Peter Kiongo Karinge, 38, is a father of two and a testimony that resilience pays off. At the age of 19 and before joining university he started a business to make ends meet. He thereafter combined his business ventures with academic pursuits that saw him go through one failed undergraduate course before finally graduating. This is in spite of the many challenges he faced. This self-made entrepreneur shared his inspiring experience with MWAURA MUIGANA.
This interview coincided with the release of the 2012 Kenya Certificate of Primary Education Examination (KCPE) results. Naturally, Peter Kionge Karinge, an A student from primary school to university was excited to discuss the subject. He felt that while students worked hard, their dream careers were often curtailed, especially at university level, by being offered degree courses they were not passionate about.
Peter, a 2003 bachelor of business management graduate from Moi University in Eldoret, cited his own case. He was a top student from class two to eight and scored an enviable 472 out of 500 points in his KCPE in 1988, emerging the best student in Ndeiya division in the then Limuru district. He joined Thika High School in 1989 and continued his academic excellence. He was the second best Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education Examination (KCSE) student in the school in 1992 with five ‘As’, four ‘Bs’ and a ‘C’ plus.
He had an A in mathematics, his best subject, and loved working with figures. Peter was delighted to have qualified to pursue his dream course, a bachelor of business management, but extremely disappointed when he was admitted to pursue a bachelor of medicine (MBCHB) at the Moi University in Eldoret, a field he didn’t have even the remotest of interest in. It beat logic why he was chosen for this course as he had a C plus in biology, a major subject for entry into medicine. He shares his inspiring story in his own words.
“Although my late dad wasn’t educated he was willing, and struggled, to finance my education and that of my siblings. He didn’t have much to offer in terms of inheritance but had a lot of wisdom. Fully ware of this, I studied very hard. On completing my secondary education, I was burning with energy and decided to use it positively as I awaited the KCSE results.
Dad had a large herd of goats and sheep that he tended jealously, but sold them to pay for our school fees when need arose. Naturally, I felt inclined to trade in livestock in the footsteps of my father. He advanced me a loan of Ksh 8000, which I used to buy my initial investment of cows from Maasai herdsmen. I sold them to butchers in Limuru. It was a tough business as I had to travel to Maasai land, as well as hire lorries to transport the cows to Limuru, but three months down the line I was doing fairly well.
I repaid dad Ksh 3,000 of the loan within the first three months of trading. On realising I was doing well, dad proposed a partnership, which worked very well as there was now a little bit more money to take care of our large polygamous family. After the release of KCSE results in February 1993, Coopers Ltd., an animal health company recognised my excellent performance and offered me a working internship with a stipend of Ksh 1,500 per month. This was an arrangement with the Thika Old Boys Association to reward the best three KCSE candidates.
I was at crossroads. Apart from supporting my family, I was paying school fees for my younger sister at Loreto High School and also providing pocket money to my two elder sisters who were already in university. Moreover, I had already started construction of a house using the proceeds from my growing business. I was only 19 and extremely ambitious, and although I recognised the honour and privilege of being offered an internship by Coopers, I declined it choosing to continue with my business while awaiting university admission in order to meet my short-term goals.
Nasty campus experience…
I was elated with my good performance at KSCE and confident that I would pursue my dream course in business administration. It never crossed my mind that I would be admitted to pursue medicine. When this happened, I planned to request the university to allow me get into a business course.
The university’s opening dates in June 1994 were published in the local dailies and I happily reported at the university only to be faced with another rude shock. Students pursuing medicine had reported two months earlier. My name had inadvertently been left out when admission letters were sent out. Furthermore, medicine was considered a very intensive course and there was no way I was going to catch up. I was asked to return home and report to the campus during subsequent academic year.
I assumed this was a God-sent opportunity to change from medicine and pursue a course of my choice. But medicine was a new course at Moi University and to sustain it, no student was allowed to change to another course. I grudgingly went back home to wait for the next academic year.
I aggressively resumed my business pursuits and made huge profits. I recruited somebody to manage my business upon finally joining university in February 1995. The hospital environment where we did our practicum was especially intimidating and psychologically haunting. The sight of patients made my heart crumble. I recall an elderly cancer patient from Kitale who was our case study for advanced prostrate cancer. He had less than a month to live. When we surrounded his bed he urged us to learn and graduate quickly to help him and other patients. It then dawned on me that he wasn’t aware his days were numbered. I felt sorry for him.
On realising I was having a few issues adapting, the dean of students severally counseled me to help me adapt to the hospital environment and the career ahead of me. In the first year at university, there was a strike that altered the university’s calendar. I had to take two academic years in three years.
Worse than that, my father fell ill in 1996 and succumbed to pancreatic cancer in February 1997. During the period he was sick, I took some time off from college to be by his side and because of missing several classes I failed the end year exams. As a result, I was disqualified from doing medicine in August 1997, but could re-apply after two years.
Frustrated, I resolved to forget university education and concentrate on full time business. While at university, I had started a telephone bureau in Eldoret together with other students and had saved some money. I had by this time completed construction of my house in my parents compound. I injected fresh capital of about Ksh 60,000 from my savings into the livestock business. I would hire trucks to transport animals from as far as Samburu, Kehancha, Kajiado, Meru and Isiolo. The business was doing very well and at the age of 23, I was able to buy a plot near our family home.
Quest for more…
In spite of my success in business, I felt that it was time to join formal employment where I would get structured business experience, and perhaps finally get into my dream career of business management. I applied and got a casual job with Standard Chartered Bank. The job involved working with figures and I loved it, but I could not get a permanent job because I needed to have a degree. My colleagues who were holders of university degrees got permanent positions. This was a wake-up call for me.
I realised I needed university education if I were to ever achieve my career goals. I reapplied for admission at Moi University for a business management course. The university was of the opinion that I pursue engineering or information sciences because of my good performance at KCSE. After a lot of back and forth, I was eventually admitted for a business degree course in 1999. I also registered privately for the Certificate of Public Accountancy (CPA) course. It was not easy pursuing the two programmes but I made it. I completed the final CPA exams in 2002 and graduated with an upper Second Class Honours degree in business management in 2003.
After graduation and while applying for jobs, I invested some money I had in my savings account to buy an old car, which I used as a taxi in Limuru town near my home. The business picked up easily and I was able to buy a second old car and employed a driver to help me run my taxi business. My sister advanced me a loan to buy a new vehicle to expand my business, which was doing very well. I repaid her the money within a short time.
An accountant is born…
I got an accounting and logistics job in the hotel industry in September 2003 and was posted to Lokichogio where the company had a hotel. I had boarding and meal privileges, which allowed me to save all my salary. It also exposed me to non-governmental organisations (NGOs) operating in the area and this led to a job offer with World Vision in Lokichogio in April 2005. The job mainly entailed organising flights for people and goods to the Southern Sudan. It was a demanding job but I thoroughly enjoyed it and learnt a lot.
I was later transferred to the Nairobi office of World Vision and since the business itch hadn’t left me, I borrowed money from my brother to purchase a matatu that I operated while still working on a full time basis. My job entailed traveling frequently to the Southern Sudan and was eventually permanently stationed in Juba, when South Sudan gained independence.
Tough choices finally pay off…
By this time I had a family, having married my former college mate Julia Wanjiru in June 2004, with whom we had two children Moses Karinge, eight, and Antony Gichugu, six. It was difficult living so far away from my family, only coming home once every two months. My children thought I was their uncle. Life in Juba was not easy, especially the infrastructure and security, and I started thinking I needed to make a tough choice between my job and my family.
Despite the good pay and request from my boss to stay on, I tendered my resignation in February 2009. I returned home to continue running my matatu business. With my savings, I imported two new matatus and went full time into the business.
I had a friend who was also in the transport business operating cargo trailers from Mombasa to Kampala and he encouraged me to try my hand in that business. I needed Ksh 5 million to buy a trailer and although I didn’t have that kind of money, I wasn’t cowed. I talked my sister into a partnership and she willingly came on board. I sold my matatus to finance the new business and also took a bank loan and borrowed more money from close relatives and friends.
My first trailer and its consignment was on the road from Mombasa to Kampala in April 2009. I was unaware of the high maintenance costs but soldiered on. In June 2009, the trailer had an accident and it cost a lot of money to put it back on the road. But by December 2009 I was making substantial profit. I had my friend to thank for this change of fortunes.
By 2011, I had made enough money to invest in a second trailer. My target is to have at least five trailers on the road. It has been a rough ride but being ambitious, focused and making tough decisions has seen me through it all. I’m on the right track and I have no doubt I will soon achieve my dreams. I’m happy that I have enough time to manage the business and give time to my family.”
Published on March 2013