Chris Kirubi is in his residence recovering from that dreadful disease that we will not validate by mentioning by name. On this beautiful sunwashed afternoon, he is shuffling around the grounds of his residence where he has lived for the last 30 years, past a lawn so green it looks like a magician’s illusion. There are construction workers all over. He is constructing his dream home at 79.
He is many things to many people; an uber businessman, industrialist, deejay, farmer, Yin and yang, purveyor of hedonism, philanthropist, exhibitionist.
In what ways do you think falling sick has changed you and the people around you?
One thing I’ve come to discover is that in the end you’re alone. Your friends may love you, but eventually you have to deal with your sickness personally. You think about the past, the things that you could have done, the things that you have not done, and what you can do to compensate for things you ignored. It is a time of reflection. And prayers from friends do help, a lot.
Being in a good hospital, with good doctors, adds a certain value to your life. I was just wondering what we can do to make sure, in a poor country like Kenya, everybody receives the best treatment possible rather than mass treatment. Because to tell you the truth, if I had been here maybe by now I would be long gone.
Talking of which, it’s ironic that we’re all living towards our deaths. Are you more or less fearful of death after this experience?
Death is rest. A rest from daily hustles. This is something that is irreversible. You’re born, you grow, you die. In the end, it doesn’t matter who you are. It doesn’t matter the age or what you do to try and elongate your life. But at the same time, nobody wants to die.
What’s the best advice anyone has ever given you?
Be yourself and trust in yourself. I was very young.
Did you set out to be this man you are now, successful and making moves? What was your ambition at 30?
I never set out to make lots of money. I grew up poor. So I always dreamt from very early on that one day I’d make it. I believed in myself. I was disciplined. But I’m not yet successful. I have a dream. I still have more hills to climb. I work more now in my home than I worked in the office. I have five to six meetings in a day. Many people come to see me because I’m sick. My people want to come and consult with me. I still run my companies. I’ve never switched off.
When you were growing up, you wanted to “make it.” What is that? How did making it look in your books?
You’ve asked a critical question. And that question is based on who I am, what I was and what made me believe that I could make it. It is the trust in myself. I knew if I worked hard, I would make it.
When did you know you’ve made it?
I’m still trying to make it. I’m building my dream house. I built this house we’re sitting in 30 years ago. I bought this land when this area had only white settlers. Roger Whittaker’s (who sang “My Land is Kenya”) parents lived across the bottom of my plot. To be successful, you must trust yourself. Don’t believe in others’ judgement. Jesus Christ followed a very narrow path. The narrow path has its own challenges, but as long as you believe in yourself, you win. I don’t follow crowds. I only believe in one person; Chris Kirubi.
You still work even now when most would imagine you’d slow down. What are you working towards now? What are you working for? Obviously, it’s not money.
I work for achievement.
Have you not achieved?
No. I’m sure in your pocket you have one of my products. A medical card, a smart card... There is no medical insurer that isn’t using my smart application. My ICT company has nearly two million subscribers. I look forward to having four million and I’m sure by the time I have four million, I’ll want to have six million more. Why? Because I contribute to people’s wellness.
You bought land 30 years ago and built a nice house. Now you want to build another beautiful home. You have two million subscribers and want to grow them to four million. Would you say making money is akin to chasing your tail, a never-ending cycle?
It’s ambition. Ambition is what makes life. The day you have no ambition you die inside. Anybody who says they’re successful, they’re satisfied, will not live long, they will get in a coma, metaphorically. So, ambition is part of living.
You have to continue being ambitious. There is always another hill to climb and you don’t see the end. Success is a mirage.
But how do you make sure that ambition doesn’t get harmful? That it doesn’t consume you like a ball of fire?
(Chuckles) I’m not obsessed with money as such. I’m only interested in doing things that make sense. If I’m doing activities that bring me wealth, well and good. We give many scholarships to poor students; we just don’t make noise about it.
You have been doing business for years. How do you know that you will do business with someone when you meet them?
(Pause) Instinct. I ask myself, ‘Do I feel I can trust you?’ However, I do business with international companies. I don’t like problems with people as might often happen when doing business.
Newspapers refer to you as a “mogul”. As a mogul, do you know how much you’re worth or you stopped counting?
I also don’t know what a mogul is. (Laugher in the room) If people are not calling you a thief, a liar, then you don’t have to worry. If they’re calling you a mogul, a billionaire, you are being blessed with that wisdom to become one if you’re not already one.
I’m very proud that people think I’m a billionaire. It comes with perks, people answer my calls. Why? Because that is Dr Kirubi calling. But it’s important to continue developing yourself so that you do not let down the press that has accorded you that title. (More laughter).