For most people, road construction is the preserve of deep-pocketed companies.
But Charles Kipng’eno Langat, 47, is changing this perception and showing residents of South Rift that the thriving business is within the reach of ordinary citizens.
Mr Langat, who used to sell second-hand clothes at the Kericho open air market, has slowly built his name and fortune as a road contractor. Starting out with little more than ambition, he now owns four road graders, four bulldozers and several lorries.
Langat’s mitumba business started out well, and he was able to grow his earnings to Sh1.8 million in five years. However, after importing bales of clothes from Germany that turned out to be sub-standard, and losing Sh1 million to a conman, he closed shop.
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In 1998, armed with Sh800,000, he decided to start chasing tenders to supply various goods to State institutions in Kericho.
“I won my first tender that year to supply 50 bags of beans and 20 bags of maize flour to the Kericho District Hospital,” Langat said.
“I then supplied timber for construction and firewood for the local approved school, as well as the prisons department.”
These small tenders earned Langat about Sh150,000 in profit. This gave him the drive to register a company to chase after more lucrative tenders in road construction. In 2003, he set up Chaglano Enterprises Ltd.
“After the registration of the company, I bid and won my first road tender, which was to murram three kilometres of the Kipsitet-Kapsorok road in Soin/Sigowet constituency at a cost of Sh1 million.”
For a man who had never handled such works before, the road project was a test of faith. After all, Langat owned no machinery and lacked technical expertise. But what he did have in his favour was that he was an area resident, and had a credible plan for the job.
“The first thing that I did was source for murram. I then bought mattocks, hoes and spades from a local hardware shop, and hired a farm tractor to dig up the road. I used human labour to spread the murram and level it.”
The father of four – who currently has a workforce of 60, among them four civic and building engineers – completed the road in two months. His profit was Sh500,000.
The engineer who inspected the road was impressed with its quality, which led to Langat being awarded a Sh2.5 million project to murram the Ainamoi-Kapsorok road. His profit was 25 per cent of the cost.
“The roads department engineers were happy I did the works despite the odds stacked against me. This led to my third road contract worth Sh3.5 million in Tendeno ward in Kipkelion East constituency.”
After this project, a Chinese road construction firm selected him among candidates it was sponsoring to undergo six months of road construction training.
“After the training, we were given a trial Sh4 million labour-based construction project. With my experience in labour-based road construction, the challenge was easy. I made 35 per cent as profit from the contract,” said Langat.
He added the Sh1.4 million he earned to a Sh10 million bank loan he had got to buy his first piece of machinery, a grader.
“With this grader, I bid and won a Sh8 million tender for the excavation and murraming of the 12km Brooke-Kebeneti road.”
Langat said he did not make much from this contract as it required skilled labour and high-tech equipment. But this was followed by a Sh12 million project.
“By this time, I had gained experience and knew the exact number of people I required on the ground. Besides my grader, I hired a bulldozer and after the works were done, I made Sh4 million in profit.”
Langat applied for another loan to purchase two tipper lorries, and with his company better equipped, the value of the bids he won increased, and with this, his profits.
Langat attributes his run of success to an early decision to use his profits to grow the business, rather than buy things for himself.
“I did not rush into purchasing top-of-the-range vehicles or constructing a luxurious house. I knew that if I invested the money, I would one day comfortably buy any vehicle I wanted and construct any house I fancied.”
And while road construction was thriving, Langat did not want to rely on just one business venture. In 2009, he got into real estate, purchasing a Sh1.8 million half acre.
“Back then, there was huge demand for residential houses in the area. I built a flat with 12 units. They were booked before they were even complete. This encouraged me to apply for a loan to construct another 16 units. I’ve added more flats over the years,” said Langat, adding that the real estate business earns him at least Sh1 million a month.
“I have temporarily suspended the construction of more houses, as the real estate business in Kericho town is saturated and it is no longer lucrative.”
Langat has also set aside money to support his community.
“I am not where I am because of my power but God’s grace, which is why I decided to set aside at least Sh2 million from my business ventures to fund a football tournament and supply elderly citizens with essential items,” he said.