The Lawyer Who Sold Chapo to the Polish
Listening to Moses’ story feels like getting into a car, not really knowing where you’re going and finding yourself on an adventure wilder than you could have imagined. Along the smooth winding roads through the tea farms of Tigoni, quickly followed by a dark and bumpy ride through the Butterfly Forest of Kakamega in the pitch black night. A journey of unexpected joys and gut wrenching sorrow. His is a story that deserves a biography.
It began a little over two decades ago. Moses’ childhood was far from pleasant. He grew up in severe poverty and as a young boy, he was working in quarries, construction sites and doing laundry for people. As a child, he broke both his arms and legs and suffered from cerebral malaria. His mum was unwell, a heart condition that the doctors were aware of and could treat, if only the family could afford it. Because of this, Moses and his older brother got passed from one relative to another. By the time Moses was in Form Two, he had raised funds to get his mum operated on. Unfortunately, she passed away on the operating table. It was the two brothers against an unforgiving world.
Like cacti in a desert, the two continued to thrive in school. Moses watched his older brother top his primary school with marks never seen before, and then not get into the high school his grades should have afforded him. When it was Moses’ turn, he broke a (still standing) record in his exams, and his head teacher told him about the Wings to Fly scholarship provided by Equity Bank. He was so determined to go to a boarding school that on the day he went to make inquiries at the bank, he was there two hours before the bank opened. Young Moses did not know at the time that years later, he’d be two hours early for another life changing opportunity.
When I asked Moses why Law, his answer was quick and simple. He wanted to escape the manual labour that had been a big part of growing up. He also wanted to have his voice heard and his opinions taken into consideration, something he had been punished for repeatedly. He wanted to use more brain, less brawn. “Obviously, there are many professions I could have chosen if it was only about using my brains. But growing up poor, you encounter so much injustice that I knew I had to get into the legal profession and do something about it.”
So Moses got into the Wings to Fly program – another long story, he said. At the end of high school, he was not only top of his class, he was top in the county. He had also started a fund together with the alumni of his high school in Nyandarua that to date, has supported over 400 students. This earned him a spot in the Equity Leaders Program where the students get college counselling and assistance in applying for universities in the US and UK. Hundreds of applications and acceptance letters later, Moses realized that unless a university offered 110% funding, he could not go. He set his sights on a local university. He relates hilarious stories of his first semester there and the disparity between what he had expected the university experience to be versus what the situation was ‘kwa ground’. He felt that after all he had done to get to this point, he wanted more. He deserved more. His research led him to the Financial Aid Office and right to the desk of Kevin Muchemi, the department’s Manager. This is one of those joyous moments of the story – Kevin had previously worked at Equity and he and Moses had become good friends. If you look up the word serendipity in the dictionary, this encounter will come up.
With Kevin’s help, he applied for and received a scholarship to study at Strathmore Law School. A huge win, what could go wrong? It turns out that a six-month period would be the bump in his road. When he went to the admissions office, they informed him that he could not join an undergraduate course at the age of 22. He had turned 22 six months’ prior – the six months he had spent at the local university. He couldn’t believe it, he refused to believe it. He came back each week to the point where admissions felt there was nothing they could do. What they didn’t know was that Moses had made up his mind to study Law at Strathmore. Nothing was going to stop him. In that time, he began writing emails to the then dean of SLS, Prof. Luis Franceschi. Each email had the same title; It’s Just 6 Months!
Two months later, he was invited for a meeting. Although the meeting was scheduled for 8a.m, Moses was on campus by six in the morning. The conversation was meant to be 30 minutes long, simply to comfort him and encourage him to continue with the course he had started. Three hours later, Prof. Franceschi called the course administrator and told them to put Moses in class the same day. He immediately went to admissions simply to formalize his place as a student in the law school.
The problem, however, was that he was two semesters behind. I’m sure you’ve already guessed that this did not deter him in the least. He organized with lecturers and administrators to take two semesters at a go for a year. He was attending some classes halfway, juggling clashing timetables and he still found the time to enroll in a part time Diploma course in Business Management. Could be that he has 35 hours to his day where everyone else has 24, but he ran all sorts of businesses, from cosmetics to a small bakery to selling Maasai shukas while still learning. He lived in 12 different places through the four years depending on what his budget would allow. With all this, he graduated from his diploma with a distinction and is set to graduate from his LL. B with a First Class Honours.
The story does not end there.
In the time since he completed his course work, Moses has been on 32 different flights, in more than 18 countries and 40 cities across Europe. This was made possible in part due to a competitive exchange program that he applied to. The Erasmus Mundus study abroad program provided him with a fully funded exchange program to Poland for 4 months. It was the first time he had ever taken a flight. He never would have imagined it possible, but he was going to milk it to the very last drop.
The way he tells it, he has taken exams on flights and submitted once he landed in the next country. Eighteen countries within 4 months! I was curious to know, how was that possible? Remember the business he ran while undertaking his undergraduate course? He carried that same entrepreneurial spirit to Poland. He discovered that they were curious about his culture, the food and the experience of growing up in a country halfway across the globe. He maximized on this – and the connections he had made through Prof. Franceschi – to get speaking engagements across the country. He shared his experiences, told them about Kenya and other countries in Africa and about his culture. And he got paid for the appearances. Over and above this, the Polish loved Kenyan food. The first time he made chapati, they couldn’t believe how good it was. Soon enough, he was making a small income from cooking Kenyan food for Polish families. He made everything, from mukimo to kamande. With this money, he travelled to Paris, Greece, Italy, Germany, Netherlands and many other countries. He particularly remembers Athens and Rome – places he had dreamt of visiting as a young boy fascinated with ancient civilizations.
Moses returned recently to Nairobi and has since been working in the banking sector. This is not where his heart lies, so he is happy to report that he will be joining the trainee program at Anjarwalla and Khanna come January 2023. He is open to understanding the industry and discovering his area of specialty. Right now, he is leaning towards commercial law, tax, criminal and international law.
It has been a long life for someone still so young. He says he is determined to not let poverty be a hereditary disease. All who have met him would describe him as jovial and friendly, always ready with a smile. He says that realizing happiness comes from inside changed the way he approached life. Now he looks forward to sharing his happiness with his family and friends. He comments that for the first time, he will get his family together, not to raise funds for someone who is sick or to attend a funeral, but for them to celebrate a joyous occasion. He plans to throw a party and invite the people who have been instrumental in getting him here. He especially notes two close friends and benefactors; A godmother who made sure he never slept hungry through it all – Dr. Helen Gichohi, whom he met while at Equity and is the former Managing Director of Equity Group Foundation. And Dan Kangethe, a fellow alumni of Nyandarua High School who supported the fund and remains a good friend – Dan and his family have housed Moses through some of the most tumultuous times of his life.
I was curious to know where his brother is now. He told me that he lives and works in Nyahururu, and though fortune has not smiled at him quite so broadly, he is doing well and is settled in life. “I have two invitation cards for the graduation ceremony and I know exactly who I will give them to. One to Dr. Gichohi, my godmother, and the other to my big brother”.
Moses sees himself as proof that education is the greatest equalizer. No matter where one begins in life, through faith, education, hard work and a ‘never quit’ mindset, they can turn things around for themselves and future generations. Moses is at the cusp of his dreams of being a lawyer. He doesn’t like to think of what his younger self would say if he saw him now; he says it makes him teary.
This article was written by Celia Kinuthia.
What’s your story? We’d like to hear it. Contact us via firstname.lastname@example.org.