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‘I Pulled Myself Up By My Bootstraps’

Prof. Githu Muigai during an interview with BDLife earlier this week. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE 

There is Prof. Githu Muigai swallowed by the leather Chesterfield sofas of the Hemingway Bar, sipping tea. It is hard to imagine that not too long ago, he was the Attorney-General, the principal legal advisor to the Government of Kenya. He is wearing a checkered newsboy hat, corduroy trousers and a black coat with red patches on the elbow, as professorial as one can get.

He is now fully in academia at the University of Nairobi’s School of Law, amongst other engagements that now fill his time. Away from the whirlwind that was his former office, he is now happy and relaxed as he tells JACKSON BIKO.

If your life was a farm with the seasons of tilling, planting, harvesting, what season are you in right now?

(Laughs). Interesting. (Pause). I’m harvesting. By which I mean I have invested in education and time, now I feel like I have reached where I am able to rely on that experience to enjoy professional work at its highest. I feel that I am now able to give an opinion and be listened to.

Who have you ever met who greatly challenged or intimidated your intelligence?


Barack Obama. That’s not cliché. (Laughs). I first met Obama when I first went to Columbia for my postgraduate while he was at Harvard in the early 80s. He had been elected to be Editor-in-Chief of the Harvard Law Review and his story was run in the New York Times. In the 100 years of the Harvard Law Review, there had never been a black editor. Quite frankly I don’t think he gets enough credit, he’s such a towering intellectual and I found him intimidating and special.

What do you think makes you special?

I’m tenacious. I had very little to work with. My father died when I was nine years old and my mother was left to raise seven children as a seamstress. She ran a small tailoring shop in Kiambu town. We were very much part of a community like in old Kiambu town. Virtually, everybody knew everybody. We went to the same school, church, our town was two streets. (Laughs). You knew the butcher, the baker, the tailor. It was not a place of great means, but it was a nice and loving environment.

How do you think growing fatherless so early eventually impacted on your life as an adult?

I have a 30, 24 and 14 year old. It helped me appreciate just how special those relationships are and how they are not transferable. Your mother can’t become your father and your father can’t become your mother.

Luckily for me, I grew up with many other father figures. I think it helped me to appreciate what a father’s presence means and I hope I have been a good father to my children. Obviously, without him, our socioeconomic life was affected adversely. I spent a lifetime wondering how life would have been if he hadn’t passed on then. But I am convinced that my mother’s energies far superseded what my father could have done. My mother was a true mother hen.

What have you ever failed spectacularly at, a monkey that won’t leave your back?

Unlike my mother, I’m not a good businessperson. A couple of times I engaged in business ventures where I lost my shirt. Maybe the only reason that I have a law firm that functions is because of my business partner, Mohamed Nyaoga. He is a real born-with-it businessman.

I have also failed in politics, I wasn’t able to connect with the political process in my generation. It was my failure to probably cultivate the common touch that allows you to go down to the village and look them in the eye and tell them an untruth. It is not a self-righteous stand. It is just to say, I think there is a people skill that you need to be a successful politician and part of it involves getting to the roots, staying there and selling hope. I’m never able to sell hope if I don’t feel hopeful myself.

What did you learn about yourself over the seven of so years you were the Attorney-General?

That patience is a virtue. I learnt that the ship of State is not a speed boat, it’s an aircraft carrier. It takes a long time to turn and you must have the patience to wait for it.

Secondly, I learnt that if you are a manager, it’s all about the team. Lastly, I learnt that in public service, what we call politics, there are no permanent friends and there are no permanent enemies. You would be shocked. The people with whom a month ago you couldn’t see eye-to-eye, you’ll discover the following month they are the only people who can help you move the agenda. (Laughs).

Once you start seeing things that way, then you never have extreme views or violent language because, I like to say, there are words you can call a man which he will never forget even in the day you sue for peace. So always speak softly, wear a broad smile and walk gently then carry a huge stick.

Can a gentleman make a good politician?


(Pause). No. The default mode, the bottom line of politics, is self-interest. There are good men in politics but there are no gentlemen in politics.

No, I wasn’t a gentleman because I acted in what I thought was the best interests of the republic of Kenya and probably the best interest of my career. So, I couldn’t have been a gentleman but I tried to be a good man and a professional man.

What did you learn about power over that period you were the AG?

I learnt that the Bible was right all along; all of it is vanity. (Laughs). At the end of the day, I used to say when I was younger, “In the fullness of time, everything settles back.”

Power is an illusion because at the end of the day when the music stops, when the curtains fall, you have to go home and be yourself; a father, a husband, a brother, a villager coming to bury the dead with the other villagers.

Unless one is a hereditary monarch waiting to pass away in the palace, at the end of the day everybody must step away.

Unfortunately, for the majority of us who have the privilege to work in a public office, the ultra-ego becomes an obsession so that the chase cars and the saluting, aides rushing around with the bags become an end in itself. And even when you are no longer happy, you don’t know any other life. You crave it like a junkie because you have forgotten any other life.

Did it ever go to your head?

I think that’s where I was more successful than most. I kept it completely out.

How did the office change you?

(Sighs). I didn’t know that there would be grave, life and death decisions and that they were my call. I can tell you it is very hard when that happens for you to have a good night’s sleep forever.

Secondly, I was quite surprised by how different the reality is regarding the camaraderie among the senior leadership much, much better than the public thinks. So, while the public thinks that there is a fight everyday, even when it is very tense, among the top, they call each other, they see each other, they drink and have lunches together and so on. Nothing prepared me for the office.

From where do you draw your greatest stimulation?

(Sighs). I don’t want to sound pompous and self-righteous, but I do like very much intellectual debates. I like the banter that goes with ideas, you’re not trying to convert me, I’m not trying to convert you but the sheer delight of having that discussion: art, literature, music, dance, just the things that humanity has created that so fascinate.

You know what I think is the greatest genius art form? Comedy. I enjoy all that. I’m afraid I don’t enjoy football.

If it were to end now, who’s the one person you’d like to apologise to?

(Pause) Maybe it would be the first generation of students that I taught. Because while holding myself out as a teacher of the law, I didn’t know enough myself. I should apologise for not having been able to teach them more, better and deeper.

This is an ugly, almost pornographic question; did you find any financial success in public service?

(Pause). I was probably, if we were to believe the Business Daily, I was the highest paid civil servant.

Partly because I transited from the old Constitution to the new one and I was paid from the consolidated fund. I was very well paid for a lawyer of my seniority. I enjoyed the perks of office, getting grants and so on, but I would not say that I became a man of means.

I continued to file my assets and liabilities forms. Public service would not be a place where you enrich unless you’re really trading with the government and that can only take a few months before it becomes public knowledge that you are the one supplying cement or what or what.

How much do you think money is tied to happiness?

I can tell you this for free because I’m going to be 60 in January. Money is subject to the law of diminishing returns. Money eventually gets to a critical tipping point where no extra shilling can improve the quality of your life. You won’t change where you live, you won’t change the bed you sleep on you, won’t change your TV, you won’t change your phone.

Can an intellectual survive in politics?

It is easier to survive as an intellectual in politics because I assume as an intellectual, we are talking about a thinker. A thinker can survive there. Some of the greatest disappointments in public life, are intellectuals because intellectuals are like evangelists. They proclaim from the rooftops what they stand for. So, it is much easier to put them to the test.

What are you struggling with at 59?

Now, it’s to remain active professionally and relevant without feeling that I have to be a busybody trying to be in everything that is happening. I spend time mentoring academics, I enjoy that. I give the occasional lectures, I enjoy that. I sit in a number of boards, not too many, I enjoy that. As an arbitrator, I listen to disputes and I enjoy that. Every so often I am briefed to appear in the Supreme Court or Court of Appeal, I enjoy that. So, I’m trying to go into the sunset, not with a bang, but gently riding to the sunset.

On a sliding scale of 1 to 10, how happy are you? 10 being, well, extremely happy.

I have had the great fortune to live the Kenyan dream, pulling myself up by my bootstraps. I have gone so far with so little. For a man who was born in Pumwani Hospital, where if you check the statistics I assume every 10 children, who were born, several didn’t make it to their fifth birthday. So, I have been extremely happy. I’m a seven.

Is there anything that you thought I’d ask that I didn’t ask, Prof?

I thought you would ask me, if I would ever go back to public service.



BCCI: The bank ‘that would bribe God’



Bank of Credit and Commerce International. August 1991. [File, Standard]

“This bank would bribe God.” These words of a former employee of the disgraced Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) sum up one of the most rotten global financial institutions.

BCCI pitched itself as a top bank for the Third World, but its spectacular collapse would reveal a web of transnational corruption and a playground for dictators, drug lords and terrorists.

It was one of the largest banks cutting across 69 countries and its aftermath would cause despair to innocent depositors, including Kenyans.

BCCI, which had $20 billion (Sh2.1 trillion in today’s exchange rate) assets globally, was revealed to have lost more than its entire capital.

The bank was founded in 1972 by the crafty Pakistani banker Agha Hasan Abedi.

He was loved in his homeland for his charitable acts but would go on to break every rule known to God and man.

In 1991, the Bank of England (BoE) froze its assets, citing large-scale fraud running for several years. This would see the bank cease operations in multiple countries. The Luxembourg-based BCCI was 77 per cent owned by the Gulf Emirate of Abu Dhabi.  

BoE investigations had unearthed laundering of drugs money, terrorism financing and the bank boasted of having high-profile customers such as Panama’s former strongman Manual Noriega as customers.

The Standard, quoting “highly placed” sources reported that Abu Dhabi ruler Sheikh Zayed Sultan would act as guarantor to protect the savings of Kenyan depositors.

The bank had five branches countrywide and panic had gripped depositors on the state of their money.

Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) would then move to appoint a manager to oversee the operations of the BCCI operations in Kenya.

It sent statements assuring depositors that their money was safe.

The Standard reported that the Sheikh would be approaching the Kenyan and other regional subsidiaries of the bank to urge them to maintain operations and assure them of his personal support.

It was said that contact between CBK and Abu Dhabi was “likely.”

This came as the British Ambassador to the UAE Graham Burton implored the gulf state to help compensate Britons, and the Indian government also took similar steps.

The collapse of BCCI was, however, not expect to badly hit the Kenyan banking system. This was during the sleazy 1990s when Kenya’s banking system was badly tested. It was the era of high graft and “political banks,” where the institutions fraudulently lent to firms belonging or connected to politicians, who were sometimes also shareholders.

And even though the impact was expected to be minimal, it was projected that a significant number of depositors would transfer funds from Asian and Arab banks to other local institutions.

“Confidence in Arab banking has taken a serious knock,” the “highly placed” source told The Standard.

BCCI didn’t go down without a fight. It accused the British government of a conspiracy to bring down the Pakistani-run bank.  The Sheikh was said to be furious and would later engage in a protracted legal battle with the British.

“It looks to us like a Western plot to eliminate a successful Muslim-run Third World Bank. We know that it often acted unethically. But that is no excuse for putting it out of business, especially as the Sultan of Abu Dhabi had agreed to a restructuring plan,” said a spokesperson for British Asians.


A CBK statement signed by then-Deputy Governor Wanjohi Murithi said it was keenly monitoring affairs of the mother bank and would go to lengths to protect Kenyan depositors.

“In this respect, the CBK has sought and obtained the assurance of the branch’s management that the interests of depositors are not put at risk by the difficulties facing the parent company and that the bank will meet any withdrawal instructions by depositors in the normal course of business,” said Mr Murithi.

CBK added that it had maintained surveillance of the local branch and was satisfied with its solvency and liquidity.

This was meant to stop Kenyans from making panic withdrawals.

For instance, armed policemen would be deployed at the bank’s Nairobi branch on Koinange Street after the bank had announced it would shut its Kenyan operations.

In Britain, thousands of businesses owned by British Asians were on the verge of financial ruin following the closure of BCCI.

Their firms held almost half of the 120,000 bank accounts registered with BCCI in Britain. 

The African Development Bank was also not spared from this mess, with the bulk of its funds deposited and BCCI and stood to lose every coin.

Criminal culture

In Britain, local authorities from Scotland to the Channel Islands are said to have lost over £100 million (Sh15.2 billion in today’s exchange rate).

The biggest puzzle remained how BCCI was allowed by BoE and other monetary regulation authorities globally to reach such levels of fraudulence.

This was despite the bank being under tight watch owing to the conviction of some of its executives on narcotics laundering charges in the US.

Coast politician, the late Shariff Nassir, would claim that five primary schools in Mombasa lost nearly Sh1 million and appealed to then Education Minister George Saitoti to help recover the savings. Then BoE Governor Robin Leigh-Pemberton condemned it as so deeply immersed in fraud that rescue or recovery – at least in Britain – was out of the question.

“The culture of the bank is criminal,” he said. The bank was revealed to have targeted the Third World and had created several “institutional devices” to promote its operations in developing countries.

These included the Third World Foundation for Social and Economic Studies, a British-registered charity.

“It allowed it to cultivate high-level contacts among international statesmen,” reported The Observer, a British newspaper.

BCCI also arranged an annual Third World lecture and a Third World prize endowment fund of about $10 million (Sh1 billion in today’s exchange rate).

Winners of the annual prize had included Nelson Mandela (1985), sir Bob Geldof (1986) and Archbishop Desmond Tutu (1989).

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Monitor water pumps remotely via your phone

Tracking and monitoring motor vehicles is not new to Kenyans. Competition to install affordable tracking devices is fierce but essential for fleet managers who receive reports online and track vehicles from the comfort of their desk.

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East Africa celebrates top women in banking and finance




The Angaza Awards for Women to watch in Banking and Finance in East Africa took place Online via Zoom on 8th June 2021.

The event was set to celebrate the top 10 women shaping banking and finance across East Africa. The 2021 Angaza Awards, which will be a Pan-African Awards program, was also announced at the event.

Key speakers at this webinar were Dr Nancy Onyango, Director of Internal Audit and Inspection at the IMF; and Gail Evans, New York Times Best Selling Author of Play Like a Man, Win Like a Woman and former White House Aide and CNN Executive Vice President.

Dr Nancy Onyango advised women to deep expertise in their fields, spend time in forums and link with key players in that sector.
“Gain exposure with other cultures by seeking for employment overseas and use customized CV for each job application,” said Dr Onyango.

According to Gail Evans, women should show up and be fully present in meetings and not be preoccupied with other issues.
“Be simple and avoid jargon. Multi-tasking only means that you are mediocre Smart people ask good questions in a business meeting. Most women face drawbacks due to perfectionism, procrastination and fear of failure, said Evans.

She advised women to play like a man and win like a woman, be strategic, and intentionally make their moves to get to the top.

“For us to pull up businesses that have been affected by effects of COVID-19 pandemic, we need to re-invent business models, change the product offering and make more use of digital platforms,” said Mary Wamae Equity Group Executive Director.

Mary Wamae emerged top at the inaugural Angaza awards( East Africa) ahead of other finalists.

While women continue to excel in banking and finance, the number of that occupies top executive positions is still less.

“There is a gap for women occupying C suite level and it continues to widen in the finance sector. At entry level, there is still an experience gap for women,” said Nkirote Mworia, Group Secretary for UAP-Old Mutual Group.

She said that at the Middle Management level, women do not express their ambition. For this reason, UAP-Old Mutual has developed an executive sponsorship program to help women get to the next level.

Mworia added that most women hold the notion that top positions in management have politics and pressure.
“One needs leadership skills and not technical expertise to get to the top,” said Mworia.

According to Catherine Karimi, Chief Executive Officer and Principal Officer of APA Life Assurance Company, women need to focus on the strengths and natural abilities that they already have.


“Take risks and raise your hand to get to the high table. Find mentors along the way and develop your own brand and not compare yourself with others Focus on your strengths because it will make you move faster in the career ladder,” said Karimi.

Lina Mukashyaka Higiro, a Rwandan businesswoman and chief executive officer of the NCBA Bank Rwanda since July 2018, has three lessons for women who want to excel in banking and finance.
“Always spend at least 20 minutes each day reading, seeking genuine feedback from other staff members and widen your network,” Higiro told the webinar.

Women picked for Angaza awards

Mary Wamae, Executive Director, led this year’s Top 10 Women in Angaza Awards, Equity Group (Kenya)(2)Catherine Karimi, Chief Executive Officer, APA Life Insurance Company (Kenya)(3)Lina Higiro, Chief Executive Officer, NCBA Bank (Rwanda)(4)Elizabeth Wasunna Ochwa, Business Banking Director, Absa Bank (Kenya)(5)Joanita Jaggwe, Country Head of Risk and Compliance, KCB Group (South Sudan)(6) Millicent Omukaga, Technical Assistance Expert on Inclusive Finance, African Development Bank (Kenya)(7)Emmanuella Nzahabonimana, Head of Information Technology, KCB Group (Rwanda)(8)Judith Sidi Odhiambo, Group Head of Corporate Affairs, KCB Group (Kenya)(9)Rosemary Ngure, ESG & Impact Manager, Catalyst Principal Partners (Kenya) and(10)Pooja Bhatt, Co-Founder, QuantaRisk and QuantaInsure (Kenya).

The Kenyan Wallstreet, a financial media firm, partnered with Kaleidoscope Consultants to raise awareness of seasoned women shaping and influencing the sector through their organizations.

The Angaza Award criteria included assessing the applicants’ area of responsibility and contribution to firm performance. Professionals in Banking, Capital Markets, Insurance, Investment Banking, Fintech, Fund Management, Microfinance, and SACCOs were invited to submit their applications or nominations via the Kenyan Wallstreet Award Web page.

ALSO READ: Angaza Awards Top Finalist; Mary Wangari Wamae

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IFC in New Partnership to Develop Affordable Housing in Mombasa County




NAIROBI, Kenya, Jun 14 – International Finance Corporation, a member of the World Bank Group, has signed a new deal in support of affordable housing in Kenya.

The corporation has partnered with Belco Realty LLP, to develop a mixed use affordable living complex that will consist of 1,379 residential units and over 4,500 square meters of retail and commercial spaces in Kongowea, Mombasa County.

Together with the Kenyan firm, IFC says the partnership will help meet surging demand for housing in Kenya.

Under the agreement, IFC will help identify suitable international strategic partners to invest equity of up to $12 million, or Sh1.3 billion in Belco and to provide the company with the necessary technical support to develop the project.

The development, known as Kongowea Village, will be developed to foster inclusive and affordable community living within the city.

Jumoke Jagun-Dokunmu, IFC’s Regional Director for Eastern Africa says the project, which will be located on eight acres within the heart of Mombasa city, will aim to be a catalyst for wider city regeneration.

The project will be developed to meet IFC EDGE certification requirements and will incorporate the latest technologies in passive cooling, energy efficiency and water conservation to support sustainable urbanization.

 Kongowea Village is expected to create 1,160 jobs and business opportunities during the three-year construction period and many more after completion of the project within the themed retail arcade.


 “Access to quality housing is a growing problem in Kenya and across Africa,” said Jumoke Jagun-Dokunmu, IFC’s Regional Director for Eastern Africa.

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“Developers often target the high end of the market, but this project is aimed squarely at the lower-income bracket. Helping Belco identify the right partners for this project is expected to attract more developers to Kenya and other parts of Africa to help meet rising demand for housing.”

 IFC‘s engagement with Belco will help Kenya support its rapidly growing and urbanizing population by increasing access to affordable housing. The problem is similar across most of Africa, where population growth and demand for quality housing are combining to outstrip supply.  We are pleased to partner with a company such as Belco that is committed to contributing to solving this challenge,” said Emmanuel Nyirinkindi, IFC‘s Director for Transaction Advisory Services.

 IFC’s partnership with Belco is part of its broader strategy to support better access to affordable housing in Kenya.

In 2020, IFC invested $2 million in equity in the Kenya Mortgage Refinance Company (KMRC) to help increase access to affordable mortgages and support home ownership in the country.

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