He was not treated as a national hero and he was not the biggest name in the hospitality industry, but Sam Kivelenge aka Dr Dawa will go down in history as an icon, the man behind the world-famous Kenyan cocktail Dawa, which was invented at the Tamarind Group’s The Carnivore restaurant in the 80s.
Dawa, Kiswahili word for medicine, can pass as the most popular cocktail in Kenya and a common drink for tourists, most of whom would visit The Carnivore to have it.
Kivelenge’s Dawa, a mixture of honey, lime, sugar, ice and vodka became popular with tourists that Meredith Bethune, writing in eater.com, described it as “an ideal refresher for Kenya’s equatorial climate ... it’s now an ever-present drink on bar menus at safari lodges across Kenya, stretching from the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro all the way to the Masai Mara reserve.”
Kivelenge, who travelled the world and interacted with the high and mighty thanks to his Dawa, died on Monday of heart-related health issues, according to his family. He had retired from The Carnivore early this year after more than three decades of a unique hospitality service – making Dawa.
In an interview with eater.com, Kivelenge admitted that the drink has no curative properties, but “it treats your stomach so that you have an appetite for the meat.”
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Dawa is popular in Kenya, and restaurants serve it without the vodka, but Kivelenge told eater.com: “Yeah, it started here at The Carnivore and all of Nairobi and Kenya, they now copy us. And the way they make it, they can’t make it like us.”
The demise of the man from Kitui Central triggered reactions on a social media, with those who knew him showering him with praises.
“Today was a sad day for humanity, the Carnivore and Kenya with the passing of Samson Kivelenge aka Dr Dawa. Samson was the Carnivore Dawa doctor from 1980 until he retired due to ill health in early 2020. His infectious laugh, his energy and his fabulous nature were legendary. Samson represented Carnivore and Kenya with huge success at numerous trade shows around the world , including World Travel Market London, ITB Berlin, FITUR Madrid, Indaba Durban as as well as the launch of Carnivore Johannesburg and Cairo,” Tamarind Group’s chair, Martin Dunford wrote.
Maxwell, one of Kivelenge’s four sons said the father’s health started worsening last year when he moved back home after retirement.
“He was due for a doctor’s appointment on Monday, but that morning his belly had swollen. Even before we could get him to hospital that morning, he died,” Maxwell said.
Gerson Misumi, the managing director of Tamarind Group, described Kivelenge as a Kenyan hospitality industry ambassador who mesmerised people with his enthusiasm and hard work.
“We have testimonies from people on how iconic Kivelenge was and how he left a lasting impression on all his clients. I recall the Safari rally champions coming to celebrate here at Carnivore and how one of them at one time confessed that he had won because he had been inspired by Kivelenge’s Dawa,” Misumi said.
“I also recall how people at one time visited the Kenyan stand during a trade fair in Germany and lined up to get a taste of ‘medicine’ as Kivelenge served them joyfully. He was a man of exceptional energy and enthusiasm – who has been a family member to Carnivore restaurant,” he said.
Misumi said Kivelenge was honoured with the award of Christopher VI, the founder of Tamarind Group.
“We are indebted and that is why, with the wishes of the family, we want to give him a befitting send-off. We have offered to help fund the burial,” he says of the final journey that will take place in Kitui on Saturday.