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I left the slums with a dream – says Kieni MP James Mathenge

Kieni MP James Mathenge started his life in Korogocho in Nairobi where he says his dreams to succeed took shape. He founded a solar energy company then, now valued at millions of shillings. He has been known to pick fights with several politicians such as Nyeri Governor, Nderitu Gachagua and several opposition leaders.

He was also behind a bid to censure National Assembly majority leader Aden Duale. And although he did not file the censure motion that was motivated by Duale’s failure to provide a list of failing of alleged Al-Shabaab sympathisers, James Mathenge’s (popularly known as Kanini Kega) move almost split the Jubilee Coalition.

And although the vocal MP wouldn’t go into the behind the scenes manouvers that saw him drop the idea to censure Duale, Kanini Kega says he does not ‘split hairs for nothing’.

The first time TNA MP, who represents Kieni constituency also runs a solar company says his dreams and ambitions were bred and born in Korogocho slums, Nairobi. In early year 2000, a solar company known as Solagen employed the University of Nairobi graduate.

With his small salary, the man from Watuka village in Nyeri rented a house at Korogocho, one of the largest slums in Nairobi, since he couldn’t afford a permanent house and also because he wanted to save enough money to start his company. “I didn’t know that slum life was not that easy.

One day, people broke into my shack and stole the few household items I had,” he says, adding that the theft was his initiation to the slum life. Living in the slums, he says, gave him the determination to take charge of his destiny. “I knew I could not do much while employed.

Consequently, I started doing research on what business I could go into,” he says. The MP says he found out that the renewable energy sector was promising since many people could not access power from the national grid.

Armed with this knowledge, he set out to write a business plan and also read extensively on how successful companies were started and run. “I realised that becoming a CEO doesn’t happen overnight.

CEOs work their way through the ranks and rise to the top thanks to a combination of hard work, perseverance, traits and qualities that make them a top-notch business leader,” says MP in his 40s. After working for four years, he quit to start his own company.

Since he didn’t have enough money to start the company, Power Options Limited, he borrowed Sh100,000 and after one month he was able to repay the loan. “That was the biggest risk I had ever taken. I quit my job with high hopes of starting my own company.

I knew the sector had a future because not every Kenyan could be connected to the national grid,” he says. Life was not easy for him as a new entrepreneur, but now he says he is enjoying the fruits of his labour. His company that deals with renewable energy is now valued at millions of shillings and he employs more than 50 Kenyans.

The MP says most young Kenyans have valid dreams and ambitions, but they limit themselves due to perceptions. “I have talked to people who think that for one to succeed in Kenya, they need to have a relative in high places.

That is not true. I barely knew anyone when I started, but I was armed with the will to succeed,” he says. He went to Watuka Primary School and Chinga Boys High School and later joined University of Nairobi.

“It was by God’s grace that I graduated in 1998. Since my family couldn’t afford to pay my school fees I highly depended on Higher Education Loan Board (Helb),” he says. After his graduation he looked for a job without success and this is when he decided to travel to Nairobi to try his luck and for sure his life changed completely.

Why did he join politics despite excelling in business? Kanini Kega gives the standard political answer: “To change lives of Kieni residents, the poorest constituency in Nyeri County.”

He says the fact that youth leave the constituency in droves to Nairobi and other cities to look for jobs is the reason rural constituencies are still lagging behind. “I would like to urge people to start investing in their rural areas to end rural-urban migration,” he adds.

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