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Minting money from ” traditional porridge

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Traditional fermented porridge is one of Kenya’s most ancient dishes. However, due to manual production process, its consumption nowadays remains low, even though many appreciate its nutritional value. Because of the tedious process, those who venture into business of making fermented porridge are always successful since customers are readily available.

Jane Njeri Githaiga popularly known as Njeri wa Uji is one of the few businesspersons who have decided to venture into this business and she does not regret it. Njeri started the business in 2016 after trying her hand in other ventures with no success.

The idea of making and selling fermented porridge, popped up when she was running a sugarcane juice making business. “At first I was working with non- governmental organisations, but on a contract basis.

When all my contracts ended I was left with no other option than starting my own business. I ventured into vegetable business, but it didn’t last for long, then ran a general shop and later sugarcane juice business,” says the social work and community development graduate.

Less tedious

Though the juice business was fulfilling, it reached a time when customers couldn’t take juice because of the cold and they wanted something hot. She then introduced tea, but competition from hotels was high and she had to think about something different.

This is when the idea of selling porridge popped up and she decided to do some trials before introducing it to her customers. After trials and perfecting the art, she introduced the traditional fermented porridge popularly known as “ucuru wa mukio” (porridge made from ground millet) by the Gikuyu, and the power porridge (made of porridge flour plus pumpkin seeds, cassava flour, amaranth, and peanut) on her menu.

“As a young girl, I used to assist my late mother to make fermented porridge. That is where I learned the skills.

Even after growing up, I was still making the porridge, so to me the idea of making this porridge was not new.

The best thing is because of technology, the process has now become easier and less tedious”. The products were quite unique and she started receiving more customers.

This motivated her to introduce yet another type of por ridge known as smoothie porridge. “I started with a kilogramme of flour and the demand kept increasing. Sometimes I was forced to pour out some porridge since I did not sell everything every day, but this never discouraged me,” she explains The outcome made her abandon the juice business and rent a small space at Githurai 44, where she was purely concentrating on the three types of porridge. She was also forced to employ someone to assist her since her customer base was growing daily. Later, her customers started asking for flour and as a business person, she introduced a posho mill to her business portfolio.

This reduced the cost of production and made her reach a group of people who couldn’t make it to her shop. She also opened another shop in the same town. “After opening the second shop, I reintroduced sugarcane juice and added other natural juices to the menu. Some customers who wanted me to diversify and introduce other drinks motivated this movve,” she explains.

Happy customers
Currently, she has four branches: two at Githurai 44, one at Kasarani maternity with the latest at Membley Business Centre, where she sells her porridge. She also sells the products online, with delivery countrywide.

She has 26 employees so far. She says the journey to where she is now hasn’t been all rosy and along the way, she has encountered several challenges with the main being people stealing her brand name and using it for their business.

“Stealing my business idea is nothing I should worry about because I train people how to make porridge for free, but stealing the brand name is what I don’t like.

If you want to open your business kindly refrain from using someone’s brand name to avoid confusion,” she says. Her advice to upcoming entrepreneurs is that they should not let education level limit them when it comes to opening businesses.

One should do what they feel passionate about and the rest will follow. “Education is good, but don’t let it limit you. Go out and hustle as if you never went to school. That is the only secret if you want to be successful. For me, I am always open to any opportunity and I remember I once worked as a casual labourer at a construction site,” she says.

Apart from selling porridge and natural juices, she has also added products such as honey, peanut butter, Himalayan salt, and Boabab. Her porridge flour ranges between Sh80 and Sh300, with power porridge flour as the bestselling product. And what keeps her going? She says seeing her customers happy and satisfied keeps her going. To her, this is a business she is not forgoing anytime soon since it has made her who she is today

ABOUT NJERI

• Njeri was born and raised in Gacharage village, Murang’a County.

• Her mother passed on when she was 10 years old and her dad was a drunkard. Since she is the firstborn, she had to take care of her siblings.

• This forced her to start hustling and consequently, she did not attend school regularly.

• Her first job was picking tea leaves. She was only 10 years old.

• Through her maternal grandmother’s effort, she managed to complete her primary school education.

• After Class Eight she was absorbed taken in at a children’s home in Thika where she secured a scholarship for her secondary education.

• She attended the University of Nairobi for the bachelor of social work and community development course.

Education good, but don’t let it limit you. Go out and hustle as if you never went to school. That is the only secret if you want to be successful.

By PD

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How retrenchment made me an employer

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“I studied social work in school, graduated with good grades and landed this sign language job with a major media house in the country. I had made it, I thought, especially since I was in a niche and marketable field of sign language where demand was high yet we were just a few to begin with,” Njeri starts.

She adds that like many employed people, she revelled in the regular paycheck, but soon learnt it was a false sense of security: that salaried employees feel confident that the next pay cheque is guaranteed when it is really not. And just like many Kenyans, she started a side hustle, a wines and spirits outlet, in Ruaka to supplement her salary. But then the unexpected happen; in March 2018, the media company she worked for conducted layoffs, and she was among those who lost jobs. Needlesss to say, the business suffered and she wallowed in despair and self-pity in the house for close to seven months.

“Being jobless was a new experience for me, having been employed since I was 19. I blamed myself, friends and family who I thought should have done better and been there for me. It was only at the tail end of this long pity party that I realised I am responsible for me and no one was coming to save me. I had to save myself,” she says.

Greatest boundary

In hindsight, that period was necessary. It taught her lessons no one teaches in schools: that the world owes her nothing, and that we, as a people, should stop expecting it to be fair. She had friends she had helped set up businesses, get jobs, was close to, yet they deserted her in her hour of need. It taught her the importance of not gauging others using oneself as a yard stick; she would never let a friend starve, but that choice was now not up to her. The time also made her realise everyone is going through something, and that expecting them to take care of you was neither altruistic nor realistic. It taught her everyone has the capacity to push past the greatest boundaries they thought they were incapable of pushing against, that with enough willpower one can blast past any obstacle whether it is redundancy, a failed business or simply a workplace with a toxic culture.

After the said seven months, the last of which was spent reading the Bible, she was ready to do anything to survive. A friend would send her for an insurance sales job interview in Meru. With nothing else to do and with the mindset to start afresh, Njeri packed her belongings and travelled. However, on realising it was not a salaried position, but rather a commission based job that required her to go out and convince people to buy insurance policies, she had to look for other options. This was in consideration of the fact that she is an introvert, which reduced her chances of making money every month.

Services diversification

She opted for a cleaning gig. This was after an encounter with a cyber cafe owner who asked her to clean the cafe. She earned Sh50, and the next day received calls from the owner who had recommended her to other shopowners who were interested in her services. The ladies paid her Sh100 per job, and she made Sh400 before 11am. She was elated.

It was from this experience she figured that charging Sh50 at each shop would see her make a guaranteed sum of Sh500 daily if she cleaned 10 offices. It did not take long for her to make some considerabe amount of money as more clients came on board. She, however, had to deal with comments about being a graduate that cleas people’s offices for meagre sums of money. She did not mind, she knew pride would not feed her or alleviate her hardships.

She cleaned offices to the best of her abilities, and in the process, building her brand and her name that she got more jobs than she could not handle on her own. She needed help. She trained a few women to help her out and soon a company she would later register was born. She named it Maximum Cleaning Hub. She has on board 12 employees, two of whom are on casual basis.

Njeri says the transition from a one-person unit to a team was quite easy. She understood that her work required patience and resilience and she instilled that in her new staff.

“Since I had once been an employee, unemployed and a cleaner, being a team leader was easy,” she adds.

She landed her first cleaning con tract for a hospital in Meru. It was a case of being in the right place at the right time. One of her clients, a doctor at the hospital, told her about a tender for cleaning and encouraged her to apply.

She took her time to create a presentation that would see her bag the contract. Selling her ideas was something she picked up from trying to convince people to let her clean their offices for them. She understoood the need to be unique and to do one’s due diligence.

“I know it is hard being a tenderpreneur, but having a great idea and making it into a great presentation will better your odds of winning. You should also research the tender process and try consult others who have done what you are trying to do before,” she advises.

Njeri would later bag other contracts, forcing her to diversify services her company offered to such as laundry pickup, cleaning and drop off. Today she maintains the same work ethic: reliability, hard work and meeting clients’ standards and specifications.

With the growth of her company, she also had to make work easier for her employees. The company bought washing machines and a vehicle for the pick-up and drop off. They even branded laundry bags and baskets.

Stop pity party

In hindsight, she is more appreaciative of that moment of lull that came to change her life.

“I believe I would not be at the place I am today had I not gone through that hard period in 2018. Retrenchment taught me about having real friends and discerning between real friendhips and just friends whom you hang out with. It also taught me

that so long as you stop that pity party and start doing something, anything at all, your breakthrough shall come,” she says.

She adds, “To all those who may have lost their jobs, or their businesses may not be bringing in much, I am sorry that you have to go through that. But do not despair. Keep moving. Whatever you do, just do not stop to feel sorry for yourself and wallow in that space. You are your own saviour.”

The 30-year-old is grateful that she is able to put food on the table and support her family. She is now keen on expanding her business beyond Meru county, where she is currently based.

ABOUT NJERI

• Njeri was born and raised in Limuru, Kiambu County.

• She lost her job as a sign language interpreter in 2018.

• After months of isolation and self-refection she started doing odd cleaning jobs, earning Sh50 a day.

• Today, she is the founder of Maximum Cleaning Hub, a company she set up in December 2018.

• So far, she has 12 employees, two on casual basis.

“To all those who may have lost their jobs, or their businesses may not be bringing in much, I am sorry you have to go through that. But do not despair.

By PD

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University student who bought planes, lived life in the fast lane

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As Loretta Wavinya and Lillian Nzongi, in distinctive orange jumpsuits, walked into prison to start their terms as convicted fraudsters, their relative Jeffrey Ndungi Sila was eyeing an opportunity to run the racket.

That Wavinya had been jailed for 14 years and her sister, Nzongi, for five years for defrauding the American government of Sh975 million, was not a deterrent enough for Ndungi.

Shortly after his cousins were jailed, Ndungi jumped into the fray. And the returns were so good that, in 2012, just two years after graduating, Ndungi had bought himself two Cessna planes with registration numbers 5Y-CCN and 5Y-CCO.

Ndungi was only 23 and pursuing an engineering degree at the University of Nairobi when he started leading a flamboyant lifestyle. A quiet and geeky person, according to those who know him, Ndungi’s personality in university was an exact opposite of who he was in primary and secondary school.

A Cessna plane belonging to Jeffrey Sila, parked at a city airport.

Pool

After sitting his Kenya Certificate of Primary Education exams at Unoa Primary School in Wote in 1999, Ndungi joined Alliance High School after posting excellent grades. His schoolmates say he was very religious and an official of the Christian Union. He couldn’t hurt a fly, they say, although that quietness did mask his other side.

A friend who bumped into him in 2005, just two years after high school, when Ndungi was a first year student at the University of Nairobi, was surprised to see him driving a brand new Subaru. As other students were cramming themselves in hostels after lectures, Ndungi drove himself to his own house in Nairobi’s South B, a middle-class neighbourhood.

He was wealthy when we were in campus

“He was wealthy when we were in campus and had several fuel guzzlers — a BMW, a Mercedes Benz and several Subarus,” a former classmate told the Nation.

With no known sources of income, Ndungi’s flamboyant lifestyle was definitely questionable, but his classmates had no clue where he was getting his money. It was assumed that his mother, who was based in Kansas, USA, was financing his lifestyle.

But Ndungi had possibly been introduced to the vice by his uncle Paul Kilungya Nyumu, the man who introduced his entire family to cybercrime before vanishing. Nyumu had also played a big role in laundering funds stolen by his two nieces, Wavinya and Nzongi.

It’s not known if some of this money was used to finance Ndungi’s flashy lifestyle while still in campus. What’s known, however, is that Ndungi had over a period of three years watched from the front row how the proceeds of cybercrime could finance someone’s lifestyle and he wanted in.

He was not alone. Also watching on the sidelines was Ndungi’s uncle, Robert Mutua Muli, who was by then based in Virginia, US.

A mugshot of Robert Muli.

Alexandria Sheriff’s Office

Muli is a cousin of Nyumu, the fugitive and original mastermind of the tax filing syndicate.

Another entrant was Nyumu’s daughter, Monica, who had relocated to the US after abandoning her teaching career in Kenya. Monica is Ndungi’s mother.

From the beginning, the family relied on Monica’s salary. But as the money started flowing – and everyone could notice – her husband, a former councillor in Wote, was forced to relocate to Mlolongo following frequent attacks by armed robbers who wanted a share of their new-found riches.

Ndungi was by this time engaged in cyber fraud in Kenya, Nigeria, North Africa and the United States. He started by hacking into Multichoice systems, which enabled him to mint cash from illegal distribution of DSTV signals.

Stealing identities

Then, he joined the tried-and-tested family business: stealing the identities of American citizens and using them to claim fake tax refunds. But since he had seen his two cousins get jailed for similar crimes, Ndungi opted to use Nairobi as his base. That way, he thought, he was safe.

Meanwhile, his uncle Muli decided to try his hand at an entirely new type of cyber fraud known as Business Email Compromise.

Muli’s gang, which comprised criminals based in Kenya, would hack into official emails of companies, identify their business partners and convince them to divert payments to their accounts.

But both schemes would fall apart spectacularly.

Criminal files and court proceedings from the US and Kenya reviewed by the Nation Investigations Desk indicate that while Ndungi was the head of a DSTV hacking cartel in Kenya, he was just an employee in the American tax fraud syndicate.

His uncle Muli, too, despite being integral in the BEC scheme, since he was based in the US, was taking instructions from people in Kenya. This is according to a transcription of Muli’s WhatsApp messages that were retrieved from his phone by the FBI and which we have obtained.

In Nairobi

The key architect of the scam, who is saved in the messages as a Frank MA, was based in Nairobi, and had the right connections in the banking system to enable the thousands of dollars they were stealing from the US to make it to Kenya.

It is Frank who was issuing instructions to Muli on almost everything, from registering his own company, Rogram Home Improvement, which was to be the recipient of the stolen funds, to who to send the money to once it hit the accounts.

In one of the messages, Frank informs Muli that the bank manager, whose name we have withheld, had written to him about the willingness of the bank, in Nairobi’s Westlands, to take the money.

This money was supposed to be wired to a law firm that had an account with the bank.

This is how the scam worked. Frank’s associates first hacked into Dell’s system and created clones of emails belonging to the computer firm’s finance department. Then they took note of the companies that had running contracts with Dell for the supply of computers.

Divert payments

Once identified, Frank would use the cloned emails to write letters to the victims and ask them to divert payments owed to Dell to different bank accounts. Some of the entities that were conned include Fairfax County, which lost $1.3 million (Sh130 million) in the scam and the University of California, which lost $749,158 (Sh75 million).

“A review of the emails from Co-conspirator 1 to Victim 1 shows the emails were sent from a single Internet Protocol (IP) address from Kenya — IP address 41.72.192.154. When Co-conspirator 1 sent these emails, travel records indicate that Muli was in the US,” says the investigation file on Muli’s gang.

The Nation has established that the said IP address that was used in the fraud is in Malindi.

This means that Frank, who has not been arrested, could have been in Malindi during the entire period of the fraud. His whereabouts or true identity still remains unknown.

Apart from Frank, other people who may have been part of the scam – since they received the thousands of dollars that were stolen – include a Francis Asanyo Mobisa, Beth Nyambura Gitau, Anthony Mureithi and Rachel Mathenge.

Beth, who is Muli’s wife and based in Naivasha, received over a million shillings on diverse dates between December 2018 and March 2019. Mobisa received Sh400,000 on February 26,2019, while Frank pocketed most of the money.

He never went anywhere without his large bible

Meanwhile, as Muli sent most of his proceeds from the fraud to Kenya, he continued to lead a simple life in the US. He maintained his job as a driver and posed as a very religious family man to his neighbours.

“He never went anywhere without his large bible, well-worn and with many bookmarks. He told me he had a prayer ministry for Kenyans, which he gave hours. His only day of refreshment and ease was Sunday,” his neighbour Linda Senter would later tell law enforcement agencies. To the FBI though, this was a façade.

While Muli managed to hide his criminal deeds by remaining humble, his nephew in Nairobi wasn’t. As if buying two planes wasn’t enough, Ndungi acquired two luxury cars: a Range Rover and an American Cadillac Escalade.

Multichoice, however, soon realised he was using his legally opened accounts to sell viewership packages to several individuals in Kenya and Nigeria. Consequently, Ndungi was arrested on March 31, 2015 after police raided his residence at Executive Suite Estate house number 15 in South B.

He was released on bail, but as the case progressed, he continued focussing all his energies on stealing the identities of American citizens and using them to claim fake tax refunds. To avoid detection, he filed the fake returns using a computer located at a cyber café at Vision Plaza along Mombasa Road.

Six years

After what was a successful six-year run in the American syndicate, Ndungi’s cookie started crumbling in 2014. He used the identity of a Cynthia H. Short, to file tax returns for the year. The returns indicated that Ms Short worked for Aureus Radiology LLC, a company based in Omaha, Nebraska and that she received wages of $116,740 (Sh11.6 million).

Short’s tax history indicated that she was liable for a refund of $76,592.86 (Sh7.6 million). In applying for the refund, “Ms Short” listed P.O. Box 925, Uhuru Gardens, Nairobi as her current mailing address.

When the US Internal Revenue Service called Aureus Radiology to confirm Short’s employment status, they discovered that the company had never even heard of her. The IRS then sent an undercover agent to pose as a client looking to buy treasury cheques.

Fake cheques

The agent contacted Ndungi in January 2016, saying he was looking for fake treasury cheques. He fell for the trap, boarded a plane and headed to the US hoping for a Sh7.6 million payday.

In his first meeting with the undercover agent, which took place on August 1, 2016, he received $48,000 (Sh4.8 million) in cash after arguing that there were several other players in the deal all looking to get paid. The meeting took place at Korean House, 2598 Royal Lane in Dallas, Texas.

In a taped conversation Ndungi offered to bring more fake cheques.

Convinced they had finally landed their man after a six-year search, the FBI arrested Ndungi two days later as an Emirates plane he had boarded to Dubai in order to connect to Nairobi was sitting on the tarmac at Los Angeles International Airport. He is serving a seven-year jail term.

And Muli was arrested while at an airport trying to catch a flight to escape to Kenya after stealing more than Sh200 million by tricking American government institutions to wire payments meant for computing company Dell. He was handed a five-year sentence at the end of last year.

By Nation.co.ke

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Wambui Collymore wades into Artcaffe’s free-coffee-for-artwork saga

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Wambui Collymore, widow of the late former Safaricom CEO, Bob Collymore, and the founder of The Art Space, an online art gallery, has weighed in on Artcaffe’s free coffee and exposure saga.

The city restaurant on Wednesday dominated social media in the country after launching an art competition in which they announced that they would reward the winners with a year supply of coffee and exposure.

Although Artcaffe has since amended the competition rules after Kenyans went ham on them on social media, Wambui, who is an accomplished artist, has gone ahead to offer some free advice to the restaurant chain on how to invest in art pro bono.

INVESTMENT NOT EXPOSURE

In Wambui’s words, art is meant to be bought and not supported.

“This is precisely why we need to stop using the words, ‘support art’. Art is made to be bought, unless the artist offers to do it for free. Refusing to buy art actually kills the industry. Exposure is refusing to buy art. We don’t need exposure. We need investment in the arts,” Wambui said.

GIVING OPPORTUNITY

After being bashed all day on social media, Artcaffe on Wednesday said that would instead offer cash incentives for the competition winners, but still insisted that the campaign is aimed at giving artists an opportunity and exposure.

“In light of the reaction to our competition launch we want to clarify: The prize is not coffee and we greatly value artists and designers. In this difficult time the purpose of this competition is to give artists and designer’s exposure and opportunity,” the restaurant tweeted.

On the score of giving opportunity, Wambui said she appreciates and applauds the fact that Artcaffe would like to be involved in the visual arts.

“It’s fantastic when corporates get involved. The investment just needs to be sustainable and actually create tangible impact,” she said.

BY NN

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