Let Safaricom build a Bob Collymore School of Oncology

We mustn't pay lip service to the cancer battle and all other diseases ravaging our people.

In Summary

• Bob was conscious of his role as a leader in society all the time, responding to the many pressing demands of such a position.

• We must learn something about leadership succession: a major problem in Africa in both the private and public sectors.

The late Chief Executive Officer Bob Collymore.
The late Chief Executive Officer Bob Collymore.

My wife Dorothy and I have learnt with great shock of the passing on of our friend, Bob Collymore, who was a member of the Board of Directors of the Africa Cancer Foundation from its inception in July 2011.

Bob was very involved and supportive during ACF's first strategic planning exercise that set the stage for its work in Kenya over the ast eight years,  including the production of cancer awareness booklets and cancer screening exercises in 18 counties. This was long before he himself was diagnosed with cancer.

We send our sincere condolences to his wife, Wambui and all their children,  as well as to Safaricom and all Kenyans. Bob will be remembered for his dedication and steadfast service to this country. In Safaricom he continued from where Michael Joseph had left off, to lead a company that has changed lives nationally and internationally. 


Bob was conscious of his role as a leader in society all the time, responding to the many pressing demands of such a position. Many people in society may not always sympathise with, or support, such leaders. And this is the contradiction leaders have to live with all the time: coming to terms with appreciation and resentment at the same time.

Surprisingly in death, all social forces tend to come together to appreciate the goodness in the departed, delivering eulogies with great superlatives sometimes difficult either to imagine or comprehend. But such is the nature of life that William Shakespeare exposed to us in  Julius Caesar.

Hence, it is refreshingly honest when a child, in similar circumstances, would in appreciation of such a father, simply say, "Daddy was a great man!" But truth be told, when all is said and done, Bob lived a life that is a lesson for most of us.

We Kenyans know him as a leading executive of a leading company that has immensely impacted our lives. In that regard, he was definitely not a disappointment after Michael Joseph. Mind you, John the Baptist had to apologise to his followers that the one who was coming after him, Jesus Christ, wore shoes he could not himself fit into.

Michael Joseph never said any such thing about Bob. But when Bob stepped into the shoes Michael left behind, few noticed the difference. That in itself was a great achievement. So we must learn something about leadership succession: a major problem in Africa in both the private and public sectors.

Those who are building promising business management schools like Strathmore University, please think of initiating programmes on 'Managing Succession' and get some material from Safaricom from the experiences of Michael Joseph and Bob Collymore. Don't get me wrong. If well researched and written, the Safaricom Case Study will probably not reveal a bed of roses.

It will discuss what the French call 'le problematique' of managing succession. Thus, ventilated in a comparative way, the Safaricom experience will reveal both its uniqueness and similarity with other experiences, probably coming up with a unique Kenyan experience. The point I am driving home is that our eulogies must not take the life that Bob lived in vain.


His experience with cancer, as God would have it, came at the tail end of his life. But he bore it bravely and made great and prophetic statements about his experience, not for himself but for those he would leave behind. We as governments, both county and national, must not pay lip service to the battle against cancer and all other diseases ravaging our people.

We are particularly behind in the battle against all non-communicable diseases. The current intensification of implementing Universal Health Care must not be compromised in any way: the commitment by both the public and private sectors must be methodical, systematic, realistic and results-oriented.

As we are fond of saying in government, "What gets measured gets done." But sometimes the private sector seems to isolate itself from the public, preferring to look at health insurance purely in terms of looking after "those who work for us."

The World Health Organization does not look at health this way. It sets up standards which are truly societal. Access to fresh drinkable water is not internal to any one family or company: it is a societal issue, impacting the health of all and sundry equally. It is central to public health. Hence, we must all join hands to give ourselves a deadline regarding when non-access to fresh drinkable water will be a thing of the past in the spirit of "what gets measured gets done".

A final appeal to Safaricom. Choose one university anywhere in Kenya. Dedicate yourselves to building a Bob Collymore School of Oncology. Make that a school of excellence in oncology delivering expertise in cancer diagnosis, treatment and care including palliative care. Build it to train medical physicists, cancer nurses, oncology specialists of many types of cancer and let it collaborate with leading cancer schools elsewhere.

Let it champion at every level of public healthcare cancer screening and diagnosis so that this 'Emperor of All Maladies' is identified early to make treatment more feasible.

With the advent of Universal Healthcare Coverage, there is no doubt in my mind that Safaricom will enter into partnership with all counties to ascertain the use of Electronic Patient Records. This is a necessary component of this universal screening system for all diseases to facilitate prevention, early detection and effective treatment. This is not a promise to a health utopia: both Cuba and China have done it. We can because we care.

The writer is the Governor, Kisumu County.