From Rags-to-Riches: 4 Kenyan Leaders With Humble Beginnings
Many Kenyans are lost in the notion that you will die poor if you are raised in a poor family. While Most of the time the burden of poverty proves too great, this notion is far away from the truth.
Many successful people in Kenya and around the world are the true epitome of rags to riches. From businessmen to celebrities and politicians, many have had humble beginnings and rough starts to life that ended up shaping their perspective.
Here are examples of Kenyan leaders who started from nothing to prominence.
President William Ruto
Dr William Kipchirchir Samoei Arap Ruto CGH is Kenya’s 5th president and one of the leaders with an amazing rags-to-riches story. His younger brother David revealed they used to walk kilometres to school barefooted because they could not afford shoes. The bare feet were exposed to sun-hit grounds, rocks, jiggers and wet grounds with a squelch of mud clinching beneath when it rained.
“We were poor. We walked to school, which was four kilometres away, every day barefoot,”
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Ruto, born in Uasin Gishu County, also narrates how he sold chicken to supplement his parents’ income and sold peanuts.
“I sold chicken at a railway crossing near my home as a child. I built my father a house using my university boom [allowance]. I paid fees for my siblings. God has been kind to me, and through hard work and determination, I have something,” he said.
He is now one of the wealthiest people in the country, with investments spanning real estate, hospitality, and transport, among others.
Ali Hassan Joho
Former Mombasa governor Ali Hassan Joho revealed tough details of his childhood. Joho says that he was raised by a single mother who sold tomatoes and other vegetables to make ends meet. At time, he was forced to look for jobs to help cater to his family while still in school.
“We did not have money, so I dropped out of school for a year, then returned later after my family scraped some cash… I used to carry heavy sacks whenever goods entered the port. I remember that is how I met Somalis who used to import stuff to Kenya and promised myself that I would never be employed,”
said Joho in an interview with Churchill show host Daniel Ndambuki.
At some point, he requested the school principal to allow him to class regardless of how untidy he was due to the numerous manual jobs he had taken up to support his family.
“I have struggled a lot. I schooled during the day and hustled at night. I worked hard and paid my own school fees,”
Joho said he struggled to balance his studies and work, which made him fail the national exams. He, however, says his D- grade should not be used to mock him but to encourage those who failed their exams that grades will not determine their future.
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Just as he had promised himself, he did not seek employment after high school and continued with his job at the old Port of Mombasa, where he used to load and offload scrap metals from trucks.
In this business, he learned how to import and clear cargo and the documents required. He says he became a millionaire at the age of 20 from this clearing and forwarding business which paid him Ksh6.6 million.
He is currently one of the wealthiest men in Kenya with an estimated net worth of around Kshs.7 billion or about US$70 Million as of 2022, according to Kelebrity.
Felix Odiwuor – Jalang’o
Felix Odiwuor popularly known as Jalang’o, is the current member of parliament for Lang’ata constituency. Born in Homa Bay county to poor peasant farmers, the comedian narrated how he walked barefoot to school for eight years. Despite the hardships, he worked hard and scored 427 out of 500 marks in his Kenya Certificate of Primary Examination (KCPE).
His parents did not have money to take him to high school, so they did fundraising, which allowed him to join a provincial village school after discovering his admission place at Maseno School had been given to someone else.
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His elder brother had to drop out of school to allow him to school because he was smarter, and his parents could not afford fees for both of them. He scored a C+ in KCSE in this village school.
After high school, he worked as a fisherman in Homa Bay county before moving to Nairobi, where he worked as a ‘mjengo’ man and also as a car wash attendant. At this time, he used to go to Kenya National Theater for auditions, and three years later, he landed a role in acting ‘Mwisho Wa Kosa.’ He then joined Papa Shirandula before landing a job at Kiss 100 Fm.
He joined politics and contested for the Lang’ata constituency parliamentary seat, which he won. In an interview on Ayo TV in 2021, he revealed his net worth is more than Sh10 million.
Embakasi East MP Babu Owino was the kind of kid who believed that education would get him out of poverty, and so it did. There were times his family would sleep on empty stomachs, but he was determined to turn around their fortunes. He resorted to selling illicit brew to supplement his parent’s income and pay for his school fees.
“I remember when we used to go without food but still had to soldier on and find my path in life. A path that was to make a difference to my mum and other family members. I had to burn the midnight oil to study and, at the same time, sell chang’aa to raise my school fees. Never give up, comrades, God is in it,”
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