“This is not the time for Africa. It has always been time for Africa but people were blind and never saw it,” says Chris Kirubi, a prominent entrepreneur and investor in Kenya. True to his word, Kirubi has built a multi-million dollar business empire in East Africa.
Kirubi first started in business by buying decayed properties in Kenya’s capital Nairobi, renovating the buildings and then reselling them for a profit. Over the years, he has invested in various sectors ranging from property, consumer goods, insurance, media, energy, manufacturing and logistics.
Kirubi told How we made it in Africa he has always believed in Africa, a continent he describes as a “jewel”. While the rest of the world is buzzing with the ‘Africa Rising’ and ‘last frontier’ narratives, the likes of Kirubi are already eating their cake.
“I have always invested and believed in Africa. I have never gone to China to establish my business there. I have invested in Africa. It has always been Africa’s time. People are coming round to discover what was always there. Africa has always been the jewel. We should be saying, thank God we are learning what we should have known many years ago.”
The leading entrepreneur owns property management company International House Limited, which owns and manages various residential and commercial buildings in Nairobi. Kirubi also controls, or has a stake in, a number of East African companies, including energy firm Kenya Power, consumer goods firm Haco Tiger Brands, investment company Centum, UAP Insurance and the DHL franchise in Kenya. In addition, Kirubi also owns popular Kenyan radio station Capital FM.
In the eyes of many, Kirubi has hit success. But success, he warns, has not come easy.
“Success is not a bed of roses. It requires a lot of hard work, sleeping hungry, lack of sleep because you have to keep thinking and worrying, waking up at night to do things and also being let down by your so-called friends,” he says. “Sometimes people don’t understand your goals and your ambitions. Finding people to come to your rescue is also something that one must be very grateful for in life.”
Kirubi’s self-made story always captivates aspiring entrepreneurs and in the last few years he has mentored young people. Kirubi, who is also a part-time DJ on Capital FM, often uses his Twitter handle @CKirubi to give advice to young entrepreneurs.
“There are so many of these young people now who look [to] me to find solutions and I emphasise that the solution is within them. It is the way they tackle the issues [they face and] the way they trust their ability to achieve what they want to.”
Kirubi says he too has had moments when quitting crossed his mind, but he has always chosen to stay put because of his belief in himself.
“[Quitting] sometimes is a daily occurrence, when you meet challenges that want to throw you off the course. But with inbuilt aggressiveness and commitment and trust in myself, I always believe I will find a way out of the predicament.”
Creating a business environment in Africa
With more people in Africa venturing into business and foreign investors betting on the continent, Kirubi says, African governments should improve the economic environment and support businesses.
“African governments must cash in on the mood of investors. We must… support investors, bring down the cost of doing business, remove the red tape and, above all, we must all make sure that the poverty levels are tackled and create consumers.
“Poverty is itself a business. We must find how to feed the [poor] by using efficient methods to supply jobs and goods and services at affordable prices. If we focus on that, working where poverty levels are, we will improve our efficiency.”
He says there is also a need to increase the number of consumers on the continent to widen the market for goods and services.
“We should not say: Africans are poor walking with bare feet. We should be saying: in Africa the opportunity to sell shoes is so big because there are so many people who want to buy shoes.”
In Kirubi’s opinion, what role can Africa’s wealthy businesspeople play?
“The role of those billionaires should be to support the economy and support government efforts to develop the economy,” says Kirubi. “I feel philanthropy is a short-term business. We must help people to crawl and to walk on their own two feet. There are people who like to profile themselves by using philanthropic means. I don’t believe it. I believe in teaching somebody how to fish, not giving him fish.”