By Kuria Kimani
Mombasa County Governor Ali Hassan Joho is a man whose rise to the top is a lesson to all that you can succeed in life if you believe in your dreams. He was academically challenged but he did not allow that to define his destiny. Beyond politics, Ali Hassan Joho, a close ally to 2022 presidential aspirant Raila Odinga, is an entrepreneur worth billions of shillings.
Here is the governor’s journey from the very bottom to becoming one of the most powerful and richest men in Kenya.
Life before the riches- Joho a “mahamri” vendor and Ksh 80 casual worker
The 45 year old (born on 6 February 1976) had a tough upbringing and had to hustle his way to the top. Joho hawked mahamri and vitumbua around the coastal estates in a bid to raise school fees. Due to lack of fees to put him through secondary school, he had to wait for a long while and was even lucky to be admitted to Serani Secondary School.
While in secondary school, the Mombasa boss revealed to have taken on menial and low pay casual jobs to pay for school fees saying, “I used to work at the old port loading ships that were carrying goods from Somalia. Here, I would be paid Sh80 after a hard day’s work. That was not easy work for me at the time when I was that young.”
On Joining Kampala University
Hassan Joho would later on enrol at Kampala University attaining a BA in Business and Human Resource Management and a number of diplomas in logistics, ICT, shipping, and business. His credentials were disputed and he found himself in court on accusations of forging his academic certificates. The investigations into this case are underway and Joho, through his lawyer James Orengo, rubbished the allegations saying that the motive was malicious and had nothing to do with the administration of justice.
Journey to riches- Joho a 20- years old millionaire
Joho revealed in a past interview with a local TV station that his long journey to becoming a billionaire kicked off at the age of 20 despite not excelling in his studies. Joho admitted that he scored a D- in KCSE examination, sending inspirational messages to the youth who seek to achieve in life despite challenges and failing to meet the minimum academic grades to pursue higher education.
Political career- The making of a political heavyweight
Joho first joined active politics in December 2004 after the death of the then Local Government minister the late Hon. Karisa Maitha, contesting for the vacant Kisauni parliamentary seat. Despite narrowly losing the seat to lawyer Ananiah Mwaboza, he went on to become one of the most vibrant politicians in the Coastal region and a key leader in the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) where he was elected as deputy party leader. Indeed, Joho was such a force to reckon with since Mwaboza had a strong backing from the retired President Mwai Kibaki’s National Rainbow Coalition.
At only 28 years of age, Joho would later trample Mwaboza in the 2007 General Election, garnering 35,720 votes against his rival’s 19,078 votes. In the 2013 general elections, running on an ODM ticket, Joho garnered 132,583 votes against his rival Suleiman Shahbal of Wiper Party who got 94,905 votes.
Multi-billion Business deals
Governor Joho is a businessman who grew into the billionaire he is today under the mentorship of the late Hon. Karisa Maitha. In an interview with local media outlets, Joho revealed that the late politician took him around offices to secure business contracts. According to the Mombasa County Government website, Hassan Joho has invested in numerous business ventures credited to his entrepreneurial skills. He, however, stepped down from actively managing his firms and stands in consultancy and advisory capacities when required.
Portside Freight Terminals Ltd
This is a family business owned by the Joho family. It is a Container Freight Station (CFS) incorporated in 2006 situated about a kilometre from The Port of Mombasa in Shimanzi off Zanzibar Road, next to Missions to Seamen. The company’s expertise lies in warehousing, cargo services, ro-ro handling, transportation and supply base for oil and gas. Portside Freight Terminals offers logistical services for sea, land, and air requirements.
In early 2021, activist Okiya Omtatah filed a case at the High Court against the Kenya Ports Authority. He said that KPA acted beyond its powers by having the board of directors act in the capacity of the accounting officer to award the licence to Joho’s Portside Freight Terminals Ltd to develop a second grain bulk handling facility at the Port of Mombasa whereas plans were that it would be set up at either Lamu Port or Dongo Kundu. In his filing, he stated that, “Procurement decisions are a reserve of the respondent’s management specifically the accounting officer and not the board of directors and thus respondent’s board of directors’ decision is illegal and ultra vires.” The High Court judge Reuben Nyakundi went on to suspend the plans.
The National Assembly’s Finance, Planning and Trade Committee now demands that KPA openly declare how it settled on Joho’s firm and declined six other firms that sent proposals for the licence. The winning firm was set to win a multi-billion-shilling tender to set up the facility. Based on the 2018-2047 master plan that activist Okiya Omtatah highlighted in court, the facility is due completion in 2023 but with the opposing cases pending determination, this might be delayed to a later date.
Prima Pest & Bins Limited
Governor Joho is an investor who founded Prima Pest & Bins Limited in 1996, Mombasa’s pioneer garbage collection company. According to the company’s website, its philosophy is “to render the highest quality and value-added services, leading-edge technology and offering a wide range of services covering the general cleaning activities, garbage collection and pest control assignments.”
Coastal Affordable Housing and Estate-Facelift Controversies
Governor Hassan Joho’s led county government got into a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) that had investors come on board to facelift four dilapidated estates at the coast and set up affordable housing units for their residents.
However, these projects have been disputed as land ownership concerns have come up. Haki Yetu land officer Mr John Paul stated that, “The county government had a good plan to ensure residents become homeowners however there are concerns in the land ownership in the four estates.The project is being implemented on public land but our search shows private ownership. We want the governor to declare the truth.”
He went on to be joined by Human Rights and Justice executive director Julius Ogogoh in seeking the truth revealed by the National Land Commission Chair Gershon Otachi. Their concerns majorly being public land being lost to private investors out to make money fraudulently.
The project was set to redevelop old housing estates and offered to the public to purchase on long-term leaseholds, rent, and to create job opportunities for at least one thousand locals. Some of the estates to be redeveloped include Kaa Chonjo, Tudor, Kizingo, Khadija, Nyerere, Tom Mboya, and Buxton estates.
The Hassan Joho Foundation
In 2008, the governor set up The Hassan Joho Foundation, a non-profit organisation that has accomplished several social-impact projects for the coastal residents. Some of these include education initiatives, sports, entrepreneurship, orphanages, drug rehabilitation, and youth empowerment. Moreover, the foundation has managed to consistently educate 1000 students annually in bursaries and sank boreholes easing water access. It is reported that the foundation, which is managed by his Italian wife Madina Hassan, has donated more than Ksh 100,000,000 and has been involved in the construction and modernisation of primary and secondary schools.