By Prof. Bwisa.
Dear Mr. Vice President,
When you condemned universities which produce graduates who go on to roast maize on the streets you sparked a ray of thoughts and even memories in me. First I wondered…would it be better for a graduate to roast maize on the streets (be self-employed) or be employed by a street maize roaster? I am told that rich Bill Gates, who dropped out of Harvard to pursue his hobby, joked with a graduate engineer employee of his that…” I may not have been as sharp as you were but here you are, my employee”.
Michael Dell of Dell technologies, Steve Jobs of apple computer and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook are all examples of successful self-employed people who dropped out of school. I do not advocate for dropping out of school but my message to my students has always been that, “nobody becomes a millionaire working for another”. So if my students can start with roasting maize on the street and grow then that fits well with my philosophy. They would have been better than those looking for employment and you surely know very well that we have witnessed lots of business closures during your own era in power.
A friend of mine, holder of MSc in electronics, was employed by a semi-illiterate IT business mogul. Kenya’s Njenga Karume, who was poorly educated died an extremely wealthy man. His entrepreneurial journey dates back to when he was in a colonial primary school. He sold pencils in the school to the level of outcompeting the school shop. Later he traded in charcoal. He systematically grew in business and went on to employ graduate managers to run his businesses. One of the richest people in western Kenya, Mzee Ambwere, started as a carpenter. He did not go to school well. He even told me he has difficulties reading the bible but when I visited him at his Kitale office where he runs his empire he introduced me to his graduate managers.
The message here is that most if not all business empires we see today started as small businesses and grew. Sir, as a hustler you understand this better than I do. One can therefore start with roasting maize and grow.
In order to teach entrepreneurship effectively I try some businesses which I then use as classroom case studies.
I tried maize roasting in the 1990s. While on leave I could buy 3 cobs for Ksh. 20 and sell each roasted maize (in pieces) at Ksh. 20. That would give me a profit of Ksh. 14 per cob and I could sell 30 cobs per day working from 5 pm to 7 pm. I invested the profit from maize roasting into newspaper vending. So in the morning I could sell newspapers and in the evening I could roast maize. This could give me about Ksh. 15 000 a month which was just about my starting salary as a university lecturer. I of course sold off the businesses. I would have gone into full time business practice but I elected to remain a teacher and trainer to assist many more Kenyans to become self-employed.
Some of my students start businesses while still on campus thanks to my anti CUE prescribed method of teaching and assessing university students. It is not often in life that we come across incredible stories such as Sylvester Kibe’s who started his maize roasting business in 1993 and chose to always save Ksh. 200 from the money he got daily to eventually buy a minibus christened MEI (a corrupted form of maize) plying Nairobi roads.
In my 2013 book, Youth Entrepreneurship in Africa: Sowing the Seeds published by Lambert in Germany ( because local publishers thought it was not a mass product to make money) and sold on Amazon I covered a maize roaster operating on Thika road. Having had it difficult making ends meet as a chef at the prestigious Safari Park hotel he opted to go into maize roasting. He bought 3 green cobs at Ksh. 20 and sold one roasted cob (in pieces) at a minimum of Ksh. 30. He sold a minimum of 100 cobs per day. My arithmetic gives me a minimum of KSH. 70 000 profit per month. With this amount of money, he could employ two graduate secondary school teachers.
Sir, I see nothing wrong with a graduate roasting maize on the streets so long as he/she has a growth trajectory as a plan. Well not many have it and they are forced to roast the maize because wage employment opportunities in Kenya are dwindling under your watch. Corruption and mismanagement are hurting our economy. Over to you sir. Help this economy.
Prof. Henry M. Bwisa teaches entrepreneurship at JKUAT