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John Mwanzia : Ex-Kenyan Military Who Owns Seven Hospitals In DRC, Spent Ksh84 Million

About sixteen years ago, John Mwanzia visited the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on a UN peacekeeping mission as a paratrooper with the Kenyan military. During his stay there, he notices an extremely underserved healthcare industry. That is when an idea hit him, the possibility of setting up a healthcare facility in the war-stricken country.

About a decade later, he counts the gains and offers lessons for Kenyan entrepreneurs racing to invest in DRC. This is after the country was confirmed as the newest member of the East Africa Community.

Here is his story as told by WoK.

Starting capital

At the beginning, Mwanzia had about Ksh. 5 million from his savings. He decided to go back to Goma, the capital city of North Kivu province in DRC.

In an interview with the Business Daily, Mwanzia revealed that his idea to set up a hospital after what he saw the deplorable condition in the country. “I was touched by the sorry state of the healthcare facilities I had visited during my peacekeeping missions,” he said.

However, as he would soon realize, setting up a business in Goma was not easy. In a multilingual country where an estimated 242 languages are spoken, he faced a huge language barrier.

Challenges

Other than the language barrier, Mwanzia also had to deal with the greater political instability that resulted in shaky economic conditions. A year before he started the business, the Congolese franc had lost more than 40% of its value against the US dollar.

I also had to liaise with the local authorities to get the relevant permits to practice in Goma before setting up the business, which wasn’t easy. I had to contend with the slow process of getting approval from the local health authorities to operate. You have to be patient or else your application can fall off the window. In Goma, officials don’t work as fast as they do in Nairobi,” he explained.

Another headache that the investor has to deal with is the bad road network that often delays his deliveries and increases the cost of doing business. “The road network in Congo is bad even though the government is trying,” Mr. Mwanzia says.

He is however proud that he has brought services that were not easily available to DRC. His hospitals have laboratories, radiology units, maternity clinics as well as a dental clinic.

Setting up

Eventually, he set up his hospital, Skyborne, an enterprise that has since grown into a chain of six hospitals and two clinics. One of the six is situated in Bukavu, a city in eastern DRC, and another at Uvira in South Kivu province just a few kilometres from Burundi, Congo border.

He also has a hospital in Goma and two more in Walukale which is 200 kilometre from Goma and one more in Kisangani. The two clinics are located in Bisie and Logu.

He has hired 300 local staff and 18 Kenyan medics. To attract the best talent in a foreign and sometimes volatile country, he offers better salaries ranging from Ksh. 100,000 to Ksh. 300,000 a month.

Massive business growth

Mr. Mwanzia revealed in the interview that the business is growing massively. In a month the hospitals serve up to 500,000 patients. Some of the common illnesses treated include malaria, typhoid as well as complicated kidney transplants.

Besides the locals, his hospitals, which he runs alone, also serve a growing list of foreigners and workers on UN missions and from mining firms in Goma.

Further expansion

When asked what has helped his business grow at such a rate, Mwanzia says that investing back in the business and ploughing back earnings into more investments has worked for him. He adds that he has set aside Ksh10 million to open two more hospitals this year to meet the growing demand for quality healthcare.

Mwanzia has spent over Ksh84 million to set up seven private hospitals in DRC.

“It is a good thing to be a daring person. It is the only way you can achieve anything in life,” says the International Relations graduate.