'Wazungu Nyeusi'- Eldoret businessmen built empires from nothing
By Fred Kibor | July 31st 2021
It wasn’t magic, but sweat, determination and sheer hard work that saw a group of old men in Uasin Gishu rise from obscurity to be regarded as ‘wazungu nyeusi.’
William Chemweno, Kite arap Tiren, John Kibogy, Elijah Maina, Elisha Busienei, Jackson Kibor, Paul Boit, David Samoei, Atanas Kandie and Isaac Kosgei among others who all fall all under the chumek age set according to Kalenjin age group, surmounted great challenges to build empires from nothing.
And as Amazon founder Jeff Bezos preaches; ‘work hard, have fun, make history’, the group left an indelible mark in the region by purchasing majority of formerly owned white settlers’ sprawling tracks of land through the sale of potatoes, tins, beads, hides and skins.
They also have prime plots within Eldoret town CBD which now boast of magnificent buildings earning millions in rent annually. Some have rented the buildings to commercial banks. Having been raised in abject poverty where they used to feed on machicha (busaa residue), they struggled to make a living and change their status.
“They were a generation that epitomised hard work and resilience. Any coin they got was put into good use which we witness today. They never grabbed or stole from the public as modern day billionaires do, but used their hard work to make riches,” said Kipkorir arap Menjo, a political commentator.
He explains that when Kenya was on the precipice of attaining independence, the white settlers decided to exit the country.
“Through the Land Bank, anyone who wanted to buy white settler farms was required to pay 10 per cent of the total value a settler owned, thus the 10 per cent group name. The remaining 90 per cent was to be footed by the Land Bank,” narrates Menjo.
The 10 per cent was largely to cover for the assets that the whites owned and the group easily raised the cash because they had money from the trades they were engaged in.
“Each of these men owned over 2,500 acres of land spread across Uasin Gishu and Trans Nzoia counties. They practice commercial farming and own several commercial plots within the region’s urban centres. Interestingly, they were all polygamous. Maybe they wanted to ensure their riches were well kept,” Menjo quipped.
According to Menjo, the group were all teetotalers and those who drank alcohol merely did so for socialisation. It was unheard of for any of them to drink themselves silly.
“They knew the pain of being poor and it was their new trend to multiply any resource they had. This is what endeared the late President Daniel arap Moi to them. They became bosom friends and Mzee Moi loved spending time with them,” he recalls.
But Menjo says the legacy the old men left may not be in safe hands.
“We are witnessing a sad scenario unfolding. When the generation of old men exit the stage, their children start subdividing the land and selling it at alarming rates. They imbibe booze as if there is no tomorrow despite having been educated in top notch schools locally and abroad,” says Menjo. He said some of the children instead of continuing to multiply the assets bequeathed by their parents are now simply selling them and soon they might be left landless.
“There are those doing commendable jobs which is really encouraging, but others are in a sorry state. They were born in riches and do not know what it means to struggle,” he noted.
Menjo said it is rare to get such a breed of people who saved and invested heavily on whatever little they got.
“The money they used to buy the lands was not little money. They worked hard to get it,” he stated.
William Chemweno’s eldest son, John, said his late father was an accomplished farmer specializing in large scale wheat, barley and maize farming which he sold to top companies. “His dairy farm was one of its kind and always hosted other dairy farmers for field days. He also reared goats and sheep besides poultry and pigs,” he discloses.
John says his father symbolized sheer hard work, determination, resilience and an impeccable sense of fashion, earning himself the name Duke of ‘Karunashire’ after Karuna, his sprawling empire in Moiben, Uasin Gishu county.
“He rose from selling hides and skins in a Nairobi ternary and crossing the murky water of River Kerio to sell beads in Baringo to buying thousands of acres in Moiben from white settlers in 1964. He owned several buildings in Eldoret town. He also distributed beer with Mzee Jackson Kibor and the late Mzee John Kibogy,” recalls John.
He adds; “To demonstrate his royalty, he never stopped learning or appreciating new ways of farming and always travelled to Israel, Zimbabwe and the UK where he attended the Royal Show which was held every year by the Royal Agricultural Society of England.”
John describes his father as an ardent fan of fine things and foresight that started during the colonial days. “For instance in 1956, he took a bold step of buying a tractor and a year later purchased his first car, a Chevrolet pickup. What is astounding was the fact that throughout his life, he was always formally dressed in a suit, occasion notwithstanding with a penchant for a bottle of ‘White Cap’ beer,” he reminisces.
This group of millionaires, now mostly deceased, own most of the skyscrapers dotting Eldoret town and their vast farms in the interior are lush with different types of crops.
At one time, following protracted land issues with some of his sons, an incensed Mzee Jackson Kibor during a tiff with one of his sons lamented that one of them who schooled at Brookhouse was giving him troubles.
“All my children attended top-performing schools in the country while others are studying abroad in Australia and the United States. I value education and that is why I spend a lot of my hard-earned cash to send them to reputable performing schools only for them to come back and trouble me,” protested Mzee Kibor.
Hill School Primary, Eldoret, was the school of choice for the privileged and kids from prominent families trace their early education to this institution and others with international reputations.
When Kenya attained independence in 1963, the school was gradually occupied by Africans and it became a complex public school with Pre-School, Primary, and Secondary sections.
In 1986, the then President Daniel arap Moi directed the institution to put up a Secondary section, which was a girls’ boarding school.
Some of The Hill School alumni in senior positions include Uasin Gishu women representative Gladys Shollei who once served as Chief registrar of Judiciary, Moiben MP Silas Tiren and his Soy counterpart Caleb Kositany and senior counsel Philip Murgor.
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