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After avoiding politics for years, Tabitha Karanja finally takes the plunge

Keroche Breweries CEO Tabitha Karanja. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

The move by Keroche Breweries CEO Tabitha Karanja Keroche to enter politics caught friends and foes by surprise.

For years, she had shied away from politics and at one time her products were rejected in parts of the country due to her association with one of the top politicians in the country.

Tabitha as she is popularly known, stands out as one of the top contenders for the Nakuru senatorial seat that has attracted a host of aspirants.

Three months to the elections, she admits that the road will get rough and murky but she is ready for this.

“For years, I never wanted to be associated with politics but it is only fools who don't change their minds,” she says with a knowing smile.

And, a couple of months after joining UDA, she won in the party primaries with a resounding victory garnering close to 100,000 votes.

This has placed her as one of the top-contenders for the seat that is currently occupied by Susan Kihika, who is going for the Governor’s seat.

Her journey has not been an easy one, which has been punctuated with tears of pain, but this has not deterred her from her goal.

Born in Kenton Kijabe near Longonot in 1964, Tabitha has risen from an accounting clerk in the Ministry of Tourism to one of the top managers in the corporate world.

Married to Joseph Karanja Muigai and a mother of four, James Karanja, Anerlisa Muigai, Edward Muigai and Tecra Muigai (deceased), she has literally risen from nothing to the top of her league.

From managing Heshima hardware in Naivasha town, she has beaten the odds and challenges to become the owner and CEO of the largest local-owned beer factory.

Tabitha, who has officially taken up the name Keroche says the challenges and threats have made the family stronger.

“We started from a small backroom store producing alcohol and we are grateful to our consumers and financial supporters who have stood with us despite the challenges,” she says.

From one brand in 1997 when the company's flagship brand was Summit Lager,  the breweries has since grown with time.

The company has gone ahead to produce KB Lager, Summit Malt, X Double Strength Beer, Valley Wines, Crescent Whisky, Crescent Gin, Crescent Vodka and Viena Ice.

“We have employed hundreds directly and indirectly. We are among the top taxpayers in the country and we are committed to expanding further in the liquor market,” she says.

Shot to limelight

In 2015, the renowned entrepreneur shot to the limelight after winning the Africa Awards for Entrepreneurship (Transformational Business Award).

The 57-year-old received the Moran of the Order of the Burning Spear (MBS) from President Mwai Kibaki in 2010. 

Hers is a story of pain, anger, threats, intimidation, determination and prayers that have seen her emerge as one of the most successful women in the country.

In her line of duty, she has been reduced to tears as powerful individuals both in and out of government fought her using all manner of methods.

Some politicians either out of malice or misinformation went public and urged members of the public to ignore her products.

Government agencies have at times knocked on her door demanding over Sh8 billion in tax arrears with the courts coming to her rescue.

“The most difficult time was in 2003 when over 10 depots in Central province were raided by the provincial administration and were closed on flimsy grounds,” she says.

During the time, she nearly gave up as some politicians and administrators conspired to bring down her emerging empire.

But instead of bringing her down, this motivated her to work even harder that she ended up expanding her Naivasha-based company.

In May 2020, her world literally came crumbling after she lost her daughter and close confidante Tecra in unclear circumstances in Lamu.

She terms the loss of Tecra, who was the company's Strategy and Innovation Director, as one of the most painful and darkest moments for her and family.

“This is an issue that I don’t want to dwell on so much on as it’s always painful and hard for any parent to lose a child,” she says with a distant look.

Despite the loss and business challenges, she lauds her husband Mr Karanja, who also acts as the company’s chairman, for his unwavering support.

She has watched her business grow from a small three-roomed factory with five employees to a state of the art brewery employing hundreds.

This is all summed up by her motto, “Truly Kenyan!'

She says her husband not only plays a crucial role in the business management but is also her best friend and is fully behind her plans to enter politics.

“Whenever I am down, he is there to pick me up and I have a shoulder to lean on as he is always there to guide me... I owe him a lot,” she confesses.

On politics, the renowned entrepreneur says that it is time to introduce business policies into the Upper House at a time when politics was the order of the day.

In an interview, Tabitha says that she has consulted widely and has decided to give the seat a shot in the August elections.

“For years, I have shied off from politics to concentrate on business but time is ripe for me to introduce policies that will cushion and support fellow investors,” she says.

She says the company has nurtured talented Kenyans who are capable of taking the company to the next level as she seeks to serve Nakuru residents.

And having bagged UDA certificate, Karanja is oozing confidence noting that she is keen to take her managerial skills to the senate.