The fathers built River Road, their sons built Upper Hill

If you were to visit Rwathia in search of the secret to becoming a billionaire, you would be disappointed.

The region that spawned titans of industry is a cookie-cutter model of rural Kenya. The trading centre is perhaps the most underwhelming – a single road with two rows of buildings that have shops facing the street and living quarters in the back.

The traders sell nearly identical goods, a hallmark of the lack of innovation.

But the men who left this rural centre in the early and mid-20th century went on to become a force to reckon with in Kenya’s business circles.

They were key to the growth of one of the busiest parts of Nairobi, evident in the buildings they put up or acquired from the Indians.
Borrowing a cue from these pioneers, another generation of go-getters would emerge as they started companies and embarked on ambitious projects to reshape the Nairobi skyline in areas like Upper Hill.

They have gone one better than their fathers, managing transitions better and ensuring their empires will live on after they exit the scene.

So, what makes this clique of men from a tiny village deep in central Kenya so successful?

an associate professor at the University of Nairobi, said they were aided by several factors, including having access to information, early exposure to capitalism and learning to pool resources.

“Around that time, the Minister of Commerce and Industry was Gikonyo Kiano who comes from Murang’a. One of the key people at KCB was Michuki, also from Murang’a. They had information on the direction or trajectory that the economy was taking,” said Iraki.

They were also able to buy property from the departing whites and Indians at low rates.

“Sometimes you may have money in the pocket, but you need someone to tell you where to take the money. That is why people from Murang’a tend to have more property in Nairobi than people from Kiambu, which is closer to the city.”

Other factors at play included a hunger among the people of Murang’a to gain from the hard-earned independence. They were among those subjected to untold hardships during the state of emergency where, in numerous instances, entire families were taken to detention camps.

These early entrepreneurs also had easy access to growing towns.

“They were bubbling with energy and looking for opportunities to invest. Another factor is that if you look at the geography of central Kenya, Murang’a is sort of ‘landlocked’ and the only place they could go to was Thika and Nairobi.

“They came into contact with capitalism much earlier than the rest of Central Kenya. They knew there were higher returns in the city,” said Iraki.

One invaluable lesson that helped these men was learning the value of bringing together friends and relatives or even neighbours to pool resources and save money to buy property or start businesses.

“Once they had buildings in downtown Nairobi, they set up businesses. When Nairobi grew, there was demand for their goods and services,” said Iraki.

Much later, their children – or children who watched them growing up and were inspired – would come to own a share of Nairobi and start companies with a regional footprint.

“Some of their children and perhaps their neighbours’ children like Jimnah Mbaru, Peter Munga and the rest were able to see that and realised that they may not be able to get the buildings their fathers got in River Road. So they went a notch higher and looked at the main drivers of capitalism – banks and financial institutions.

“This way, they were able to start institutions like Equity Bank and a host of many banks that collapsed in the 1980s that had roots in Murang’a,” said Iraki. Nothing better exemplifies the power of pooling resources than the growth of Saccos across the country.

Many of these firms also have their origins in Murang’a, with the more successful ones transitioning into banks.

Iraki noted that this latter generation is more forward-looking in how they are managing the transition of their businesses, as well as grooming future leaders. “They are looking at the next generations through such things as Equity Bank’s Wings to Fly programme,” he said.

“They are more exposed and have interacted with people, locally and globally, who are good in that area.”

Iraki continued: “If you look at the boards of those banks, they draw people from all communities and even from abroad to make sure they can learn from each other and the world’s best practices.”

Six years ago, University of Nairobi senior lecturer Bitange Ndemo penned an article where he noted that the billionaires of Rwathia controlled an estimated 40 per cent of the stock market and, arguably, 20 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product.

He said not enough research had been conducted to establish why so many successful entrepreneurs hailed from Rwathia. Dr Ndemo noted that while other factors could be at play, the men from Rwathia had also put immense effort in building their empires.

But the question is why is Rwathia still a one horse town?

We reach out to our correspondent fossil @wa viazi

someone told me that the people from Kiambu did not invest in property in the cbd compared to the Murang’a people, because the kiambu guys always said “nyumbani ni hapa tu” citing the close proximity from the city to their ushago… Muranga people had no option but to fully settle

Sabina Joy customers have made millions for Rwathia birrioneas.

My grandmother told when guys were applying for houses in kimathi, buru, uhuru etc kabila zingine walikua wanasema uku si kwetu… my grandmother and her friends who were civil servants took advantage of that ignorance and got themselves a couple of houses in different hoods.

How special are they? Was mombasa not built by old wazees like those of Rwathia? Mbona hamuongelelei Juma Hajee wa eldoret? Wazee wa Rwathia ndio important kuliko wazee wenye walijenga Kisumu na Arusha? Story zenu za kikuyu toweni hapa.

You sir like arguing for sake of it… but since you asked why we are talking about the I will indulge you… here is why

Rwathia controlled an estimated 40 per cent of the stock market and, arguably, 20 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product.

Stop comparing mangoes to oranges this guys were playing in a different level.

You sir like arguing for sake of it… but since you asked why we are talking about them I will indulge you… here is why

Rwathia controlled an estimated 40 per cent of the stock market and, arguably, 20 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product.

Stop comparing mangoes to oranges this guys were playing in a different level.

Don’t be stupid. The context here is Nairobi. You are quite the ignoramus.

Out of curiosity, could you expound on the maternal and paternal origins of Andu wa Rwathia.
Kama mimi, mamangu ni wa Kiambu and my father is from Nyeri. When I become a ‘KINGPIN’ (QueenPin does not exist), will it be I hail from Nyeri or Kiambu?

Nyeri obviously. C’mon

The sabina joy grandpa was a century old. Pre -independece it was hard for men to marry women too far off their geographical areas. Its then safe to assume, paternity and maternity was from Murang’a.

Peter Munga was born in 1943. Munga founded Equity Building Society (EBS) in his hometown of Kangema in 1984 before it became Equity Bank in August 2014.

Note, it took Mr. Munga 30 years to reap the benefits of Equity Bank.

It is Nyeri.
Note, in those days, fathers never used to stay with their children. I am being told Chris Kirubi is from Nyeri (the maternal side). But, everyone knows he is from Muranga.
Ni kama Text Book Centre owner, was he from India or Karatina (where they lived and had the first bookshop)?

Kuna wasapere hukua na doh bila mchezo

Today I learned that I have 3 stockbrokers managing my fotofolio. 2021 I’ll be upping my stake at the bourse and diversifying to offshore investments

Typical Shosh media wamekua wakimilk hii story forever. Kwani wazee wengine hawakujenga pia hao. We don’t deny Kikuyu ingenuity in business but this article is shallow and lopsided. Never for example heard of Jivanjee guy being chronicled anywhere yet he single handedly built downtown Nairobi

:D:D:D… you also get journalists to write about those wazees i don’t know what is stopping you.
Rwathia is still operational to date they are one of the largest beer distributors in this country. This is a generational empire with serious muscles.

Kuna Rwathia stockist pale Munyu road. Black Label one litre unaachiwa na Ksh2800 halafu unauzia ma bonobo Ksh5, 000.Gilbeys one litre nayo no Ksh900bob halafu unauzia mabonobo Ksh1900. Rwathia greatness tupu.

And I had a pf number working for Equity Bank in 2010?before its existence? Kojoa urudi ulale