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In my tiny cozy home

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Design & Interiors

In my tiny cozy home

Nyambura Ndiba (inset) at her cozy home in
Nyambura Ndiba (inset) at her cozy home in Githiga, Kiambu. PHOTO | FRANCIS NDERITU | NMG
 

When she was 26, Nyambura Ndiba started her tiny movable house project. Her friends doubted her. Seven months and close to Sh2 million later, her naysayers ate a humble pie.

Her quaint three-bedroom container home in Kiambu speaks of her personality; bubbly, adventurous and free-spirited.

It a haven located past tea plantations, peaceful meandering roads, about 30 kilometres from Nairobi.

Her interest began from binge-watching ultra-modern tiny homes on YouTube. She then drew her design.

“I did not know anything about house design or construction. I couldn’t hire a foreman or architect. You can imagine explaining this house to local fundis. They struggled to understand the loft concept,” says the 28-year-old.

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Nyambura has always been interested in seeing the world. In 2018, she had intended to tour Europe. But her ‘tiny house’ was calling. She rerouted her travel money and part of her savings to buying building materials.

“My mother gave me the land, and she chipped in when I ran low on finances,” she says.

She kept the construction process under wraps. She says she knew people would not understand what she was doing and to some extent even dim her morale. So, she did not share photos until it was completed.

“I also fought a lot with the construction workers. But it all worked out and now we are good friends. They tell people that my house is one of their best projects and that fills me with so much pride,” she says.

Her tiny container house is a labour of love. Every section has a unique element, which Nyambura repurposed or creatively made.

She has a sink fashioned out of a stainless-steel serving, dish supported by a glass case filled with real sand from her trip in Lake Turkana, and seashells gifted to her by visitors. She made it herself.

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All her do-it-yourself art pieces decorate the house. There is a vintage telephone, a mantelpiece above her fully functional fireplace, made from a piece of Formica that used to be part of a banking hall. The same material was repurposed for her kitchen counter.

She has quirky test tube bulbs above the living area, beautifully infused into a real log. There are tastefully crafted light fixtures in the kitchen too. All the furnishings and decor items have an almost heart-warming story behind them. “I like being unique. That is why everything in the house was from thrift stores or refurbished,” Nyambura says.

“I looked for pieces everywhere,” she says, pointing at a repurposed leather chair that used to be in her late father’s office.

“Art in Kenya can be expensive, so I had to get creative while thinking economically.”

Most of her frames came from ex-London thrift shops. The artworks inside the frames is made from cutout edgy used T-shirts or bags or simple printed paper designs. Some of the art took a lot of work but she is quite happy with the effect. The result is charming, almost whimsical. It is like being on the set of a fun hipster inspired movie.

Because she wanted a loft, Nyambura needed to figure out a way to rainproof the house. They used a combination of cement and tiles, infused with mesh wire but only at the balcony.

Nyambura has listed the house on Airbnb. It is quite popular among people looking for a fun weekend away but not too far from the city and with international tourists.

She has quite an expansive garden space that can host a considerable crowd and is always at home to attend to her clients. However, she sometimes rents the entire house out.

“The favourite thing about hosting people is the cultural influence. You discover how other people live and love and it is a beautiful experience. I also learn a lot from them about this house. They give me feedback on what I could have done better, and I always take notes for future renovations. My guests also tend to leave me with keepsakes and artefacts which have become part of the interior décor, making it even more distinctive,” she says.

Nyambura admits that a few things in the house were not done perfectly.

“There are some things I know I will need to demolish and redo in time. But this is part of home ownership. It’s always a learning curve.”

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Ex-CIC boss Gitogo paid Sh154m on early exit

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Ex-CIC boss Gitogo paid Sh154m on early exit

Tom Gitogo
Mr Tom Gitogo when he was CIC Insurance boss. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Former CIC Insurance Group #ticker:CIC chief executive Tom Gitogo was paid Sh154.4 million when he cut short his employment contract on October 9, 2019, the insurer has disclosed in its annual report.

The payout included Sh76.3 million in gratuity which was calculated at 31 percent of the annual basic pay for each year worked.

For the nine months he had served by the time of his departure, he was paid a salary of Sh55.3 million annually or Sh6.1 million per month and allowances running into Sh22.8 million annually.

In the previous full year (to December 2018), the two pay items had earned him a total of Sh74.8 million.

Mr Gitogo’s five-year contract was to end in February this year but he left before the end of his term for unexplained reasons.

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The company appointed Elijah Wachira to replace him in an acting capacity.

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Mr Gitogo joined CIC in 2014 when he replaced Nelson Kuria who retired after holding the chief executive position for many years.

He left days after the company repaid its Sh5 billion corporate bond on October 2, 2019.

Mr Gitogo had also initiated plans to sell the insurer’s 712 acres of freehold land. His term at CIC was turbulent, characterised by business decline across various performance measures.

The insurer’s market capitalisation, for instance, dropped 68 percent from Sh25.1 billion in December 2014 to Sh8 billion by the time he exited.

Mr Gitogo steadily bought the company’s shares and still held 11 million shares by December 2019 when he was ranked ninth among the top 10 shareholders, according to the annual report.

The shares are currently worth Sh26 million, assuming he has not sold his stake.

Over his tenure, CIC’s earnings and shareholder funds also dropped, partly due to losses at its regional subsidiaries, competition and the weak stock market. After his exit, the insurer reported a Sh321.5 million net profit for the year ended December, representing a 33.1 percent decline from Sh480.9 million the year before.

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Shhh! Economy is already reopened, but don’t go tell it on the mountain

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Ideas & Debate

Shhh! Economy is already reopened, but don’t go tell it on the mountain

makeshift market
People sell groceries from their vehicles at a makeshift market near Windsor County Club. PHOTO | RAPHAEL NJOROGE 

In business, as in careers and life generally, there is always a secret to unlocking value, success, growth and wealth. In the times of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, that secret was encrypted in two magic words: “Open, Sesame!” Today, in Kenya, a country of 47 million, the question on almost every lip as we inch closer to June 6 has been: “Will he or will he not open?”

At the beginning of the movement restrictions meant to slow down the spread of coronavirus, Kenyans welcomed staying at and working from home. It had its high points. For instance, senior managers could be called Baba Boi during working hours. It was novel. We got to learn about Zoom and the more we used it, the richer Eric Yuan, the founder and CEO of the platform, became.

Today, if I am not wrong, he is worth about $7.6 billion. That is about five times the size of the Budget that Treasury Secretary Ukur Yatani will be reading to us next Thursday. Never mind that Yuan, who shares a name with the Chinese currency, is still three years shy of his 50th birthday, which makes him nine years younger than Kenya.

With time, the novelty of working from home began to wear off as many businesses felt the harsh financial effects of the restrictions, which were more painful than the coronavirus swab test. Bills were growing but incomes were shrinking for both companies and individuals. Where it had started raining, it was now pouring, with workers being sent home on unpaid leave, taking pay cuts or losing their jobs.

Surveys started showing that employees considered working from home less productive compared to working from the office. People started finding reasons to step out. Some forgot social distancing when they met their friends. In no time, photos of well-intentioned Kenyans being hauled into police vehicles for enjoying a beverage near each other started emerging on social media, followed, in short order by more worrying images of excessive indulgence in tea estates. The result was an extension of the restrictions for a further 21 days.

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Since the first case was reported, Kenyans have spent 50 days in an economic wilderness where the definition of work, income generation and building the nation has been turned on its head, with the role of side hustles growing as professionals looked for new ways to bridge their income gaps.

That is why the story about buying milk from the boot of a BMW and managu (amaranth) from a Range Rover trunk excited us. Ah, so these luxury brands could be used for ordinary, nay, mundane tasks! Suddenly, the rich were humanised. They had, in a sense, become purveyors of healthy organic foods and we could mingle with them by the road sides that they had cleverly converted into informal markets.

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Considering that one of the markets was right outside a golf course, one could safely presume that once the super-rich hawkers had sold their last onion, they would head to the course for a well-deserved round.

However, due to social distancing, they had to caddie for themselves, meaning that even the way the rich play had been disrupted. Now, there are not only more people on the golf course but clubs have tentatively opened their ninth holes where members can do business while social-distancing.

For many, however, this is not enough. The other day, a board member with a government agency argued that the economy can no longer afford the restrictions.

“He should open,” the man said. “Those who will die will die.”

However, there is an important lesson that Kenya should learn, especially from America and France, where thousands upon thousands of angry citizens have poured into the streets to protest police brutality on people of African descent: Human rights are as important, if not much more, than public health.

Citizens have put themselves at the risk of contracting coronavirus to demonstrate to their governments that they will not accept injustice. This is an important lesson for the police in Kenya, who have used excessive force, leading to needless deaths — including of innocent children — as they enforce movement restrictions. As such, even as the government tells Kenyans what to do to stay safe from corona, it must also rein in its police officers so that they — and the country — can stay safe from the wrath of Kenyans. They should borrow a leaf from Mama Mbogas, who have repeatedly warned that they would rather die of corona than of hunger, meaning that the government must continue investing in social capital.

On a less political note, we must not forget that without the courage of the Mama Mbogas, we would be worse off economically. They kept at it, even as Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe repeatedly warned that he would not treat them normally. Indeed, their resilience inspired the BMW owners we are now celebrating.

And this brings me to my final point. Kenyans have already re-opened the economy, especially in places like Nairobi. We have traffic jams each day. Hotels have opened. High-end ones have started dusting their receptions, ready to receive visitors. And every so often I get asked by members of my team whether it is illegal for them to come to the newsroom. It never was.

When I met a leading hotelier earlier this week, he explained to me why he never closed the establishment in the first place.

“Big hotels are like city lights,” he said. “You never switch off city lights. The rest of the world needs to see you when investors start travelling again.”

Were I to be asked to advise the President on what he should tell the country on Saturday, I would tell him this: “Open, Na Usiseme!”

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Clean cooking tied to cost and mindset

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Society

Clean cooking tied to cost and mindset

cooking gas
Many households in East Africa cannot access clean cooking fuels, largely because of cash constraints and outdated customary behaviour. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

A huge portion of East Africa’s population cannot access clean cooking fuels, largely because of cash constraints and outdated customary behaviour.

While some households believe they lack the purchasing power to acquire cleaner technologies, mainly done through upfront payment, some communities have clung onto the belief that only traditional energy sources prepare meals well.

What most of them are not aware of is that topping up cook stoves daily with kerosene or charcoal cumulatively costs a lot more than using cooking gas, for instance. Besides, cleaner technologies have a higher calorific value, meaning more heat is generated to cook meals faster and suffer lower energy loss compared to traditional options.

Access to cleaner options is a question of affordability and mindset.

Therefore, to address the heavy reliance on dirty cooking fuels in the region, a blended approach should be pursued. Governments should roll out fiscal incentives aimed at dialing down prices of cleaner alternatives and enabling more households to afford them.

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At the same time, private investors should tap into this vast market by offering cleaner solutions with flexible repayment plans with which low-income customers are comfortable. Awareness campaigns to educate rural populations on the advantages of cleaner fuels and trigger mindset shifts are also needed to guide this transition.

Indoor air pollution amid poor ventilation is a silent death-trap inside the walls of poor households. Chronic exposure to smoke while cooking often leads to respiratory complications, exerting pressure on healthcare facilities, yet this can be avoided.

Based on World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines, “clean” fuels and technologies in the context of indoor air quality and household fuel combustion include electric cookers, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), natural gas, biogas, solar, and ethanol-fuel stoves. On the opposite end of the spectrum are the so-called dirty fuels since they emit smoke and mostly relied upon by households in villages, peri-urban and informal settlements. The list includes charcoal, coal, crop waste, dry dung, kerosene and wood.

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In Kenya, clean cooking fuel access rate stands at a paltry 10 percent, yet this is the best performance in the region, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Uganda fares worse off, with only one percent of the population having access to clean options while Tanzania’s access rate is three percent and five percent for Ethiopia.

In most of these countries, population has been growing at a fast clip, outpacing growth in the number of households gaining access to clean cooking. This has somehow slowed down the fight against energy poverty not only in East Africa but the entire Sub-Saharan Africa.

It is, therefore, encouraging to learn that the Kenyan government is reviving plans to distribute 6kg cooking gas cylinders and burners to low-income families in villages at subsidised rates.

The Mwananchi Gas Project, though hit by delays since 2018, is a commendable move meant to wean poor households from use of dirty wood fuel and paraffin by making gas equipment affordable to first-time buyers. There should be no more delays in its implementation this time around.

The International Energy Agency has grouped Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Nigeria and DRC in the bottom 20 list of countries with lowest access to clean fuels globally. The agency indicates that 44 million Kenyans still use dirty fuels in one way or another, with this number being much higher in Tanzania (54 million) and 98 million for Ethiopia.

This grim picture calls for strategic and speedy interventions, involving public-private partnerships to turn around the fortunes, alongside support from development partners.

Already, Kenya has a funding arrangement with the World Bank to supply efficient cooking appliances powered by clean fuels to households located in marginalised areas, largely in northern Kenya and the coast.

The mass cook stove distribution drive is part of a wider programme that aims to roll out clean energy solutions to underdeveloped communities under the Kenya off-grid solar access project (K-OSAP). The project aims to support a transition from low efficiency baseline stoves to cleaner improved cooking appliances and fuels.

This is certainly a welcome approach and rollout should be done in a transparent and efficient manner.

On its part, Ethiopia is running a National Biogas Programme aimed at providing hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians with biogas digesters.

Such nationwide policies are expected to bend the curve and shrink the number of people without access, providing clean cooking solutions to around half of the region’s population by 2030. To this end, as countries commit to universal electricity access targets for their populations, the same should be the case with clean cooking fuels.

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