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Politics, style and money rolled into one: Meet Kesses MP Swarup Mishra

First-time Kesses MP and proprietor of Mediheal Hospital, Dr Swarup Mishra. [Peter Ochieng, Standard]

It would seem as though he bluffed his way through life. He is serious and not-so-serious at the same time. But his success as a businessman, academic and politician is the stuff of serious plotting and scheming with a good dose of luck.

However, to Dr Swarup Mishra aka Kiprop arap Chelule - the first-time Kesses MP - it is all “by the grace of God”.

He hadn’t planned to settle in Kenya. “Kenya was not so promising at the time (1990s) but as I settled in, I saw the potential and I decided to stay,” he says.

But even then, he found lecture halls and practising at the medical college routine.

“After seven years I got bored and I wanted to try something different.”

When he started his hospital, outpatient services were free but he offered many other services at reduced prices. With time, there was a need for expansion.

Deployed network skills

But the banks wouldn’t touch him. He deployed his networking skills and raised money then approached the International Development Bank.

“My dream for starting Mediheal was not commercial... I wanted to replicate what I had seen in India and in the West.”

“I felt sad every time I travelled to India and half the plane was occupied by sick Kenyans… some going to replace knees.”

He had to do something about it.

Kesses Member of Parliament Dr Swarrup Mishra with family at his Elgonview residence in Eldoret Uasin Gishu County. [Peter Ochieng, Standard]

Mediheal Hospital was the first to install an MRI machine outside Nairobi.

His hospital charged Sh12,000 for MRI while the prevailing market rate at the time was Sh30,000.

“People said Mishra is a mad person. There is no competition, why does he charge (sic) so low?”

“Right now, the treatments that took people to India are available at Mediheal… knee surgery is done within 20 minutes.”

His father came to visit the Masai Mara and had his knees replaced at the Mediheal facility in Eldoret, he says with glee.

What is the secret to his success?

His wisdom: “Think of the client and then design a product. If you think of the product before the client, then you will fail.

“When clients own your business you are a successful businessman… they are your ambassadors. They will talk about what you are doing.”

He also says he buys equipment directly from the suppliers and employs in-house doctors.

“Pay them more and embarrass them when they don’t perform.”

He also delegates a lot.

“If you want to be a good leader in politics or business, if you want your people to grow, don’t interfere. Allow them to make decisions. Allow them to grow.”

Mediheal started with 40 members of staff but currently employs 1,800 people, including 250 Indian expatriates. It now has 14 units that make up the Mediheal Group.

Mediheal Hospital's private wing, Eldoret. [Peter Ochieng, Standard]

What is his response to claims that Mediheal engages in organ trafficking?

“It is illegal first of all and then it is scientifically difficult to harvest a human organ and to give it to someone else just like that… it would take a medical miracle to run and profit from such a venture.”

He says cross-matching up a donor and a recipient and quickly getting the organ transferred to the new body takes a lot of tedious, methodical planning.

“The organ could turn into meat while you are looking for a recipient.”

An organ harvested from a human body can stay alive - not frozen but in temperatures as those of a living person - for a few hours. Unless blood circulation is restored, the organ “self-destructs”.

His mastery of the twist of phrases comes in handy in his talks. He deploys it to great effect when he is doling out wisdom.

“If you can have two wives, two cars why not two religions?” he says when I ask him if he plans to switch religion and become a Christian. He admits that his Hindu priests back in India have no problem with his dalliance with Christianity.

“They don’t have a problem at all… in fact, they say it’s added blessings.”

And as it so often happens, medicine runs in the family. His grandfather was a herbalist, his father is a retired doctor and three of his siblings are medical doctors.

A man of considerable tastes, Swarup is keen on art. [Peter Ochieng]

However, his son (26) and daughter (22) chose different vocations; venture capitalism and law.

He tried to convince them to follow in his footsteps in vain.

“Papa,” they told him, “You are a non-practising doctor while Mama is forever in the theatre… we don’t want that for our lives.”

He is proud of his students at Moi University School of Medicine, some of whom he says are smarter and quicker than him.

“Dr Melly (one of his students) has mimicked me… he went into business, set up a hospital, and now he is contesting to be MP of Soi Constituency.”

His face lights up when he mentions his family. He speaks glowingly about his wife whom he describes as more focused than him.

“When you marry you get controlled… I was wayward but my wife made me become disciplined.”

He says his first breakthrough was moving from the East to the North in India. The second was getting married and coming to Africa was third. Politics was the fourth. He is waiting for a final breakthrough… perhaps spiritual.

He loves to spoil his wife and children with gifts. He once bought her a $21,000-diamond ring and earrings.

Sometimes, however, they frown at his spending; like when he bought each of them a house in Dubai as they vacationed.

“What for?” they asked him.

Dr Swarrup Mishra at his dairy farm in Eldoret, Uasin Gishu County, February 2022. [Peter Ochieng, Standard]

He confesses that four days to the 2017 elections he asked his wife if she thought he would win.

“You are the one contesting, why are you asking me?” she chided him.

“I suppose I will win by a margin of 1,000 or less but should we lose, we will go on a long holiday… no talking politics there, come back and continue with our lives.”

He knew he was winning when the counting started.

A party animal, Mishra is a regular in Eldoret clubs. He confesses that although he is generous, he has learned to separate his three facets of life — politics, academics and business.

“Mishra the politician is very generous; Mishra the businessman knows how to drive a hard bargain.”

“I love a good dress, good parties, good cars because I love life with colour… particularly when I came to Africa. Africans know how to live life with colour.

“I made an oath not to drink but when I meet my friends and listen to African music, I break the vow and drink, then I repent.”

He audits his time with family and admits he hasn’t quite given them enough time, especially his wife.

“But they understand and appreciate who I am… I make it up to them in other ways.” 

He is charitable to his colleagues, even those who have criticised him and called him names for his close association with the “Handshake” side of the Jubilee administration.

“I don’t harbour a grudge against them, including Aaron Cheruiyot who is being investigated over remarks at a recent UDA rally in Eldoret.”

I ask him what he thinks his chances are in clinching the Kesses seat.

He is cognisant of the prevailing reality on the ground. He knows that he can’t stand in the way of the UDA wave sweeping across the Rift Valley especially Uasin Gishu. His plan is to contest as an independent candidate.

“I won’t run against the will of my people, but for now I will contest as an independent. I believe the people will consider my track record rather than the political party that sponsors me.”

Mishra was booed off the stage during a rally in November where Deputy President William Ruto was the chief guest.

But not before he said I am finished.

Dr Swarup Mishra's Elgon View residence, Eldoret, Uasin Gishu County. [Peter Ochieng, Standard]

What did he mean?

“I had decided to quit politics.”

As he made his way to his car the crowds pelted him with stones.

“I told Victor, my driver of 12 years, it’s all over. I’m done with politics.”

He went home and slept until 2pm the following day.

After two days, his supporters persuaded him to face the people.

“I finally came out to the welcoming hands of my people.”

Since 2017, he has given out bursaries, paid medical bills and school fees to countless of his constituents from his personal finances and also through CDF.

He considers himself lucky. He survived two bouts of Covid-19 and recently recovered from a prostate ailment.

“I stared at death but God saved me,” he says.

He dreams of the African renaissance; of jobs, good roads, paved walkways, good houses and big malls.

“Only in Africa do you get so much good, pure food… Kenya is blessed with highlands and lowlands, lakes and deserts, natural game parks, white sands and all that… you can wear the best outfit here,” he says.

Does his weight concern him? He weighs 100kg

“Yes it does…” he says before making fun of it. “Maybe I’m adding weight because I don’t have a girlfriend on the side.

Part of the shoe collection. [Peter Ochieng]

“I am a doctor, I should know better; obesity leads to cancer, hypertension and all those other scary diseases and I should do something about it.”

He knows the solution to keeping fit; discipline and good food which he admits — like most humans — he lacks. Nonetheless, he agrees that he needs to do something urgently. He won’t say what it is.

Mishra and his Gods. [Boniface Okendo,Standard].

How did he end up in politics?

“I never moved into politics… I was doing politics before I joined politics.

“I made friends easily because I am a natural lover of people and when you love people, politics is inside you… I would go to nightclubs in the evening and talk about politics.”

In Parliament, he has sponsored five Bills in the last five years and credits himself with reforms in NHIF, Kemsa and KMTC.

He has also served in the Security Committee, which explains why he won’t talk much today.

“Most of what we deliberate is sensitive to national security and therefore secret.”

What about the name Kiprop? He explains it was given to him by Mzee Bultut, former President Daniel Moi’s confidant from Kabartonjo.

When he arrived in Kenya in 1997 he performed free surgeries in Iten and Kabarnet. One Madaraka Day, a car was sent to pick him up from Eldoret. At first, he was fearful that perhaps he had done something wrong, maybe a patient had died.

“I was a guest at the Madaraka Day celebrations and Hussein Dado (then Baringo DC), Mzee Bultut and Mayor Philemon Chelagat recognised me.”

Mzee Bultut, who couldn’t speak English, asked when he was born (day, time and weather) then named him Kiprop, a name given to Kalenjin children born when it is raining.

Right now, Mishra understands and speaks the local Kalenjin dialect.

“I may lose in politics, but I won’t lose my friendship with the Kalenjin people.”