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How to make money in Kenya

Dec 14, 2003 Humour, Sunday Nation

There must be thousands of you dreaming of joining Kenya’s Rich List someday. So I thought I should offer young people a guide to making it big in Kenya. If making money is your thing, then here are the Top 4 ways of doing it. For all you youngsters out there with dollar signs in your eyes, here is some serious career advice, the type you won’t get in your university careers office! The list is presented in reverse order of money-making potential.

4. Start a monopoly company. Monopolies are great. The customer has no choice but to buy from you, and you can make the quality of your product or service as shoddy as you like. Cut costs to the bone, don’t invest in customer service, set your margins to be as healthy as you like. It’s a license to print money. But how do you get into the game? Well, you must be willing to invest some capital in befriending the right officials, and obtaining a license giving you the exclusive right to conduct a particular activity, preferably for five years or more.

Once these bureaucrats are on your side, they will issue helpful statements to the public explaining the need for stability in the market, the desirability of nurturing local entrepreneurs, etc etc. Of course, for doing this they will expect to partake in the profit margin, so set it high enough! Once these conditions are in place, you can happily fleece the public for years, as well as retard all progress in the market. Outdoor advertising, airport services, mining, telecommunications, power generation are all good potential monopolies to consider.

3. Open a bank. Another great Kenyan money-spinner. Here, you have two options: you can either open a dodgy bank for crooks like yourself, or open a serious bank for the respectable public. In the former option, you need to have a network of shady characters with money to hide. These people will provide you with your first deposits and give you an asset base. You will then open up your doors to the general public (also known as the mugs) and offer amazingly high interest rates. You can’t lose money appealing to people’s greed. You will be surprised how many of these people will come rushing in to support your bank! After building your deposit base, you can give hundreds of millions out in loans to yourself, to companies in which you have an interest, to friends and relatives, etc. These loans need never be repaid. Eventually, of course, the whole bank will collapse. By then, you will have used the ‘loans’ to set yourself up for life.

The second banking option is to open a mainstream, respectable bank that does not engage in any funny business. The results here may not be instantaneous, but they are eye-popping nonetheless. Your target market is the teeming multitudes that have had their fingers burned by investing in dodgy banks (described above). These poor souls (also known as the suckers) will have been so frightened by the experience of losing all their money that they will now value integrity above all else in a bank. They will be ripe for further denuding. Once you have invested in your reputation, you can offer these customers ridiculously low interest rates on their deposits, and they will not even squeal. You can charge them for literally everything they do in your bank, including stepping in through the door, walking on your carpet, and breathing the air you helpfully provide. You can be rude to them and mess up their records for years, without ever hearing a whimper. In this model, you will give out loans on generally sound projects, and charge handsomely. The spread you make on these loans will go straight to shareholders, your costs having been covered by all the charges above. So go for banking, youngsters – it’s pure gravy.

2. Position yourself in or around a parastatal. Parastatals are superb money-making vehicles. They are usually monopolies (see (4) above) and do not have unhelpful competitors making life difficult. They are state-owned, and customers’ expectations are therefore usually very low. This means that you will be spared unnecessary concern about customer care or product quality. The shareholder is the government, which means you don’t have to worry about making a profit. You can lose money for years, preferably to yourself. If you find a career in parastatals interesting, focus on the key function known as procurement. This is where 90 per cent of the activity takes place – parastatals do little else other than purchase cars, equipment, cranes etc, at spectacular prices.

Of course, you can also be on the other side, and supply things to a parastatal. Some of Kenya’s most notable fortunes have been made in this way. The only investment you will need to make will be in entertaining the parastatal’s key officers. Your company does not have to actually manufacture, supply or provide any goods or services – don’t let that worry you for a moment. You will be paid money for thin air. What’s the margin on that? Exciting, eh?

1. Become a politician. By far the quickest and most dramatic method of making money in Kenya is to join politics. Here, you will need some initial investment to give the appearance of being rich in the first place – Kenyans don’t vote for poor people. So you must have a flashy car and a large rural house. Take out loans for these (preferably from a dodgy bank – see (3) above), and don’t worry: you will repay them, if at all you have to, in a year or two.

A politician’s life, if you play your cards right, is one long gravy train. If you control a good, solid tribal voting bloc, you will find yourself being allocated vast tracts of land, at zero cost, by the government of the day. You will be given shareholdings in major corporations and asked to join their boards of directors, again for no outlay. You will find that most things in life become free – hotel stays for your family, first-class travel, major purchases, etc. For some reason, people will stop charging you for things. This is the big one, youngsters: develop a loud voice, frighten your tribe into thinking it needs you in order to survive – and go for it!

So, young Kenyans, these are the top ways to make the big money. Do it right, and you may make enough for your next five generations. There will be costs, of course: you will stop sleeping well at night; you will worry incessantly about losing your money; you will never love or trust another human being again; you will almost certainly spend some time in jail. But these are minor matters, surely, and unlikely to deter someone of your calibre.

The alternative is to work hard, develop real skills, and lead a clean life. Unlike the four methods outlined above, this route has no guarantee of success whatsoever, and may take years and years to come to fruition. Who wants that?

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