Kenya has a total of 42 billionaires who control the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) according to a recent report released by Knight Frank. Many of these billionaires either come from political and wealthy families or made their money from establishing successful corporate companies.
However there is one billionaire whose story can’t go untold. Meet James Kisia – the 85 year old who became a billionaire from selling curios.
Here is his story as told by WoK.
James Kisia was born and raised in Mwala constituency in the then Eastern province of Kenya. After completing his secondary education, he was fortunate to be awarded a scholarship to go for further studies in the United States of America.
The family organised a harambee to raise money for his flight ticket to the US. Luck was not on his side as his brother who acted as the treasurer stole the money and squandered it. He had no option but to join a local Teachers Training College (TTC) where he successfully graduated to become a teacher.
Discovering the curio business
He traveled to Tanzania to visit one of his uncles known as Ndeto Yumbya who then loaned him Ksh 1,000. At the time Mr Kisia was still practicing as a teacher.
During those days Ksh 1,000 was a lot of money and since the Kenyan shilling was superior to the Tanzanian shilling, the money was sufficient enough to serve as business capital.
Before leaving Tanzania, he spotted curios being sold along the roads and decided to use the loan from his uncle to to buy them. He then traveled back to Kenya and sold all the curios making Ksh 2,600, which was enough to repay the loan and remain with money to continue with the business.
That’s when he realized that there was a market gap and opted to join the business full time.
Joining the Curio business
In August 1961, Kisia officially quit his teaching job to concentrate on the curio business. Five months into the business, he made Ksh 6,000 profit which was a fortune back then.
He began hanging out and learning from the best in the industry like David Ngati who was making Ksh 1,000 profit per month and Nairobi’s St Austin’s Academy owner Kyale Mwendwa, who was then making Ksh 625 profit every month.
This made him learn more how to operate the curio business and within a short period of time he was making almost Ksh 2,000 profit every month.
Investing the money in other sectors
From the proceeds of the curio business, he decided to invest in other sectors of the economy. He first joined the lucrative real estate sector which was majorly dominated by the Europeans. While speaking to the Nairobian, Kisia revealed that he was the first Kamba to own a mansion in Mombasa.
“I bought a four-bedroom house for Ksh 30,000 in the Central Business District (CBD) of Mombasa with a loan from a local bank. I was the first Kamba to purchase a house in Mombasa along Jomo Kenyatta Avenue where I bought three houses,” the 85 year old revealed during the exclusive interview.
He then joined the transport sector by acquiring a number of matatus but the venture wasn’t successful as he expected it to be.
He later sold the matatus to an Indian for Ksh 90,000 but was only given Ksh 30,000 which he used to invest in a tyre business in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania.
He supplied tyres across the East African region to as far as Somalia and this venture made him a profit of Ksh 300,000.
Networth and Witchcraft allegations
Currently, James Kisia owns five buildings along Jomo Kenyatta Avenue in Mombasa – one house has 55 shops and 140 flats. He also owns parcels of land and rental apartments in Shimba Hills, Kilifi, Kwale, Machakos, Mombasa and different parts of Nairobi.
During the exclusive interview, Kisia revealed that he is worth Ksh2 billion and that most people link his wealth to witchcraft.
“I am currently worth over Ksh 2 billion. You know people don’t trust their own capacity to become rich through hard work. Some people associate my wealth with ‘majini’ and because I come from a clan of intellectuals, I said yes, I do have majini. I went on to tell those accusing me of having majini that I have brought five Lorries full of majini to my rural home. This was just to scare them. Nobody would touch my property without permission,” he explained.
Family Succession plan
The billionaire is married to two wives and has a total of 10 children – 7 from the first wife and three from the second one. All the children went to the US and became doctors. Unfortunately, one of them passed on just after successfully graduating.
To prevent a fallout over money in the family, he has put up a family trust after seeing a of children from wealthy families squander the wealth for lack of a plan and proper guidance. He believes that a trust is more effective as compared to a will.
“None of my children will reap where they did not sow, there will be no wastage of money and other assets when I will not be around,” he said.