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Johnson Ngunju: From a Mjengo Worker to Owning Multi-Million Property in Finland

Johnson Ngunju is a Kenyan entrepreneur residing in Finland. When he hoped from one menial job to another back home in Nairobi, the young businessman did not know that his fortunes lay waiting in the Scandinavian country.

Ngunju now enjoys a decent life and owns multiple properties in Finland. The story of how he made it big went viral in 2021, with Kenyans on social media commending him for his determination and resilience.

Menial jobs in Nairobi

After completing his secondary education, Ngunju was hired by a friend to work at a beauty salon and laundry in Nairobi. However, the business struggled, and he was let go after a year.

Determined to earn a living in Nairobi, he sought employment at a barbershop in Pangani and later a liquor store in Nairobi West.

File image of Johnson Ngunju, a Kenyan living and working in Finland. |Photo| Courtesy|
File image of Johnson Ngunju, a Kenyan living and working in Finland. |Photo| Courtesy|

“The job was great but the lady owner’s husband was an alcoholic who would quarrel a lot. I spent some nights in Langata police cells after being arrested several times at the shop,” he recalled.

Ngunju could not afford his bills some of the times, this forced him to go back upcountry. He would go to Nairobi for contractual construction “mjengo” jobs, during this time, he would stay at friends’ houses.

He later rented a house at Githurai Kimbo and moved in with a mattress, blanket, a stove, and two sufurias. He paid Ksh900 as rent per month.

Good relations with construction foremen ensured that he was without a gig, bouncing from one construction site to another. However, during off seasons, he would go for weeks without a job.

Ngunju at one time lived with his sister in Nairobi. During this time, he landed a job selling insurance covers. He would be paid after selling at least seven policy covers which would take days.

“It wasn’t so hard getting back on the grind because I had my share of bad and good days. I felt better grinding than letting my sister carry my baggage. I went back to my usual mjengo days as I expanded my ‘network’,” he recounted.

He saved some money and opened his own barbershop at Githurai 45. This marked a path to fortune, as he would later relocate to Finland.

Scholarship

Ngunju was asked to apply for an academic scholarship to Finland by a hairdresser he had worked with along Tom Mboya Street. He chose a degree in Tourism and sat for his entrance exam at the Parklands Visa Oshwal at a fee of Ksh3,000. His brother paid the fee.

He was granted approval to travel to Finland two months later.

“Remember, I don’t have a passport, leave alone an air ticket. We conducted a fundraiser on top of my savings. I finally flew out a month after college studies had started. I caught up and settled in,” he stated.

Surviving in Finland

After getting to Finland, Ngunju’s hustler spirit would kick in, and he saw an opportunity to make money. He would collect alcohol bottles and sell them to companies. He soon recruited his roommate and a Nigerian friend.

“Beer, soft drink cans and bottles are cash out there (Finland). Every grocery store has an automated machine where one inserts them in exchange for a receipt. Inside the store, the receipt converts to cash.

“Each can cost Ksh26 (0.20€/20cnt). Events start on Wednesday evening to Sunday early morning. Student party/ clubbing happens on Wednesday evening with lots of alcohol and littering. We would go biking cleaning those cans off the streets, smiling face with open mouth and cold sweat,” he recalled.

Ngunju also had a cleaning job at a supermarket to supplement his income. He later got another job at a garage which motivated him to enroll for driving lessons.

“Soon everyone was a driver, and sooner, car owners. Used cars are cheap. €600 (Ksh79,000) you are set. Not anything fancy but it’s still a car. I used my car to advertise some of my works and deliver cans.

“What gives me going is I’m not alone. Kenyan and West African brothers are working hard. No one is backing down! Plus, it’s not like we have options,” Ngunju said.

He learnt how to drive trucks and was later employed as a bus driver.

Scaling Up

Ngunju developed a keen interest in cars while he worked as a bus driver. He researched about cars, reading and watching videos on YouTube, and soon he began buying broken down vehicles and repairing them.

He took a break from his job in 2020 and enrolled at a college study a course on automotives. He completed the 2-year course in eight months.

He later bagged a job at Škoda Dealership as an intern in March 2020. Škoda is a sister company of Volkswagen Group which owns Audi, Volkswagen, Seat, Porsche and Bentley.

“I undertook my internship until December 2020. I graduated in a record eight months for a two years course. Before I graduated, I signed a job contract at the same place. I broke for Christmas and started my new job in Jan 2021,” he stated.