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Former Mitumba Seller Rubbing Shoulders With Kenya’s Movers And Shakers

Alvin Kibet says the love for mathematics has helped him to take well-calculated moves in life

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Alvin Kibet didn’t always wear swanky suits. Slightly over a decade ago, the 30-year-old would probably be donning overalls as he dug his hands into heaps of mitumba (second-hand clothing) at the Gikomba Market, Nairobi, yelling in praise of his product.

Kibet started out as a second-hand clothing seller, a venture he pursued as soon as he left high school in 2011. From a young age, Kibet had always wanted to be independent. The firstborn of three siblings – a sister and brother – he watched how his parents, both hoteliers, were constantly stressed by the strictures of employment. His mitumba business paid off relatively soon.

“In 2013, I got a deal worth Ksh700,000 and grew my business, eventually becoming a mitumba wholesaler,” Kibet beams as he recounts his humble beginnings from the balcony of a Nairobi restaurant. “Later in 2018, I would try my luck in the textile industry, dealing in raw materials. A year later my landlord would chase me because I had grown wealthier than him.”

Before he ventured into textiles, Kibet had detoured into politics, unsuccessfully contesting for the Bomet Central parliamentary seat. That was in 2017. At 24, he was the youngest candidate on the ballot, having landed the KANU ticket in a negotiated settlement, for which he credits his “oral prowess”. He came out second. “My fellow constituents live in extreme poverty. Water is still a luxury to many. I wanted to improve their lives. I still want that,” Kibet says.

Mr Kibet admired so much the resolve with which former Bomet Governor Isaac Ruto championed the interests of his then Bomet Central constituents, and later those of Bomet’s residents. That convinced Kibet that he belonged in elective politics, but the nudge had come in his childhood.

“My father admired how politicians dressed. He loved their blue blazers with golden buttons and grey trousers. He would always talk about their dressing style. And so politics grew in me and I would lie that my father was a deputy Member of Parliament, a position that did not exist,” he chuckles. “I was about eight then.”

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His experience in politics further opened his eyes to the challenges Kenyans continue to face. “Many people come to rallies hoping they’ll find enough for a meal. I can’t blame them, though. Life is hard.”

Since his defeat, Mr Kibet has charted a new path, earning himself a seat with the country’s movers and shakers. He currently sits in the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) Disputes Tribunal as an expert in the sector.

“I was appointed in the tribunal because I championed the formation of the small claims court to help ease the burden on the mainstream courts and for a faster resolution of minor disputes,” he adds.

His efforts in pushing for the small claims court, a proposal that was already in the air, saw him awarded the Moran of the Burning Spear in June 2022 by President Uhuru Kenyatta. Besides the MSME tribunal, Kibet is also a member of the Kenya Rural Roads Authority’s (KeRRA) board of directors. He also served as a board member of the Kenya Industrial Estates.

Not many young Kenyans have been as lucky to scale such heights. Not without connections. “I have no godfather. My brain is my godfather,” Kibet states, disclosing that he constantly scouts for openings and dutifully applies for them.

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“Kenya has space for young people who are aggressive and don’t give up. In business, you have to be aggressive and patient because the benefits are not always immediate,” says Kibet, who was brought up in a middle-class family, growing up “a few metres from Kibra”.

He wasn’t the brightest student, he confesses, only managing the university cut-off of C+ in his secondary school examination. But he loved mathematics throughout his school life. “I believe that is why I have made the best calculations in life,” he jokes.

Kibet isn’t married yet and says he has no children. “I am married to the hustle.”

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Bill Yaura is a Correspondent for Business Today. He can be reached on email: [email protected]
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