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Gone But Not Forgotten: Recalling Kenya’s Era of Bold Ambition

I have been thinking about how wildly big the 2000-2010 decade was.
It was big.
Everything around us was larger than life. The CEOs were true corporate titans in height, looks, and turnaround of whatever entity they handled; they made big strides. Titus Naikuni. Martin Oduor. George Magoha. Olive Mugenda.

The late George Magoha
The media was big. As a student, a published column in The Nation would fetch me a cool Sh. 8000. Nowadays, no media house pays for unsolicited content. A column fetches like Sh 300 bob. Remember how columnists were institutions unto themselves? You read a newspaper and felt your 40 bob was worth every penny.
Louis Otieno. Julie Gichuru. Ephy Hunja. Who else? Those people commanded a huge presence on our screens. Louis Otieno was a beast.

TV shows. We had Tusker Project Fame that reached as far as Tanzania and Burundi. TPF brought to us Juliana Kanyomozi. Do you have an idea how we used to admire Juliana? That lady is class and grace personified. There was Zain/Celtel (or whatever incarnation airtel existed under) Africa Challenge. A truly continental show pitying the best brains from various universities in the continent. Hosted by one of the finest people, John Sibi Okumu. Do young people have an idea who John Sibi-Okumu is?

Nairobi was a city of ideas. Binyavanga Wanaina’s Kwani? Brought Chimamanda Adichie, Ayi Kweyi Arma, Taiye Selasie, and basically all the old and new writers that were big in the decade. Story Moja did sneak in Wole Soyinka and the Ghanaian poet, who sadly died in the Westgate attack. But you catch a drift. There was a sunny attitude over Nairobi.

Banks became big. Do you guys remember that Safaricom Ad, Naaafurahia Undugu na Ukoo…shot in the lush tea plantations? That ad changed everything. There and then, we knew Kenya was a great country. And we knew, things will never be the same again. Remember Equity’s “Na Mimi ni Member”. The fuck was that man? Banks blossomed. Equity Bank Limited. Family Bank Ltd. Banks opened branches everywhere. They expanded as far as South Sudan. Rwanda. Uganda. Tanzania was always a hard nut to burst.

Remember Nakumatt. Nakumatt was big. You walked into Nakumatt Mega, and you felt something.

Remember the rapid expansion of universities. There wasn’t an empty two floors of a skyscraper West of Moi Avenue that universities didn’t buy. Universities built their own towers, bought humongous buildings, and minted billions. I mean Moi University, then a dusty outpost in Kesses, in the nether regions of Uasin Gishu, had like half the floors of The Bazaar and Hazina Towers. Masinde Muliro is in the armpit of Kamamega, too had a branch in the city.
We received the Undersea cable that enables us to use the Internet.
Then we built Thika Road.
I remember while in a cab, climbing Museum Hill, the roundabout had been and that overpass now complete, the taxi driver asked me,
“Moi akipita hapa, yeye hufeel aje?”
Kibaki made us imagine and think big.
Only the post-election violence slowed us a bit.
Then, the class of the 1960s took charge and shrunk us. With a tweak of law and shitty policies, the media and the higher education as a business model collapsed. Nothing came in its place. It had taken the right policy direction to stop students from going to Uganda and India in order to study locally. But with a stroke of pen, given to an overzealous CS, all went under. Technological advancement only offered us the last nail in two anchor institutions.
One would have wished we perfected our universities, funded them more, and attracted foreign students, but wapi. Eastern Africa region has 360 million people. Imagine just a million of these coming to study. We even had a chance to build the best and most affordable hospital, learning about medical tourism from India, but wapi.

Men of the 1960s believe in shrinking. Not creating. Right now, the gospel is about taxation. Zero has been said about growing the economy. Bottoms-Up is a good model, but the right and best model is pursuing big ideas. Big ideas absorb more people. And big ideas only thrive if guys at the top believe in them. Not excuses.

Kibaki anchored his economy around higher education, banking/fintech media, real estate, farming, and some manufacturing. Power was affordable. Nowadays, it is easy to convert your factory into a warehouse and import from China.

I’m not sure if we will ever dream again. Not sure if big ideas will ever drive us.
Someone said that the saddest thing about the good old days is that we never know that we are living right through them.

I don’t believe in people who dictate policy from church pulpit every Sunday. Or on the campaign trail every day instead of sitting in the Oval Office and working for the good people who believed in and voted for him.Good luck if you do. Your poison. I don’t have faith in talkers.

Not sure about that class of 1970s. They are invisible and too cushioned having been the biggest beneficiaries of the best of Kibaki days. Us kids of the 1980s are a bit lost, caught between the old and new worlds. 1990s kids have inherited a tattered country with no soul, so they wing it in.
You look at the young politicians(under 50), is there anyone who looks like they believe in big ideas?
But respect those men from 1930-1962.

A Call to Action
As we stand on the shoulders of giants from the past, it’s time to chart a new course for Kenya. We invite members of the Fintech Association of Kenya and all Kenyans to join this dialogue. Share your thoughts in the comment section on what made the past great and what we, as citizens and government, can do to bring back the glory days.
Let’s not just reminisce about the past; let’s use it as a blueprint to build a brighter future. Your ideas and insights are invaluable in this journey towards regaining our nation’s former glory and driving it to new heights.

We will compile all the ideas, thoughts and proposals and share with H.E William Samoei Ruto. You can also write to us directly –

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