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Machel Waikenda:I sold popcorn to raise fees

My Man

machal waikendaYou have the Kenyan flag pinned to your jacket and on your wrist are two bracelets with Kenyan flag colours. When you write about Kenya, your articles are normally the optimistic kind.

Do you love Kenya that much or that butters your bread? I believe in Kenya. We are a great nation. I think that from where we are as a nation, the future can only be bright for us.

What exactly is a bright future? A future where children have more opportunities than they have now, where the youth with skills are empowered enough to find employment or create jobs, where healthcare is accessible to all, where doing business is possible with few limitations, where as many people as possible are economically empowered and the middle class is large and active.

What does being Kenyan mean to you? It is about being proud of my country, the uniqueness of Kenyans, our diversity, the history that we have. It is about loving my country and putting its needs before my own. And making sacrifices for the country. The kind of thing that the likes of Koitalel, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, Dedan Kimathi, Tom Mboya and J M Kariuki did.

Have you, in your life, demonstrated that you can put the needs of Kenya above your needs? I think that by devoting my time, energy and resources towards empowering the youth in Kenya and by advancing the youth agenda, I have done something at least.

Let’s talk about doing the things you love... It has always been important to me that I do things that I’m passionate about. I’d rather a talented painter becomes the greatest painter ever than compromising for the sake of security to become a third-rate engineer. The way I go about my life is such that I single out something that I’m good at, then throw all my energies and mental strength to it. I give it my best.

I find that hard to believe. From the age of 25 to this day when you are 33, you have been in three separate and unrelated fields. You have been in the aviation industry as a pilot, you were in the entertainment industry as the founder of Blackstar Entertainment and you are now in politics. Is it that you can’t make up your mind? I love flying. I did it for KQ because it is one of the things I wanted to do as a child. Even though I moved from that field, I still fly planes now and then. I knew that I would never work at KQ till I retire. Blackstar for me was not an entertainment venture. I looked at it as a business. Entrepreneurship is my second nature. What you are calling politics is leadership to me, and I love using my life to change other people’s lives. Leadership is the one place I would want to retire in. My mind is set.

How was your experience as a KQ pilot? It was amazing. I travelled a lot and met different people. One thing people don’t know about piloting is the amount of hard work and sacrifice needed. There are no second chances when you are up in the air. You have to function at 100 per cent at all times. That means you have to do a lot of reading, a lot of memorising, and you have to be dedicated and attentive even when the hours are terrible.

You did your undergraduate degree and Masters in the US. How was it studying there? Yes, I did my undergraduate at the University of Florida until 2004. Later I enrolled for my MBA at the University of Phoenix and completed in 2011. I can only talk for myself; my father called me after one semester in my first year, and told me that I was on my own. That he was done paying fees for me. I had to get a job to keep myself in school. The first job I got was that of cleaning bathrooms in a supermarket. In the years that followed, I ended up working as a ‘bagger’ (the guy who puts a customer’s goods in a bag at the supermarket), a telemarketer, a tutor, an administrator and I also sold popcorns and snacks at the cinemas..

And studies...? I went to class in the mornings and was at work in the afternoons. I lived in a small town and had little fun compared to other college students I guess. When I was done, I had my undergraduate certificate, Masters papers and my pilot license.

That’s interesting considering that there are people who believe you are a privileged kid who is having it easy in life. My mother was a district officer who was on a government salary and lived in a government house. I wonder whether that is a privilege. My initial schooling was in several places as we constantly moved to keep up with my mother’s work. Taita Taveta, Kilifi, Kaloleni and all, but I sat my KCPE at St Mary’s, Nairobi in 1995. My high school was in two schools; Kangaru High School in Embu and Makini School where I sat my KCSE in 1999. I have created my own dreams and luck, and life. I don’t see myself as a privileged.

What is the greatest lesson you learnt from your father? Self-sufficiency. He taught me to be independent and to always strive to stand on my own feet. This lesson actually came from that 2000 (the year I was in First Year) declaration that he made, saying I was on my own.

You are a family man today. Did you plan to start your family or did it just happen out of the blue? I’m married to Rose Njeri. Been married for three years now. We have a lovely daughter called Wangari. She is two years old. Did my marriage happen out of the blue? I don’t think so. Did I plan for it? I believe you never actually plan for marriage. When you meet the right person, the right things just happen.

What kind of dreams/plans do you have for your daughter? I want her to have the opportunities I never had. I want to teach her about life and nature her to be a

What are you working on at the moment? I mentor young people, on my #askwaikenda online platform, I’m a board member at Blackstar Entertainment, and my day job is that of being the County Minister in charge of youth and sports in Kiambu County. On this platform, I have come up with a fund for the youth, women and people with disability that is currently worth Sh300m.  


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