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RAGS TO RICHES

Poor man in the city becomes a millionaire in the village

The search for greener pastures took a man to Vihiga from Nairobi, and his success challenges the narrative of rural-urban migration

In Summary

• Born and bred in Nairobi, Rodrick Oware only knew poverty and hardship for decades

• He moved upcountry and one idea led to another until he changed his fortunes

Rodrick Oware, 55, recounts his rise from city pauper to village millionaire in Vihiga county
Rodrick Oware, 55, recounts his rise from city pauper to village millionaire in Vihiga county
Image: MARTIN OMBIMA

Many Kenyans move from rural to urban areas in search of money. But sometimes success is in the village they left to find it.

This holds true in the story of Rodrick Oware, 55. His rags-to-riches story begins in Nairobi and ends with him owning a resort in Emuhaya, Vihiga county.

“Boss, where I am now and what you are seeing here, it’s by the will of God and my hard work and my family as well,” he told the Star.

 
 
 
 

Oware said in his life, he never thought things could turn out in his favour to be counted among the well-off sons of the soil.

Recounting his pathetic life in the city, he said, “Nairobi ni shamba la mawe [is a concrete jungle].”

Born and bred in Nairobi, he knew nothing but hardship. After years of hustling and struggling, Oware left the city in 2012 and went back to his rural home in Ebusiekwe.

He had to start from scratch when he got back to the village. His level of poverty could not be compared to even street families.

“I had nothing, I was a nobody. I was wondering where to start my life now,” Oware said.

 
 
 
 

“One of my biggest challenges when I came home was that most of my village mates felt like this man is no more, totally doomed.”

 
 
 
 
 

The poverty he was experiencing made most people around not to associate with him.

“In villages, people want to engage you when you have cash so you can spend time at drinking points and smoking. But when you don’t have money, you have no business at all being with them,” Oware said.

He decided to look for something to keep him busy in the village to avoid idling, which could create more trouble for him.

Rodrick Oware hands over a tree to one of his clients in Vihiga county
Rodrick Oware hands over a tree to one of his clients in Vihiga county
Image: Martin Ombima

SEEDLINGS IDEA

The idea of selling seedlings came to mind and he started doing tree nurseries of various trees.

He focused on blue gum, Cyprus, gravellier and ‘cayaba’ mainly used for compound fencing as their seedlings were easily found.

Oware said the three brands were also easily marketed in the region either on wholesale or retail.   

“I started it as a single man, no one to send, no one to talk to. It was me and my God there. Some of the people could pass nearby, talking so ill, but I just kept quiet,” he said.

Once he had done a number of nurseries, which had given him hell, he started selling the seedlings in large volumes.

This at least gave him some good money for upkeep and his personal activities in the village.

With his savings, he set up a kiosk mainly for soft drinks just next to where he was operating from.

The place he was operating from was in a valley, and most clients were getting thirsty navigating the terrain.

“I opted for soft drinks because you can’t tell whether someone is an alcoholic or not, and some used to come with their families,” he said.

Oware said with soft drinks, he had no queries because he knew any family man would be comfortable there with his children as well.

He said with time, he started an eatery, where most of the time, he dwelt on local foods only.

“And you see the funny thing I was doing this but I was not sure if these guys would eat,” Oware laughed.

“But in business, it is all about risk taking. So I was just trying; if it works, well and good, if it fails, then wipe it out and think of something different.” 

Luckily, the eatery picked up and he decided to expand it.

The gate to Roddy's Green Lounge resort
The gate to Roddy's Green Lounge resort
Image: Martin Ombima

RESORT BUSINESS

As he grew the business into a hotel, residents started seeking jobs there.

“Now my place had become a bee hive and I alone could not manage it, so I needed workers to help,” Oware said.

Considering that some clients were having long drives and needed time to rest, he came up with the Roddy-Ecosystem hotel that was later developed into a resort at Ebuyangu in Emuhaya subcounty.

“That resort on Kisumu-Busia highway just came from these seedlings, though most people cannot believe that,” he said.

Oware said his resort is now doing business with a growing clientele and is even targeting the Vihiga county government. He said the resort is environmentally friendly to all.

The entrepreneur said what the hospitality sector needs is county support and it will create employment for jobless youths.

“What we want is for the county to give us business so we can advance to another level,” he said.

Oware said the central and county governments alone cannot create enough jobs for the millions of youths being offloaded by universities and colleges.

He said the two arms of government need to work hand in hand with the private sector so they can improve the lives of youths.

Oware said when most youths are financially secure, the economy will stabilise as most people will be independent.

General view of the resort in Emuhaya
General view of the resort in Emuhaya
Image: Martin Ombima
For those running to Nairobi and your fortune is not there, please try other activities in the rural set-up. You might create employment for many in this rural area
Rodrick Oware

BAMBOO BUSINESS

When the county came up with the policy of growing bamboo, Oware saw another business opportunity.

Bamboo is a grass that can be used to feed animals, can help in soil erosion, building and in craft as well. It is environmentally friendly if well managed.

The plant has a long life span and high growth rate. Oware said it is better in environmental conservation than any other plant on earth.

“What I have now is what I gathered from three seedlings. And for free, I will teach these people here ‘Miti ni mali’ and invest in them,” Oware said.

He urged the youth not to dwell on white-collar jobs as the sector has shrunk.

"Youths just believe the path of life is going to university then you get a big job, with huge cars and well furnished offices. But these things no longer exist. Open your mind to other activities," Oware said. 

He said capital flight is the major killer of the hospitality sector. “If the governor can curb this capital flight, I am sure we will do tremendous work,” Oware said.

A delay in payments from counties after rendering services is another hurdle he contends with. It leaves hospitality industries in trouble, with debts shooting up due to interest rates, he said.

Regarding the bamboo, Oware said once it has been planted, the county should help the locals in marketing it and educate them on the importance of it as well.

But all in all, he is grateful for how life has turned out since he moved to the village.

“For those running to Nairobi and your fortune is not there, please try other activities in the rural set-up. You might create employment for many in this rural area,” he said.

Edited by T Jalio

Roddy's resort
Roddy's resort
Image: Martin Ombbima