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Luhya Tycoon Who Offered To Pay Teachers Salaries Started Off With Only Sh38

Ibrahim Ambwere worked as a sweeper for an Asian mason who gifted him an old toolbox - and that changed his fortunes forever

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Some time in 1980’s, Kenya found itself in economic quandary. Things were so bad that teachers, among other civil servants, missed salaries for a couple of months, leading to a countrywide teachers strike that kept learners out of school for weeks.

Someone not known beyond Western Kenya stepped in to try and avert a disaster for the government of President Daniel arap Moi and schools. Ibrahim Ambwere is said to have offered to pay Western Kenya teachers delayed salaries totalling to Ksh48 million. This was a fortune, given the devaluation that the Kenya shilling has undergone over the years.

The offer was, of course, not received kindly by authorities, as the businessman was seen to be mocking the Moi government.

The story of Ambwere, which borders on folklore, has been retold over the years. This is a man who rose from humble background, defying initial odds, to become one of the Kenya’s Wealthiest businessmen with a number of properties across the country including towns such as Kakamega, Kisumu, Mbale, Chavakali, Kitale, Bungoma and Eldoret.

Despite being a wealthy businessman, Ambwere remains humble and grounded. He believes in giving back to society and has sponsored several students. He has also invested in education by building schools and libraries in Western Kenya region.

Ibrahim Ambwere was born in 1936 in Maragoli, Vihiga County-Western part of Kenya. His mother was deaf and dumb, his father left to fight in the army when he was only four years old, but never to return.

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At the age of eight, Ambwere’s mother died and he was forced look for any means of survival to take care of himself and his siblings.

In his journey of survival, Ambwere worked as a gardener in people’s farms in Maragoli Western Kenya, and later relocated to Molo in Nakuru County to work in pyrethrum farms. But he never worked in the farms for long due to incessant allergic reactions.

After that, Ambwere then met an Asian mason who employed him as a sweeper, a job he did for almost ten years. When Asian mason left Kenya, he gave Ambwere an old toolbox as a gift for being a committed worker.

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With a safety savings and the toolbox, Ambwere began his long journey towards a new life. He rented a house and married his first wife Zipporah. He then started a carpentry workshop with only Ksh38 in his pocket.

In 1963, Ambwere made his first business agreement with Kaimosi Hospital to make beds. The hospital failed to pay him, but compensated him with a used ambulance. In about five years, he  constructed his own shop and shifted from leased property, setting the ground work for what would turn into a multimillion business.

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  1. This is false.

    There was a bank robbery in Kakamega in the mid 70s on a Saturday, end month. Ambwere gave the robbers a chase until some point when they started to shoot towards his car.

    On returning to Kakamega, he learnt that teachers who had come for their salary were stranded.

    He went to his hardware and collected all the cash which he deposited in the bank. That is how teachers were paid


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