Kenya’s Money in the Past II

Njenga Karume was politician & businessman who grew up on a Delamere farm and in his time he became one of the richest indigenous business people before independence, and later a reluctant, but effective leader of a controversial organization (GEMA), long-term member of parliament and one time Defense Minister of Kenya. He passed away in February 2012 having lived to be an old man though he seemed to slaughter a goat (he was a generous networker) on almost every other page of his autobiography Beyond Expectations – From Charcoal to Gold (written with Mutu wa Gethoi) which was published in 2009.

Here’s another slate condensed version of the book

Seeing opportunity & taking advantage of changes:

  • His first business was in high school where he bought & sold pens to fellow students (by delaying paying his own fees) and undercutting the school shop (page 49)
  • Took up the opportunity to sell liquor when Africans were granted permission (116)
  • Took up the opportunity to go into wholesale business (102)
  • Went into tobacco distribution, though not a smoker (151)
  • Tried to buy shares in the Kenya Wine Agencies Ltd where he clashed with Njonjo (153)

Fortune in Family:

  • When he was unable to find good managers for his growing business empire, his father-in-law advised him to marry a second wife (122) and he learnt that prosperous men acquired additional wives to manage their property (285)
  • Credits his (first) wife for looking after his business even when he was in detention (115, 283)

Fortune in beer:

  • First visited a brewery when he was still a schoolboy (54)
  • He was approached to become a partner to a beer distributor (120)
  • To end a boycott that affected their profits, Kenya Breweries offered Kenyatta a quarter of the shares in the company (135)
  • South Africa Breweries offered him a partnership (271) which later ended his 38-year distribution arrangement with Kenya Breweries and resulted in a costly court case where he was (briefly) awarded 231 million shillings.

African businessman navigating the colonial era:

  • If detained for being a Mau Mau sympathizer, the colonial authorities would freeze someone’s bank account (94)
  • He opened his first bank account with the Standard Bank of South Africa at Nakuru in 1951 (73)
  • Africans needed an exemption certificate to borrow more than 200 shillings from a bank (78)
  • Disgruntled African soldiers after (World War Two) found themselves neglected as their European colleagues got loans to buy land or start businesses (61)

Business & Politics:

  • Navigating presidential orders – see how they work for him (176) and against him (252)
  • Land politics could be volatile (216) but he was able to negotiate tricky land deals, such as one where a group of people wanted to subdivide a large parcel of land, something that had led many group schemes into dispute & fallout (178)
  • Some of his partners pursued Africanization with Asian partners and this cost them all KWAL shares (153)

Advice for Kenya Entrepreneurs:

  • In the world of business, there is no need to give away (your) secrets (51)
  • He advises that Kenya’s (future) prosperity lies in education, technology and industrialization (318)
  • Gives tips for youth engaging in business (313)

Odd stories:

  • His (dying) grandfather tried to bequeath his goat-herd to him, and bypass the rest of the family (23)
  • He was not happy to take an oath in President Kenyatta’s house (206)
  • The case of the missing silver beer mug (238)
  • How did matatus gain exemption from TLB licensing? (220)