Wednesday, June 07, 2006



The lessons from the collapse of Uchumi supermarket chain should be heeded by all. The problems at Uchumi did not just happen overnight on 30th May.

The government through ICDC made a hasty retreat from Uchumi in September ‘05 by selling much of its stake in the company. This move meant to infuse fresh capital into the company was like putting a new coat of paint on a rusted leaking hull and did not bear much positive fruits. The new captain Chris Kirubi tried to navigate the ship from the shallow waters. His actions added more weight to the overloaded ship and this accelerated its grounding. What should have been done was to offload excess cargo, dump the inevitable dead stocks and make a radical change in the direction. Like in all government parastatals, the invisible hand of the government was always involved in the boardroom. While the government might profess to have given the parastatals independence of action, it maintained control through the appointment of the board of directors. This appointment is not always merit based. Hence one cannot divorce the collapse of the chain from the government.

The clear lesson from Uchumi is that the government has no business in business. It is not the business of the government to sell Kasuku and roiko. I have no tears for the fallen Uchumi. I do not wish to see the government getting involved in matters best handled by the Nairobi Stock Exchange. The cry in the past has been for the government to get out of business now we are calling the same government to come back and rescue our managerial failures. Give me a break. Either we get the government out of business and it stays out or we forget about privatization. We cannot have it both ways. Who is being rescued here? Is it the business of the government to bail out individuals or institutional investors? Emphatic No! It is the business of the investors to take the responsibility of their investment decisions.

We have to learn to take risks and live with the consequences of our actions. Let us not be sentimental just because we lost our investment. This however does not absolve the management of Uchumi from facing the consequences of their actions. If there was any wrongdoing by the present or past management, by all means let the law take its course indiscriminately. If there is no law in place to protect the small investor, let us hope there is a legislature awake to sponsor one. The whining and blaming is not a solution, the solution lies in enforcing the law or legislating one. Period.

Let us not mourn and whine at the collapse of Uchumi. This might be a good thing for the investors. There is a gap to be filled, there are consumers out there waiting to be serviced. The loss of Uchumi is the gain of the next door supermarket or kiosk. The demand for the products will not cease, somebody will step in and provide the service.

The thousands of individual share holders in various companies should take heed. It is not the number of individuals that count but the number of shares held. As a block they may have the numbers to influence action in the respective companies’ boardrooms. But they lack the capacity to act as a block and are therefore always at the mercy of the big shareholders. This therefore, shifts the responsibility for informing the investing public about the risks of various investments on to the stock brokers. Other than trading shares and earning commissions, it is incumbent upon the brokerage firms to provide all relevant information to enable the investor make an informed decision.

In the past we have seen the hunger for shares by small investors in the various rights issues in the stock exchange. The recent rambunctious scramble for Kengen shares, and the current volume trades of the same, is indicative of the awareness by the small investor of the quick bucks to be made in the stock market. Kenyans are an interesting lot, believe if Uchumi shares start trading tomorrow, there would be many takers. Perhaps it is time some investor tapped this market and built a new Uchumi.

Charles Wairia

Monday, June 05, 2006



The history of Githunguri is the history of Kenya. Githunguri among others is renown for it being the site for the independent school set up to avail higher education to Africans in competition or compliment, depending on ones sentiments, with missionary schools. Higher education in colonial Kenya was provided predominantly by missionaries. It was therefore skewed to favor the proponents of the faith. After the break with the traditionalists following the female circumcision prohibition of 1929, those that continued to practice the ritual were denied chances in the missionary high schools. In early 1930’s independent committees were formed to establish independent schools. The schools were to cater for the increasing number of young kikuyu who missed opportunities in the mission schools like Alliance and Mangu. By 1939 there were 63 Kikuyu independent schools in Kenya with an enrollment of about 13,000 pupils. It was in this year that the two main independent schools organizations, Kikuyu Independent Schools Association, (KISA) and Kikuyu Karinga Education Association (KKEA), came together and agreed to establish a teacher training college. Githunguri, the site of Kikuyu first independent school, was selected as the site for the college. The Kenya African Teachers College, as it was called, trained African teachers for East and Central Africa. Githunguri independent school was the biggest of all independent schools providing education from elementary through primary to secondary and college. By 1947 the school had an enrollment of over 1000 pupils with Mbiyu Koinange, the first Kenyan to hold an MA degree, as the principal, Kenyatta as administrator and other Kenyan luminaries like James Gichuru as teachers.

Githunguri became the hub and center of learning with the establishment and growth of the school. Students came from all over the country to further their education and train as teachers. The growth and management of the school was a lesson in self determination. It showed that the African could run institutions of higher learning and train young men independent of the government and missionaries. This was a direct challenge to the established order. The colonialist viewed this as a threat. Inevitably the concentration of so many independent minds led to general political education and awareness. To the colonialist this success in independent education was a threat to the established order, and they tried their best to frustrate this effort. With the declaration of emergency in 1952, all the independent schools were closed down. The buildings in Githunguri were burnt down and the site became a temporary holding ground for political agitators. Today on the foundations of the new college buildings that were being put up stand the offices of the local District Officer.

Githunguri is host to many first. It is the home to the first day high school in Kenya, St Joseph’s High School Githunguri. It is among the first sites of Harambee secondary schools in Kenya. Currently, with over twenty high schools, Githunguri has more high schools than the whole of North Eastern Province. Its student population is perhaps higher than the total population of some districts. It is the home of the first African dairy milk producers cooperative society in Kenya, Githunguri Dairy Farmer’s Cooperative Society.
Githunguri is home to leading figures in Kenyan politics and governance. It is home to late vice president Josphat Karanja, it is home to former AG Joseph Kamere, home to former Head of civil service, Jeremiah Kiereini, home to former Auditor General, Gicho Njoroge, home to former cabinet minister and current MP, Arthur Magugu, home to two former nominated MPs, Jackson Kamau and Rose Waruhiu, home to fiery politician and doyen of Moi oppositionists Njehu Gatabaki and home to one of its luminous sons and freedom fighter Waira Kamau.

With its rich history it is incumbent upon the current leadership to commission a program to preserve it. A local museum to house the independent schools history and a research center for the independent schools movement would be a good starting point. There are still a number of former students of these schools around and their experience and knowledge should be tapped and preserved in scholarly papers. The center would be expanded to house cultural festivals and preserve cultural artifacts for posterity. The center would engage a few of the many graduates in history, sociology and anthropology in guided research and report writing. The center would be a local resource center for teachers and students. With collaboration with the Kenya National Library Services it would provide library services for the local community. I am sure this is a local project that would attract support widely. Token allocations from the constituency development fund would perhaps attract funds from other organizations and donors. The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.

Charles Wairia

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