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February 23, 2019

Kenya's police chiefs have homegrown 'entrepreneurial talent'

Mo Ibrahim responds to questions from journalists. PHOTO/FILE
Mo Ibrahim responds to questions from journalists. PHOTO/FILE

I am still a bit sore about the demise of Celtel: not the company, but the brand.

It was a strong African brand and I thought it was awful how it was just made to go away.

Middle Eastern MTC acquired the entire Celtel operation founded by billionaire Sudanese-British mobile communications entrepreneur Mr Mo Ibrahim.

MTC then decided they need to rebrand so the African operation would have the same brand identity as their Middle Eastern operations that were newly integrated under the Zain brand.

This was in 2008, and in 2010, they got bored of their African toy and sold it to Airtel.

Another day, another rebranding.

I have never been interested in promotional t-shirts and baseball caps, so I mostly just retained a lingering sense of randomness.

I also felt a sense of anticlimax with Mr Mo Ibrahim’s retirement pursuits when he ventured into the already fairly crowded field of NGOs.

Let us not talk of the African president’s award – $5 million is peanuts to any self-respecting president, and entirely the wrong incentive ('Lemme give you some cash to not steal’).

It is, of course, his money, and so he is free to do with it as he pleases. Still, I wished that Mr Ibrahim would have focused more on sharing how he managed to make those millions and billions that allowed him to set aside a giveaway of $5 million every year (even if he does not get to give it away).

Building a business around here is no joke, and Mr Ibrahim had done incredibly well with Celtel which had 24 million subscribers in 14 African countries when it was sold for $3.4 billion in 2005.

So it would have been wonderful had he found a more lasting, institutionalised way of imparting the details of how you build a business across sub-Saharan Africa, with all the specific challenges that you encounter across the continent. Maybe through a network of business schools? A series of CEO lectures?

Alas, Mr Ibrahim is otherwise engaged, and I have come to realise that we might not, in fact, need him.

There is enough homegrown but under-appreciated talent to keep us busy, and thankfully we are all gradually waking up to it. As one of the dailies pointed out in a subtly funny piece of writing on Monday: ‘'In their testimonies before the team vetting them, senior police officers have explained how they have been making millions of shillings from rearing chicken, rental income and fish farming among other money-making ventures. Their testimonies, if true, put Kiganjo Police Training College at par with the region’s top business schools in producing entrepreneurs of note.”

See what I mean? It is all here: the success stories in agriculture, real estate, fisheries and professional services. The kaleidoscope of the Kenyan economy.

Nandi Central OCPD Joakim Mecha was found to have made deposits of Sh122,000 a week or Sh159,000, Sh500,000 and Sh200,000 a day.

These were, he said, from his engineering consultancy and from a loan.

Former AP Senior Staff College Commandant Eusebius Laibuta was a little selfish about sharing his commercial skills: he ‘could not explain clearly the source of a Sh3 million annual income listed as coming from miscellaneous and rental payments.’

This clearly dwarfs his police income, and yet confusingly, he appears very attached to that underpaid job: ‘I personally appeal to you not to spell doom on us by taking away our jobs, because if you do so, you may find some of us on the obituary pages of newspapers.’

In contrast, former director of police reforms Jonathan Koskei claimed that he received hundreds of thousands of shillings from junior officers for ‘farm inputs’ and the purchase of dairy cows (note those are not cheap!).

We take it that he generously invited his younger colleagues to participate in his impressive business acumen?

Former deputy police spokesman Charles Owino Wahongo, in turn, lucked out with his fish farm: ‘Unilever and National Housing Corporation have been sending me between Sh9 million and Sh10 million from time to time.’ Nice one!

As David Ndii said in his column: Uninvite the gentlemen from the police force already. So much shining talent is just wasted there and they should really make space for less entrepreneurial officers.

So much talent. Maybe we need to take a closer look at the recruitment procedures for the Kenyan police to understand how they hit on such an entrepreneurial talent pool?

Yes, if you check the barely-accounted-for revenues of those senior police officers against what they earn officially, you see that there is a problem.

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