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From tout to building Mololine empire

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The death of Nakuru businessman Kibera Muchai on Tuesday concluded the life of a humble but successful businessman who shunned opulence.

Mr Muchai, the founder of the matatu company Mololine Services Ltd, left behind an estate valued at millions of shillings.

But despite the wealth, Mr Muchai, who died aged 63, avoided any outward shows of affluence.

He hardly stood out in crowds and was often seen sporting regular clothing and sometimes open shoes.

In his home town of Elburgon, locals say he often freely interacted with the public.

Generous and friendly man

“He will be remembered as a kind, generous and friendly man, who easily mingled with mama mboga and the public in the streets. To many of us, we’ve lost a friend, a brother and an adviser. We shall forever miss him,” said John Njoroge.

On his Ribot farm, he lived in a one-storey house, often mingling with his neighbours.

Molo MP Kuria Kimani aptly captured the entrepreneur’s lifestyle when he eulogised him as an astute, successful entrepreneur who was down to earth and who built a name by establishing a business empire from scratch.

“I am deeply saddened at the passing away of Mr Kibera Muchai. Molo and Nakuru County have lost a selfless, renowned and distinguished businessman. Our prayers are with his family,” he said.

Mololine Services Sacco office in Nakuru town on April 5, 2020.

Nakuru Senator Susan Kihika mourned Mr Muchai as a distinguished entrepreneur, politician and philanthropist.

“As we mourn his passing on, we celebrate a man who leaves behind a rich legacy as an astute, visionary and charitable businessman. May his soul rest in eternal peace and may God comfort the family,” she said.

Born in Nyeri

Unknown to many, Mr Muchai, who was the vice-chairman of Mololine Services, started off as a tout in Elburgon, rising to become a matatu owner himself.

His younger brother Ngugi Muchai said Mr Muchai was born and brought up in Mukurweini, Nyeri County, in 1958.

He later moved to Nakuru County, where he joined St Peter’s Boys in Elburgon, sitting his Certificate of Primary Education exams in 1974.

“After his CPE exams, he later joined Elburgon Harambee Secondary School (now Elburgon Secondary), where he completed his Form Four,” Mr Ngugi said.

Mr Muchai, he said, started off as a casual worker at house construction sites in Narok County, before he again moved back to Nakuru, where he joined the matatu industry.

“He started working as a tout in Elburgon before he moved to Nairobi,” he said.

In 1992, Mr Muchai plunged into politics and became councillor for Elburgon ward on a Ford Asili ticket, serving until 1997.

It was while he was councillor that in 1994 he partnered with friends to establish Mololine Services with a vision to bring order to the industry.

One of them was Joseph Kariuki, the current chairperson of Mololine Services.

With an initial capital of Sh700,000, Mololine began operations at Nakuru’s main bus terminal in 1995.

Its first aim, his brother said, was to transform the attitudes of travellers and other stakeholders who associated the matatu sector with madness and disorder.

“We introduced a system where passengers queued for tickets. To reduce touting, we put up signs where specific matatus would direct passengers. By the end of 1996, we had stopped the rampant touting,” said a colleague of his at the Mololine office.

In 1998, the firm’s management introduced uniforms for drivers and conductors. The company also started undertaking security checks when carjacking became prevalent.

At the time, thugs had begun targeting business people who commuted on matatus. The firm also trained its crews on customer care practices so they could handle passengers professionally.

In 2004, Mololine rolled out its prestige shuttle. To ward off competition from 14-seater matatus, it set up offices at Highway Towers in Nakuru town, on the Nakuru-Nairobi highway, away from the main bus park.

Challenges

Mololine’s journey, however, has not been without challenges.

For example, in 2008, the firm lost most of its new buses in the chaos that followed the flawed 2007 elections, but the partners soldiered on.

Fast-forward to 2021, and the company owns a fleet of premium service shuttles, which have features such as air conditioning, flat screens, expanded speakers and free Wi-Fi.

Mololine’s main offices are located in the upscale Milimani estate in Nakuru town, with the premises watched over by 24-hour CCTV cameras.

The company has also introduced e-ticketing and a digitised fleet management system that is interlinked with most of its offices, such as Naivasha, Eldoret, Kericho, Nakuru, Eldama Ravine, Kabarnet, Kisumu, Kitale and Nairobi.

The millionaire businessman was also the founder of Mololine Sacco.

Mr Muchai died at Nakuru Level Five Hospital after a short illness.

He owned several other properties and businesses in Molo, Nakuru and Nairobi.

He leaves behind a legacy of advocating for sanity in the matatu industry. He was also a strong defender of the industry’s workers’ rights, as well as issues affecting local farmers and players in the timber industry in Molo.





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