By Prudence Minayo
The story of Robert Muthee is a sad one and a reminder of how one can easily fall from grace to grass. In his heyday, he could make Sh1 million in a month and his wealth was evident from the fuel guzzler he drove. Mr Muthee mingled with the moneyed and affluent until one decision sent him one a downward spiral. In an interview with a leading daily, recounted his journey to the top and how a cycle of debt nearly brought him to his knees.
Here is his story as told by WoK.
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Muthee started out as a casual laborer for Bidco. He would then leave the company in 1998 to become a freelance photographer. The business gained traction very fast as he amassed a huge network of high end clients. From doing shoots at presidential occasions, to photographing politicians and CEOs, he made a name for himself in the industry. A lot of happy clients referred new clients and his success story grew.
“I remember one time I was booked for 5 days to shoot a wedding in Mombasa and the client catered for everything including flights,” he remembered.
At a time when not many photographers existed, he was carving out a path for himself. By the year 2000, he could afford his very own first car and equipment worth Sh2 million. His services didn’t come cheap as it cost between Sh25,000 to sh150,000 per shoot depending on the time and the clients needs. On a bad month, he would make about Sh250,000 and a good month would see him make up to a million.
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His clients were the movers and shakers of Kenya. He worked with billionaires Manu Chandaria and Vimal Shah among other big names
“I have worked with very many big people in the industry. I have worked with industrial giants and billionaires like Manu Chandaria and Vimal Shah of Bidco,” Muthee narrated.
Cycle of Debts
With a successful business, what could go wrong? Well, according to the photographer turned hawker, trouble began to brew when a friend of his who was a shylock loaned him Sh200,000. It was supposed to get repaid with an interest of Sh40,000. He thought he could expand his business and went on to purchase additional video accessories, photocopy paper and printers.
When he was supposed to pay the debt, he had only Sh180,000 which he took to the shylock. The shylock demanded the Sh20,000 balance and the Sh40,000 interest. The lender then told him he would charge the remaining Sh60,000 as a loan whose interest would be Sh12,000. This prompted him to take a loan of 100k from a different shylock to pay the first shylock.
Sold his car
He then sold his car to clear all his debts. Still in high demand, the photographer was booked by a company that offered to finance another car for him to ease his movement. He repaid the car through his work but his financial doldrums did not end there forcing him to sell the car to clear some of his debts.
He had two credit cards, one capped at Sh250,000 and another Sh100,000. His debts accrued and he found himself owing Sh4 million to creditors. He began borrowing from friends and family and even recounts a creditor pulling a knife on him and matching him to the ATM. His card ended up being retained by the ATM machine.
“In a month I could spend Sh350,000 which was not my money. Credit cards attract high interest rates when you fall behind the payment schedule so I started to borrow money from friends and family to repay,” Muthee shared.
The Covid-19 pandemic greatly affected his business. This and the debts put a hold on his once profitable business. He began washing cars to make extra money and finally hawking masks along Thika road became his source of income.
Even as he hawks the masks, he said he knew it was not the end. He says the mask selling business had enabled him to pay his debts worth about one million shillings and that he does the business even as he does other things.