Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Review: Mbugua Githere- A handful of Terere

This novel is excellent for the simple reason that its rare for anyone who is remotely influential in Kenya to write about how they did it. Presumably because the wealth acquiring wasn't straight.

I was interested to know how Mbugua survived the Emergency period of 1952-56 because my understanding was that it was ruthlessly enforced in Central with kipande required for daytime movements and curfews keeping you company at night. Collaborators were also key Mau Mau targets. Answer, he greased the homeguards' palms; gave money to the Mau Mau cause and lent his lorry to the colonial masters to go and arrest Mau Mau in the forests.

As with many entrepreneurs, he started with one idea and grew his confidence and financial muscle from there. Terere, is a naturally occurring weed in many parts of Central, but was in his formative years, popular food with Wahindis. He'd help his mother pick, carry and sell the stuff to Parklands, Ngara and those areas. So its true some Kiuks did benefit from the proximity to Nai, but when you read what they had to endure (under payments, chased away without being paid), you can't really call it an advantage. Having survived the emergency and colonial period, the Uhuru day found him and others like his friend Njenga Karume very liquid and they were able to partake in the only sport of the day. Acquiring assets being disposed by Odiero. Of note for NSE investors is that he at one time held 6% of the then recently listed Pan African.

The book suffers in having been written by a fictional writer. Mwangi Gicheru of "Across the Bridge" fame has brought his fictional style to bear and IMHO it spoils the book. The best biographers are journalists who know how to record and tell events. 2ndly, as with Ndegwa's autobiography, A handful of Terere suffers from poor editing.

Overall, its a page-turning rags to riches tale of a man who (again like Njenga Karume), was barely literate. Its very important that we get more of these types of books because they become a later-day reference for our grandkids.


odegle said...

I would love to read that book. I get lifted by stories of people who always find a gem in every murk. I can imagine the patience of building great wealth from selling weeds to proud housewives!

MainaT said...

They say diamonds are made from high pressure.

gumzo said...

I was left wondering if he would have been the same way if he had pursued the literacy path (athomi as he calls them)
I took away a lot of things from this book but one AHA moment for me was the concept of etereri (waiting for a paycheck). Mbugua had figured out that working for others won't get him far, stuff that people go to business school and spend countless nights writing papers on! Nyambura