By Dikembe Disembe
A disillusioned middle class, or jobless Kenyan eking out their lives in Nairobi with no further hope to move outside Kenya may see two things about equity bank; all of which may be true. First, Equity Bank is one of those grand economic establishments that is widely accepted as the ingenious creation of the Kikuyu elite stranglehold of the post-Moi state power. Second, it is an institution which, for God’s sake, is believed to be the most ‘tribal’ in terms of entry, upward mobility and cross-ethnic relations among employees rivalling Statehouse, URP party, Naivas Supermarket, Royal Media Services and probably touts of Citi Hoppa.
Politically, no financial institution, save for Kenya’s Central Bank, elicits mixed feelings-both fond and absurd-as Equity Bank. I first went to Equity Centre to meet a childhood friend who was then an intern. While studying at Kamusinga, he had got a scholarship to the prestigious African Leadership Academy, a pioneer pan-African secondary school in South Africa where Africa’s ‘future leaders’ are equipped with governance tools that will allow them to manage our continent in the future. Was this not what the 1960s Tom Mboya airlifts were to do? But I digress.
Equity Centre, the capital of this towering financial fiefdom, summarises all that is wrong with Equity Bank, and yes, it also gives you a hint of everything absolutely right with the institution.
As a young student, a freshman just entering college; Equity Centre struck me not just with its domineering architecture but also the ominous sense of high society and elitism which pervades the building environs. It also hit me with the so many Kamaus, Njugunas and Macharias everywhere-from the gate watchman to the folks in the senior rooms where that revered financial ‘daktari’ James Mwangi sits.
Because of these ‘personal reasons’, I have always observed, enquired, and read about anything said of this institution. This brings me to this week’s reports that the Bank is having a few problems. To be honest, am not an Equity Bank customer; which has everything to do with my ‘meagre wealth’ than my political association with the fledgling CORD family, or the enduring ethnic feuds, in whatever form, between my Luo tribe anywhere in the world and our protagonists; the highland primates, or to be more blunt: the thieving gorillas, I mean the Kikuyus!
Like I said of Kenya Airways; Equity Bank is one of my favourite national artefacts whenever I visit East Africa! I was so charmed recently to see the Equity Bank signpost in Kampala. It stirs my patriotic embers to note that Equity Bank outlets are scattered in foreign lands. Its like Americans seeing McDonald in Nairobi. It is like Odhiambo visiting Nyeri or Karatina and seeing a ‘Mama Otieno’ shop; or Njoroge visiting Awendo and drinking alcohol in ‘Kwa Maina’ pub. In short, Equity Bank, when the details of ethnic ownership is ‘hidden’, evokes a sense of national identity outside Kenya. I’m comfortable with that!
Be these as they may, Equity Bank’s biggest challenge is to be seen as a Kenyan bank, not a Kikuyu establishment. Kenya as a country has become highly conscious of the meanings attached to institutions, especially after March 4. People have profiled institutions, including the presidency, into an ‘ours’ or ‘theirs’ kind of mentality. That’s why with a small ATM problem occasioned by a ‘system upgrade’, social media is awash with all sorts of innuendoes and tidbits about the goings on at Equity. Are people leaving the bank? Is the Bank finally falling? So you were still banking with equity? Did Equity finance Uhuru campaigns? Is there a difference between Central Bank of Kenya and Equity Bank? Reading through the minds and hearts of people; the social, economic and political fallout in the Kenyan society is profoundly disheartening.
Lastly, Equity Bank has offered those with the will of steel very lucrative opportunities to progress in life. There is a generation of school children and diaspora educated Kenyans out here whose lives will never be the same again because of Equity Bank. Lest we forget; corporations are people!