rent for the small room where he and his new family lived. Over the next year he acquires a sofa set, small television and all other accruements that make for a homely environment. The job however came with a rather discouraging drawback that emanated from negative comments behind his back from people who knew his background as a graduate. Derogatory remarks were made to the effect that he’d majored in ‘laundry’ from university. To an ordinary soul that would have been cause for pain and discouragement but to him he weathered all those with dignity particularly considering that the income he made was actually enough to make him financially independent if he maintained strict watch on expenditure in such areas as booze and ostentatious articles. He was always simply but decently dressed as was his wife and kid; he was additionally erudite, good at debating the various political and economic issues that gripped the attention of many of the youth as they were mostly affected by unemployment. It helped that his analytical mind enabled him to not only propose and promote a point of view but that the same ability enabled him analyze many outcomes of the increasingly popular English football league that many young people were hooked on. He became an authority on coaches, players and teams in the UK premier league and would spend huge amounts of time analyzing potential outcomes and justifying his opinion to mesmerized listeners who followed his words with keen interest. It helped a great deal that in many instances his analyses and predictions tended to turn out right.

Unbeknownst to him events quite some distance away were shaping up to change the course of his life and bring us to meet each other. A group of women in Eldoret, the largest town in the North Rift region, had joined Kihanya’s increasingly growing microcredit operation and had spread that gospel to the small town of Kapsabet about 40 kilometres away. Within a couple of months the Kapsabet women had mobilized a large following of financial savers who would met daily under a tree within the District Commissioners compound to collect savings and disburse loans to their members. By the time they sought Kihanya’s advice on how to handle operations of their rapidly growing financial float they had accumulated Ksh. 1.5 million which they lugged around in a polythene shopping bag with management of the bag being rotated around the few members who would get to go home with it and keep it safe by using it as a pillow when they went to sleep. Kihanya was quite surprised by these developments and advised them to automate their operations by bringing in a capable operations manager – he had Korobo in mind. When they agreed he travelled to Nakuru and convinced Korobo to accompany him to Kapsabet where the very excited ladies excitedly welcomed their new employee. The first thing he did was to ensure that they all had identity cards and that they had office bearers so that they could deposit their huge float into the local cooperative bank. That simple move, given that it elicited profuse encouragement, reassurance and support from the bank manager who spoke the local lingo earned Korobo gratitude and full cooperation from the women who now gave him their complete trust.

Within the next two months he organized their group by negotiating with the DC to allow them set up operation within his official compound. In the eyes of the public this lent credence to the legitimacy of the fledgling microcredit that even had a framed copy of a permit issued from the NGO council prominently displayed in the reception area. Korobo then had the new premises partitioned and painted so that the two leading women had a private office with desks and executive chairs befitting their stature as leaders. Next, he had acquired new computers for an accountant, two other managers and a cashier who also doubled as data input clerk. The icing on the cake was a large printed banner emblazoned with the organization’s name which was hung just outside the entrance and that proclaimed its existence. He additionally designed a passbook that each new recruit was provided with that had their picture, signature and saving details indicated within it. These moves resulted in exponential membership growth as swarms of women arrived to register into the microcredit organization. Korobo being a wily player had ensured that all the staff that acted as interfaces with clients were from that community so that the language of business was the local lingo – the reasoning behind this was that new recruits were mostly semi-literate women who were more comfortable getting instructions not only in their mother-tongue but also from fellow women. It was around this time that i appeared as Business Development Manager. Kihanya had been trying to recruit me for about two months but I had always resisted for two reasons: First I was more interested in entrepreneurship within the emergent ICT where profits were massive and my kind of creativity would be an advantage; Second, I’d never been anywhere past Nakuru and the thought of working within the Nandi community whom I believed were one of Kenya’s ‘warlike tribes’ was not appealing at all to me. However, Kihanya had kept pressurizing me particularly as savings kept increasing and a need to diversify into investments that would ensure long-term sustainability. At some point he showed up where I lived and informed me that he was willing to pay me a princely some to just visit and see the Kapsabet operation – to which I agreed. That was how I got recruited.

Kihanya had sent me travelling fare by Akamba Courier which I collected from the city centre office and prepared to travel as per the instructions he’d enclosed in the parcel containing the cash. I travelled by matatu that had indicated Eldoret as the destination but had then only reached Nakuru where the driver started frantic efforts to get us booked onto a second connecting vehicle to Eldoret. The connections meant that I only arrived in Kapsabet about 8pm. On the short walk from where I’d been instructed to alight to where Kihanya was awaiting my arrival I met a young man walking in the gloomy light with two females and was mildly surprised when on joking that he gives me one of them, he readily agreed to the excited squeals of the ladies. This first jocular attempt at acquiring a lady was to come back to haunt me later when a similar exercise ended up in quite different manner - a story for another day though.

I was first presented to the top dogs at the organization as someone who would bring in new ideas on how to grow savings but my role was not specifically described. Kihanya had noticed a huge swathe of land that was overgrown with a kind of grass that thrived where swamps were prevalent and he felt that it could be used to grow some kind horticultural crop that might then be exported to increase revenues for the women’s operation. Of course in my view it was entirely useless for such but at his insistence I agreed to develop a business proposal outlining the concept. Since the computer workstations were not enough I would hang around the offices until when someone vacated their desk when I would begin furiously typing away. Korobo became my constant companion particularly as Kihanya vacated the single room where they had been sleeping so that I could take over residency there. Thus we would wake up in the morning, take bath in the dirty common bathroom, dress, and stroll out to a nearby café owned by a serious Muslim boy who was also the town’s go-to person for information on going-ons there. We would show up at work around 9am and work up to about 1pm when we’d look for lunch. Due to having been hired by Kihanya who was more-or-less the CEO we enjoyed a large degree of autonomy and would therefore walk out when we wanted provided we had displayed sufficient proof of productivity for any single day. Our lunch was usually at one of the town’s newest restaurants ‘Sunshine Inn’ where we were soon quite well known by both the clientele mostly comprising local top civil servants as well as the staff who tend to get to know regulars very fast in an establishment of that kind anywhere. Sunshine Inn was owned by one of the famous Kalenjin marathon runners who had picked the idea somewhere out there during one of his European competition and had then used part of his winning kitty to implement it. As such he’d had already installed DSTV and flat TVs and a magnificent pool table so that the place always had a n excited crowd watching European football league. We were to be found almost every other day seated on stools at the main counter sipping away at our Smirnoff vodkas while Korobo enlightened me on the current game although I have never been a keen soccer enthusiast. Of course we’d also be checking out the local bevy of beauties – the kind that tends to congregate around spots where men congregate in the hope of getting picked up or turning over a quick buck from nefarious nigh time liaisons. Kihanya’s warning that the town had one of the highest HIV prevalence rates somehow always managed to penetrate the thick alcoholic haze that we’d be in by 11pm when we usually staggered off to our room to sleep. And so life continued in it endless routine of work, drink, work drink for many a days. However sometime later Korobo noticed that almost everyday when we were brought our 10 o’clock tea we’d glance at the kindly tea lady as an indication that we’d accepted the cup but we’d always only remember it when it had already grown too cold to drink. At times we’d even be brought a second cup to compensate and the same thing would happen; his summary of the situation was that it was an indicator that we were overworking ourselves. This might have been the case because I was quite busy developing a funding proposal that would see the group grow and export fresh French beans and export it to Europe through the Eldoret airport that had by then morphed into a white elephant due to infrequent airplane use. The work was long and arduous requiring lengthy Internet research for EU phytosanitary food import conditions and terms – a new requirement then, fact checking and crosschecking, numerous visits to various government offices and compilation of all data into a flowing feasibility report. Korobo on the other hand had taken over financial management of what was turning out to be a rapidly growing microcredit operation in terms of both membership and geographical spread. This meant that each morning he had to predict how much money to withdraw from the bank and avail to the various office managers from small hamlets as well as the main branch office as disbursements to members who would be receiving loans. He also had to travel regularly to assess and train new managers in how to organize the smaller offices that were poking up all over the region so that seamless operations would be assured. This necessitated generating countless pages of reports for the higher-ups, managers, regulatory authorities, office premises owners and other sundry officers who had to be pleased so that they would buy into the operations. We were so busy that we hardly noticed that pay-day had arrived and that income would be coming in. Korobo had been at work for two months and he was paid his accumulated salary that was Ksh. 10,000/-. As far as I was concerned that amount ,which translated to Ks. 5,000/- per month was a pittance considering that he was actually the engine and brains behind the day-to-day running of the whole structure but he actually shed tears of joy when he got his pay. Apparently, this was the first income his degree and university had ever earned him and it completely wiped away all the jibes he’d had to go through in his earlier vocation as a roadside laundryman. That day, a Friday, he took off for Nakuru to visit his family and pay rent – his way of affirming that he was head of his family and chief provider. He came back Sunday and he immediately invited for a binge at for Sunshine Inn where we asked the barman to give us all the half-litre bottles of Smirnoff vodka that were on his shelf – there were three. We staggered back to our room well past midnight to blackout from all that booze.

Some time after this, both Kihanya and Korobo engaged into romantic dalliances with the two girls who were working at the Eldoret branch with different outcomes. Kihanya who was dating the older of the two was actually quite serious and because he was still single was not averse to a relationship that ultimately ended up in more or less a marriage. The girl, who had been keeping a house in Nakuru moved all her belongings to Kihanya’s apartment in Nakuru ostensibly because they saw no need for her to keep paying rent for an abode that she hardly ever used. The day he informed us of that we went out to drink and really teased him, informing him that he was actually now hitched – he denied it good-naturedly and really got us plastered that evening more so as he was travelling back to Eldoret where he was putting up at her house ostensibly to be early in inspecting the Eldoret operation – in our ribald opinion, he could do that while sleeping with the operation. Today, over ten years later he still regularly inspects the operation just to make sure that all is running well and I’ve never stopped teasing him about it. Korobo on the other hand got involved with the younger lady and somehow the torrid affair with a ‘sophisticated’ Eldoret socialite made him dip his hands into the till to fund trysts outside the town where the girl was actually quite well known within the clubbing fraternity. He father was a reputed business man in the town so that they had to ensure that their dalliance was conducted in secluded towns where chances of running into him or one of her relatives were minimized. The shortfall in funds was quite considerable because a major confrontation ensued between Kihanya who was insisting on a tap on the wrist and the two leading women in Kapsabet who were insisting that he be dismissed. It is instructive to note that by this time the Kapsabet operation had become so cash-rich that it was effectively subsidizing both setting up and operations of all other centres. Indeed it had become the defacto head office and even supplanted the Nakuru office where the whole idea had been born. In tandem with these developments the two women who were the face in Kapsabet had amassed great latent powers and authority which was dangerous as they were semi-literate and totally clueless about how the whole enterprise functioned. They would appear at the office and ensconce themselves in their shared swanky office where they would chat away occasionally summoning worker or meeting one some of the more affluent members to discuss god-knows-what. Korobo would pass checks to sign and letters to approve which they did without really understanding what they were doing. Thus, when they insisted that he be dismissed Kihanya had to protect him as he was quite aware of Korobo’s very key role and need to keep him within the organization. Dismissing him was tantamount to bringing down the whole operation and Kihanya was not about to risk it all at this time – he therefore insisted and got his way but in the process lost massive authority and influence with the two. Matters were not made easier by korobo having run a trial balance of accounts when he had started working which had revealed embezzlement of some funds earlier; he’d ferreted out information that the two had used organization funds to finance a timber importation deal from Uganda that had gone awry when the consignment had been impounded along the route resulting in loss for both the officers and the organization – a loss that had been quietly covered up with the knowledge of Kihanya. Korobo brought it up during the case over his own misappropriations and insisted that the same fate they decreed upon him would have to be imposed upon them as their loss had been considerably larger. At this time I’d been paid Ksh. 20,000/- as fees for developing the French beans and was not going to rock my own boat for the sake of siding with any side although by default I was on kihanya’s. I sought stay strictly non-partisan by maintaining a policy of see-no-evil hear-no-evil. However, trouble was now brewing below the surface and was bound to erupt sooner or later as tensions simmered between the two women and Kihanya. The women now started consulting men from within their community and of course the first one was their church pastor who moved into their office as ‘advisor’. Not knowing how the whole enterprise operated he now sought advice from various other ‘knowledgeable’ people from around Kapsabet who would now troop in for lengthy sessions in their office. Their disapproving glances towards Korobo and I as they arrived and left, left no doubt in our minds as to the kind of advice they were dispensing. The women were becoming more assertive and they were increasingly showing it by vetoing many of the decisions and processes they had earlier approved acquiescently. The stage was set for a falling out and it came when Kihanya met a very sly Luo guy called Paul while he was attending a training seminar in Kisumu. Unbeknown to him the guy was a suave conman who would bring the whole house tumbling down. At present, I was paid very good per-diem to travel to Kisumu to meet the man who had somehow really impressed our boss. I did not like him from the first time I saw him but I put up with it for the sake of getting along.

The best confidence tricksters also called conmen work diligently at projecting an image contrary to their real selves. Paul had done that by portraying himself as a well learned cosmopolitan individual with connections to rich people in the Channel Islands, Jersey. He could mouth off impressive names, and positions of some people out there and given the fact that he’d once travelled out there for an exchange visit while still in school he had impressive looking business cards to which he drew the attention of potential victims. The dead giveaway to me was his pronounced Luo accent when uttering high sounding nonsense as well as his name; only a wicked person camouflages his real nature by naming himself after a serving Pope – our guy was called John Paul and did not have a tribal name to go with it. My suspicions were aroused right from the instance we met the thirty-something years old man and though I intensely disliked him right from the outset I did my best to hide my emotions.

To impress us he insisted that we meet him at an office in Tivoli Centre which was one of the best addresses in Kisumu then. To project an even more affluent air he made sure that we were kept waiting in the reception are a as he was in a meeting with the owner of the business in whose office he’d directed us. After about 10 minutes he emerged speaking loudly an effusively to a smartly dressed man who we could not fail to notice was well –established. It was obvious to me that he was trying to milk publicity from the situation that he’d deliberately engineered so that he could court favourable opinion with us – he was trying to show us his connections and trying to project an air of affluence in a naive manner – rich people do not really have to stress that they are rich, the charm offensive though seemed to be working on Kihanya who by then was desperate to pull a dramatic move so that he could regain his standing with the Kapsabet women who were increasingly becoming hostile and tight with the financial purse strings they controlled.

John Paul took us around a couple of other offices where he’d keep us waiting in the reception area while he met the various MDs and then around midday we went down towards the lake shore for lunch of fish. Now, given the image of affluence he’d been working at portraying the whole morning I expected that he’d be the gracious host who’d foot the bill for a single lunch for the three of us. The alarms bell in my mind were clanging non-stop by the time Kihanya completed paying the bill for both fish and the less expensive sodas we had taken while we waited to be served. However, I still kept mum for the sake of getting along; also I’d been more or less paid extravagantly to comer along and I was sure that in a way Kihanya was paying for my acquiescence and expected me to play along. We got down to brass-tacks over beer in a lounge of an upmarket bar where needless to say Kihanya footed the bill once again. At the end of the meeting tit was decided that John Paul would make a visit to our Kapsabet office to get a feel for how it operated. He’d then invite some of his high net-worth benefactors from The Channel islands who were due to make an inspection visit to visit Kapsabet where we’d play the role of being one of the projects that these individuals had donated funding for from an earlier funding tranche. By the time this detail was being hammered out John Paul’s caper had become obvious to me. The guy had an older brother who’d somehow made a connection with people in the Channel Islands a couple of years earlier. As the brother was a bit more educated he’d somehow convinced the Islanders to donate funds to finance intervention programs that would offer relief for HIV/AIDS victims as well as vulnerable and orphaned children in Nyanza Province. A considerable amount had been dispatched part of which had been used to set up a miniscule relief program that was just a facade while the balance had been used to finance an ostentatious lifestyle for the man and his relative. John Paul had quietly watched and learned from his brother and at some point had traveled to Jersey where he got to meet and interact with some of his brother’s program benefactors. On coming back he’d developed the opinion that he was also an expert in the same field and he decided to fleece unsuspecting individuals particularly since at that point the donors were demanding concrete proof of the relief program before they replenished the program’s coffers which were by then dry. John Paul had married and gotten addicted to high rolling lifestyle where one hobnobbed with the high and mighty without need to slog for income. He’d acquired a used BMW car that was intended to solidify his credentials as a high-flying and successful executive but the vehicle was now in a state of disrepair and therefore parked idly on stone blocks outside his rented house in Kisumu. He’d been on his usually conman prowls when he chanced upon Kihanya and after listening to our boss’s tale he quickly grasped an opportunity to pull a fast one on him.

A week after that John Paul showed up in Kapsabet on an expense-paid visit with accommodations in the best lodging house in town. The day he arrived we were treated to lunch with him at organization expense after he’d been introduced to the women as the conduit through which the organization would begin a Jersey cow breeding program where women would receive a milk-producing animal from which to derive additional income in addition to access to small loans for business development. I was supposed to articulate it all and then turn it into a business proposal that would be offered to the rich benefactors who would be arriving within two weeks from The Channel Islands. One detail however bothered me; John Paul insisted that my financial calculations within the funding proposal be in America Dollars and that I’d have to inflate the dollar to shilling exchange rate by Kshs 8/- . That excess would then have to be given him once we received the funding which meant that I had to calculate the dollar at Ksh. 80/- instead of Ks. 72/- with him walking off with over Ksh. 400,000/- if the deal went through. To me that was unfair given that I was the one to justify it all and package it so that it’d pass scrutiny. Also, having learnt of the two earlier misappropriations by Korobo and the two women it was becoming apparent that sooner or later some regulatory authority would become aware of financial shenanigans and seek an audit; I did not relish the thought being among those who would caught up in the dragnet and be found culpable given that I’d never participated in those schemes. While he was around for four days He together with Korobo and I indulged in heavy boozing and at some point he switched over from his usual beer to our vodka which loosened his tongue so that he revealed candidly that he was in serious social and financial trouble back in Kisumu. The revelation was that although he was married with a wife and two kids he’d impregnated a young girl – a student a Kisumu polytechnic who was about 16 years younger than him. The girl was the daughter of a provincial administrator who was known to be very tough and not averse to shooting first and asking questions later when he became angry with anyone he perceived to be a law breaker. The thought of the man discovering that his daughter was pregnant by an older married man was giving John Paul sleepless night but the thought of being found to be in pecuniary embarrassment with no money was driving mad – he simply had to make some good money fast and then put up the girl in a swanky rental house after which he’d pre-empt everything by showing up at her father’s house in his BMW car to propose marriage. In his opinion such move would make the whole affair more palatable to the unknowing father-in-law. Kihanya’s predicament had just offered him a quick and easy way of killing two birds with one stone – first he would sort out his financial issues by making as much as possible from linking us with the Channel Island dudes. Also, because there was really nothing much to show the benefactors when they arrived for their inspection, we would gladly cover up for them by projecting our project as one of those that had been started from funding from Jersey. This way he’d also get inflows when the impressed benefactors renewed funding through subsequent funding. At this point I could see the reason for his greed and his manipulation mechanism that he intended to use in getting out of his problems – however I completely failed to note that he’s just shown me the tip of the iceberg in his diabolical plot to make quick and easy money. In actual fact he threw me the equivalent of a sucker punch by seeming to cast himself both as a victim and saviour of both himself and us. I got outclassed by a master manipulator who had actually set up emails in fictitious foreign names and who was sending emails purportedly from rich individuals to himself wherein a recurrent theme of ready funding was the focus. We’d go with him to the local cybercafé and he’d open up his email account which always had wonderful news about the impending arrival of the benefactors and their willingness to extend their tour to cover the North Rift projects. That was delightful news to our tickled years and I made an effort to have the funding proposal ready in time particularly when he now threw in the rider that in order to raise the 4 million shillings required to jump-start the project all we needed to do was to remit 10% of that sum to the specified individuals in Jersey who would use it to buy a car which would be competed for in a raffle by the tens of thousands of British troops who came in every year on training manoeuvres. The reasoning sounded so reasonable and so plausible that we wasted no time in beginning to arrange for accumulation of Ksh. 400,000/- within our pool that we planned to remit when John Paul gave us the bank account to deposit it into.

The women became very excited and a palpable air of great expectation now engulfed the offices. Visitors could hardly fail to notice the urgency and excitement and therefore no opportunity was lost to inform both current and new members that the organization would be implementing a never before seen tactical move in the area. Attitudes changed and the women became very agreeable with doling out any monies for the various pre-event arrangements that had to be implemented in advance. In the meantime, because it would really boost their image within the town the two top organization women fitted out new calico dresses for the main day when the wazungus (Caucasians) would be coming. Traditional prizes that are usually offered to guests were also ordered post-haste which in this instance would be traditional Nandi gourds decorated with many multicoloured beads and also traditional baskets for the ladies along with batik shawls. Capital outlays also increased because Paul insisted that we provide him with money upfront with which to book hotel rooms and hire suitable touring vehicles in advance. The women readily parted with these negligible amounts and John Paul now went back to Kisumu to prepare for their imminent arrival and we all kept in contact through mobile phone communication.

The day finally arrived when the distinguished guests were to arrive. The offices were decked with bunting, banana stems and all sorts of flowery garlands. Staffs were turned out in the new outfits and groups of school children had been brought in to recite poems and render songs that fit the occasion. The women had invited numerous distinguished individuals from their churches and from among the political elite in the town with the mayor being the guest of honour. Many photographers were hovering around ready to snap photographs that would be kept as mementos for years to show how at one time wazungus came in to deal with women in Kapsabet and excitement ran at fever pitch. It was however noticeable that John Paul was not communicating as regularly as was required and we therefore could not give the women information that would enable them coordinate all aspects of the event. We kept finding his phone either off or it would ring and remain unanswered. At about 11am the waiting was becoming unbearable and lack of information was fraying our nerves so that we had separated ourselves some distance away from the main party to confer in low tones about what course of action to take. At the last minute John Paul called informing us that they had been driving in a two car convoy to Kapsabet when a trailer-tractor carrying cane had rammed the front car causing damage but no injuries. This had entailed the journey being put off until the next day as the whole party had opted to travel back to Kisumu. Our attempts to get him to come on with even a single one of the wazungus received negative response as he kept insisting that he had to be in Kisumu to personally coordinate all activities to do with accommodations. We informed the assemblage of this and the disappointment was clearly evident from the howls of protest in Nandi language that greeted this bombshell. Vitriol flew forth and all manner of accusations were hurled at Kihanya who could only stand and take it unflinchingly all the while trying to explain that the group would be arriving the next day. His explanation could not quell the disappointment of all those who had organized a most elaborate ceremony that was designed to cement their images within the community and ensure that their place within the social setting was cemented for a long time to come. Suffice to say, that was one of the lowest days I’ve ever lived through – a fact that can be attested to by our not stepping into Sunshine Inn for our usual pint of vodka. We spent the rest of the day trying to communicate with John Paul so that we could piece together a postmortem of what had just transpired but his answers were quite evasive and it was becoming clear that he was speaking with a forked tongue. Thus, it was with great doubt that we awaited his arrival the next day but even by 10am we knew he was not going to come in judging from the way his phone went unanswered for most of the morning, To make this story short, John Paul had taken us for a ride hat had seen us pay him Ksh. 70,000/- for air. That was the beginning of the end of our association with the Nandi branch of the microcredit project. From that point onward enmity became overt and divisions between us and other staff in the office meant that work could no longer go on flawlessly. The women appealed to their local MP who being an assistant Minister within the Provincial Administration docket started using his influence to harass us and lock up all those managers in outlying offices who were on kihanya’s side. They also sent a delegation to the Nairobi NGOI Council offices where they secured permission to suspend Kihanya from operating as a signatory to the bank account of the organization countrywide which was a fatal blow in that Korobo was now forced to step away from being the operational manager and this started the first string unravelling from the edifice that we had built up over the many preceding months. A few weeks later kihanya instructed us to move from Kapsabet and relocate to Eldoret where we moved into another single room. It was also around this time that developing romantic interests in a girl I’d met back in Kapsabet and who I was to marry in the near future. Korobo did not take the change very well and was increasingly showing signs of jumping ship. He did so a few weeks later when he moved to Nakuru and joined the sales team at the local AAR organization.

Korobo had been losing interest in microcredit work in general and The North Rift in particular the feeling was of course accentuated by nostalgia for his family that was based in Nakuru. We’d tried to make the Eldoret branch as active as the Kapsabet one that we’d lost in Kapsabet but we felt more or less like interlopers when in the cramped office and then we could also clearly discern the romantic attraction between Kihanya and his ‘wife’ as well as the sexual tensions between Korobo and his office assistant ‘beau’ Nellie which made normal work difficult. Additionally, the kind of creativity that we’d been applying in Kapsabet found no place in Eldoret. He was mostly restless and preferred to work out in the field recruiting new members rather than in the office doing clerical duties. Also, Kapsabet had come crashing down just as we were concluding new work agreements which would have increased his income to Ksh. 15,000/-; that would now not be forthcoming whereas he had domestic and personal financial commitments to meet – an unavoidable situation. He therefore dabbled in a side business selling a cheaper plagiarized version of ‘Simu ya Jamii’ the public telephone call sets that were being used to offer GSM communication before cellphones became common in Kenya. Korobo had a knack for convincing young ladies who were self-employed and who wanted to increase their incomes and he was greatly assisted by the high unemployment that was making young men averse to marriage so that ladies had to fend for themselves to meet daily needs. He built a small but loyal client base that promoted him through word-of-mouth publicity so that he was selling about three phones per week but with low profit margins. He then opened as small office to solidify presence but soon realized that margins would remain low while need for a sales and service team would be soon necessary ,that would eat into his revenues and make the whole operation loss-making. The realization now made him commence job-hunting particularly during his weekly trips to Nakuru and about two months after we’d relocated to Eldoret he informed us he’d be joining AAR in Nakuru as a Sales Executive. The change was not that difficult and the job was in many respects similar to what he’d been doing both during the microcredit and public phone stints – convincing people to buy goods and services that would improve their lives, a skill he had great ability in.

I remained in Eldoret where I was slowly edged out of the organization with a two month outplacement support plan that offered rent and a minimal stipend for that duration. I now spent most of time online in cybercafés submitting organization work that I’d perform at home on my offline computer. Most of it involved developing small proposals for far-flung offices that remained within the control sphere of Kihanya and I was also drafting letters to address issues that were arising of the legal battle that was being waged between Kihanya and the Kapsabet group both within government departments as well as in court in Nakuru. Gradually the relationship with organization faded and I was now left to fend for myself in meeting cost of living. The young girl I’d been seeing on-and-off in Kapsabet became regular in my life at this time and subsidized my existence financially to a very large extent. She was virtually at my place every weekend and would come in with groceries as well as pocket money that enabled me maintain a modicum of existence as long as I confined my expenditure to basic food supplies and fuel in the form of kerosene. Her numerous visits had inevitably resulted in conception and i was therefore effectively a husband as her tummy now started swelling with the life that was developing inside her. The difficult financial stress had made me turn to Korobo often and somewhere along the line he stopped taking my calls due to compassion fatigue that tends to develop in such relationships. As a result I also stooped communicating with him so that we only got to meet again about a year and a half later after I’d gotten a good job with a leading education provider in Nairobi and relocated there. It had became obvious to me that the adage “When you rise your friends know who you are; when you fall you know who your friends are” was quite true. Korobo had called me one day out of the blues as i was working to ask if I could accompany him to the Nairobi Hospital where one of the clients in his medical cover list had been hospitalized after a road accident in kericho. By that time I’d actually, by default, made very rapid progress within the organization so that I reported directly to the Director who was the kind of boss who never micro-managed and who therefore mostly left me to work as I wished provided it showed results. As such when Korobo arrived bearing a huge ‘get well card’ and an equally extravagant bouquet of flowers we crossed over to the hospital where he met the client, a lady in charge of a department within the tea establishment in Kericho. The lady had been initially reluctant to by a road accident cover but Korobo had persistently kept up the pressure and then using his charm and natural selling acumen finally convinced her to take a policy that covered he up to Ksh. 10 million. Hardly two months after taking the cover was she involved in a serious car accident and when her rescuers who found her unconscious in the wreck discovered the AAR card and called them, she was immediately airlifted to the Nairobi hospital for the best medical intervention in Kenya. When she came to after having been out for three days and was informed that she was at the Nairobi Hospital her immediate concern was the high cost implications of being hospitalized in that high-end medical facility. Thus, when Korobo walked in and explained to her that all costs up to Ksh. 10 million would be catered for and that even if required she would be flown out to South Africa for specialized treatment she felt great relief. Being the salesman he was Korobo kept reassuring her that her only role was to get well and get back to her life which endeared her completely to him so that she became quite effusive in thanking him for having persisted in convincing her to take the medical cover. After the hospital visit we then sat down over a cup of tea and he updated me on how he was getting on in life and at AAR; I was not surprised to learn that he was doing quite well indeed. He had been given a target of Ksh. 300,000/- medical cover sales to make per month and he was making about three times that and splitting them up into individual deals so that he would bring in each tranche in phased manner that enabled him spend most of his free time studying for an insurance brokers certification so that he would open an agency in due course. Once he had negotiated with a client he’d simply wait for the next month to begin and close the deal on the first week so that he had three weeks free to do as he wished. This steady performance had enabled him rise to number two within the Nakuru agency where he was actually outperforming the boss by selling twice his volume every month within shorter timeframes – He was happy and quite excited at the prospects of finally heading the agency if performance was to be the sole determining criteria. He went back to Nakuru and we did not communicate again for some months particular as we were both quite busy with jobs and the business of raising families. He’d by this time accrued a brood of two boys who were growing up fast and keeping him focused totally on work and family.

About six months later he called me again one day inviting me to the Panfric Hotel where he was putting up as he went through an orientation training exercise by his new employer, a leading bank in Industrial and commercial finance, owned by some Asian dudes. We actually met a Ranalo Foods which was then one of the most popular downtown restaurants in Nairobi and was a magnet for young upwardly mobile professionals. Over beers he narrated how he’d applied to a newspaper advertisement for a job in sales management for the bank and had been interviewed and hired sometime later. He was going to be the Sales team leader in Nakuru and the salary was pretty decent given the low cost of living in the town. My enquiry as to why he’d left AAR elicited the following information. He’d continued out selling the Agency Manager for all the duration he’d been at AAR particularly after the lady he’d visited at Nairobi Hospital during our prior meeting became a medical cover convert and pushed for her organization to get a group policy for all executives. She was also well connected and convinced her huge circle of business associates to take the same through Korobo so that his sales performance shot through the roof. His boss read the writing on the wall and soon thereafter quit the position for another job. Korobo now waited for his opportunity to head the agency but was surprised when the HQ in Nairobi sent a young man as replacement for the manager and then added slat to injury by ordering him to orient his new boss in the new role. In effect AAR expected him to train his boss to become as good as or better than he himself was. That was unacceptable and he quit in a huff collecting all his accumulated commissions which he used in opening up a small insurance brokerage in Nakuru. A month later he applied for the bank position citing his achievements in the microcredit operation as well as in the medical insurance organization well and this must have gone down well with the recruiters for he was interviewed and hired. Back in Nakuru he made up his plans for the new role and targeted the Asian community who deserted their banks and transferred their money to the new player from their community. He then slowly started working on the African business community treating them with great respect and courtesy by getting them invitations together with their families to golfing events where top executives from the bank would hobnob with them and pitch them to join and benefit from new funding services coupled to business support that would grow their businesses. In this way Korobo became a start salesman for his new employer and was soon thereafter redeployed to the Kisumu branch that was faltering and in serious need of a worker with his kind of salesmanship prowess. It helped that the transfer came with substantial salary increase, an equally attractive transfer allowance that enabled him move into a swanky house in the city as well as opportunity to pick the specific individuals who’d be in his five-person sales team that would work the area.

Around this time my boss was finally seeing the value inherent in expanding beyond Nairobi with his focus being Kisumu where educational institutions for professionals were scarce – a gap in the market. I was dispatched to Kisumu for a day to meet a group of young professionals who were clamouring for us to organize some type of professional training that would serve the Kisumu and Kakamega region. I flew in and it was Korobo who met me at the airport in very smart attire and driving a new car which he informed me he’d acquired recently. He took me for breakfast at a restaurant somewhere and thereafter went off t work leaving me to my devices after introducing me to a taxi driver he knew who was willing to chauffer me around as I was clueless about the layout of that lakeside town. My meetings went well and I was able to visit a number of potential competitors to gauge their operating methods and even squeezed in scouting visits to look at four locations that might be ideal for setting up if we decided to open up expand out there. In between I visited Korobo at work and we spoke a little in the office that doubled up as his team’s operating base. He informed me that he’d managed to sway the Kisumu Asian community into the bank’s fold just as he’d done in Nakuru and was therefore now recognized as a star salesman within the national banking circles where moves were afoot by competitors to poach him away from his employer. A recent attempt had been made by a competitor to effect a lift-out strategy that would have drawn him and his entire five-person team to a competitor but at the last minute word had leaked out causing a top Manager from Nairobi to fly out and cut a deal with the team to stay that had effectively moved his salary past quarter of a million shillings with additional bonuses if they met specified sales target annually. He was now working on snaring a top Asian businessman, a steel tycoon with interests all over Eastern Africa to move his accounts into the bank which would result in his becoming a high flyer. Surprisingly, he informed me that he was taking golfing lessons as most of clients were now the kind of people who hobnobbed at the golf course playing and discussing business. I flew back later that afternoon after wishing him well although I could not resist a twinge of jealousy at the good fortune that had come his way since the last time we met. My job was becoming more difficult with the relationship with my boss being one that was increasingly becoming adversarial as he sought to keep me pinned down to a salary that could no longer sustain me and the increasing responsibilities I had to bear. The situation was exacerbated by my knowing that my productivity was high and therefore there were adequate reasons and finances to increase my pay if the man so desired.

Things finally came to a head and I resigned in 2010 and started my own small business which meant that I became quite busy trying to bootstrap the operation to steady growth. I lost touch with many friends and hardly time for socializing as I was everything in the one-man setup. Then in 2011 Korobo called me once again out of the blues one evening asking to meet for a couple of beers as he was in town. We met and over beers he informed me that a rival bank had offered him double his pay to defect which he’d done without hesitation. What we had planned to be just a short meeting soon turned into a wild boozing binge when we realized that two rival premier league teams were playing each other later that evening and that he had to watch the match. We ended up boozing right up to the wee hours of the morning when he drove me back home and then went to sleep as he was supposed to meet the new MD in a couple of hours. That he did and even managed to impress the mzungu was testament to his still high alcohol tolerance level which we had always referred to by the acronym ATL. He later called me up to inform me he’d been put in charge of Kisumu, Kakamega and Eldoret regions as the Regional Sales Manager and would now be reporting directly to the MD which placed him just a single rung beneath the top executive team. His salary was now beyond half a million and he’d even won a million shillings from a Safaricom promotional event after using his telephone while with the earlier employer so often that his chance of winning became almost virtually assured. That coupled with his severance pay was enough to enable him begin building rental apartment that would accommodate about 10 tenants in a two storey block he’d begun building Kisumu. That was about the last time I heard from the man because when birds fly they at times get so high that they can no longer be seen by people on the ground – Korobo was flying in circle to which I was still not able to reach. In all this I sometimes swonder about life’s strange quirks and how we all begin from somewhere.


Submitted: April 21, 2012

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