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Tribute: Chris Kirubi's dream for Nairobi

By Philip Kisia | Jun 21st 2021 | 4 min read
Business magnate Chris Kirubi. He died of cancer on June 14, 2021. [File, Standard]

My first official encounter with CK was in November 1999. At the time, I was Group Sales Manager at Sarova Group. My boss, the late Sandy Vohra, had proposed me as his replacement for the Chairman's position at the Nairobi Central Business District Association.

Chris, together with a team of 10 top corporate leaders scheduled a meeting to meet the proposed candidate. I was then in my mid 30s and CK in his late 50s. I was the youngest in the room when the meeting kicked off. I was not a member of the Corporate Executive Millionaires Club.

After a few questions on what my vision was for Nairobi and what I planned to deliver in the first 100 days, it was Chris who convinced the other members (including Dr Manu Chandaria) that I should be given 6 months to prove my worth.

I found NCBDA operating from someone's private office on Loita Street. I set to change this by writing proposals to development partners. Ford Foundation responded positively and pledged to fund governance programmes in Nairobi. They were especially keen to support changes in Governance and Leadership both at the City Council of Nairobi and enhance our cooperation with the Kenya Police.

Ford Foundation gave the go-ahead to source for appropriate office space in the CBD. I upped the game when I requested CK to let us occupy half a floor on the 5th floor of International Life house. He was both surprised and amused at my audacity.

"Phillip, we are operating a very prestigious address where only top corporations and Embassies can afford rent!"

I insisted that we needed a proper address where we would easily interact with development partners. He relented and directed his G.M to offer us the space - but strictly on commercial terms. Chris was later shocked to learn that we had paid six months’ rent and committed to paying quarterly rent in advance. It is at this point I earned his trust and respect.

While he was committed to giving young people a chance, he was firm that they needed to prove their commitment to the task they had signed up for.

His bias for supporting the youth was again manifested in Sept 2002 just before the general elections. He then asked me to join him for a drink at the Hilton Hotel Little did I know that he wanted to pick my brains on who was likely to win the Dec 2002 election.

I was open and candid - all odds favoured Mwai Kibaki to be the next President. He looked shocked but graciously promised to send "something" to support Kibaki's campaign the following week. What grasped my imagination was his answer to my question of why he would support Uhuru, my agemate against an experienced politician of Mwai Kibaki's calibre. His answer was, "The future of this country is in the youth".

My 12-year interaction with CK as Chairman of NCBDA, 1st CEO of the Kenyatta International Conference Centre, and later on as the last CEO of Nairobi (Town Clerk of the City Council of Nairobi), empowered me to stand by some core values in the high stakes management of a metropolitan: Be Firm. Be forthright. Be Fair.

These values enabled my team to develop the Nairobi Master Plan, an ambitious plan that seeks to address the growth of our City for the next 25 years.

President Uhuru Kenyatta's administration through the Nairobi Metropolitan Services and General Badi have started the serious implementation.

I embraced the values of equity as KICC became the first state organisation to deliver a ratio of 32 % woman as staff compliment.

We consulted regularly with CK, debated positively on how to make the city better. Alongside it was important that consensus was sought from many other Captains of Industry on how to engage in Public-Private Partnerships on areas such as street lighting, landscaping, solid waste management and policing among others.

The journey to remake Nairobi is long and tough. And there have been many challenges along the way, especially where politics interfere with principles of corporate governance. But if there is anything I learnt from the late Kirubi, it is, do the right thing and never compromise on quality.

Nairobi must work.

Farewell CK. This City that you so loved will never forget you.

Philip M. A. Kisia MBS, FKIM, FMSK.

Chairman NCBDA -1999 - 2003, Founder trustee KEPSA and Town Clerk & CEO City of Nairobi 2009 to 2013.

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