How Herder Landed Lucrative Government Tender That Changed His Life Forever

  • A goat herder looking after his her in Turkana County
    A goat herder looking after his her in Turkana County
    United Nations
  • Under the scorching sun of northern Kenya I paced lethargically behind a herd of cattle. The animals totaled 90 cows, and 42 bulls. I was their herder, and they were my only companion in the deserted arid plateaus where I grazed them. They scavenged for scanty shrubs as I listened to the Bluetooth radio that hung loosely across my shoulder.

    I was still in my 20's, and had inherited a lot of livestock from my father who passed away a year ago due to respiratory problems. As the only son, I was the sole custodian over our property which consisted of 90 percent animals.

    We had large tracts of land, but no property or real estate because we were pastoralists. The only assets we held dearly were the livestock that provided us with milk and meat as food, and hides to construct our makeshift homes, and body adornments. In the arid areas, the most essential product is water and food.

    The currency to measure wealth is quantified in livestock, and money is considered simply as a means of exchange. I lived inside a manyatta where I stored my traditional paraphernalia which consisted of a spear, a club, and other basic furniture. The crown of my furniture was a shelf filled with all the books I had gathered in my time as a student.

    File image of Kenyan banknotes held in a hand on January 25, 2020.
    File image of Kenyan banknotes held in a hand on January 25, 2020.
    Simon Kiragu

    Whenever I donned my leso and akalas nobody could imagine I am a tech graduate who sidelined job hunting to become a pastoralist. If I was being honest, then I'd say from time to time I experienced instances of indecision.

    These moments were marked by the dilemma to choose between selling all the cattle and starting life in a less remote establishment or take the path most trodden— that of pastoralism. It was a difficult choice since in our culture a man who owned everything but cattle was considered poor, and I was not ready to forfeit our societal norms for the illusion of control.

    Every evening the herds came from the grazing grounds, and converged around my manyatta. This positioned me in the middle of the shed with the cattle around me. This offered extra security in case wild animals or rustlers posed a threat.

    My mother’s manyatta lay at the periphery of the cowshed, and housed her and my sisters. The set up was convenient and we never wanted for food, but something always felt amiss. I never felt content  there, and it was only a matter of time before nature took its course.

    One night I decided I'd sell a portion of the cattle to reduce overgrazing, and constant search for green pastures. Deep down I knew the proverbial grass was greener on the other side, but I needed a pastoralist-mindset to seek it.

    I communicated with my former classmates who worked in firms and banks, and kept abreast with what went down in the field of technology. I asked about markets for livestock and hit a brick wall several times, but eventually I secured a tender to deliver 15 bulls to the Meat Commission.

    The deal was airtight, but the issue of transport posed a challenge to my first delivery. I found a lorry at the last minute, and it barely got to the pick up point on time. The invoice I sent to the commission amounted to Ksh2.2 million and that was enough to build the foundations of the future I envisioned. This was a huge amount of money, and that made me hysterical, but I knew such irrational excitements often led to poverty.

    I opened a savings account with Co-op and made my first million deposit. I used the other million to build two brick houses on land we owned at the town centre, and relocated there with my family. I maintained the rest of the cattle ,and hired a herder –whom I accompanied sometimes– reason being I found myself calmed in the presence of the cattle.

    Especially when the warm air hits your face as the sun warms your forehead as the jingle of the cowbell sings in harmony with cows’ footsteps. It offered me a form of meditation which cleared my head, and helped me whenever I contemplated a course of action.

    It was during one of such euphoric moments when I received a phone call from the meat tender clerk who requested I deliver 30 heads of cattle by the end of the week. I was excited by the offer, but hesitant since the issue of transport was worse than before. I called the clerk and asked how frequently they might need such deliveries and he hinted that the tender was open to be filled.

    The idea struck me as an investment opportunity to secure self-employment and offer a paradigm shift to the community. I called Jefferson – a former classmate–who dealt with transportation and inquired how he acquired his trucks, and he explained that Co-op was giving 95% asset financing to acquire Toyota trucks such as Hiace or Hino, with an option to lease.

    The proposal became the light at the end of my tunnel, and I accepted the good tidings. I realized that if I acquired my own truck, then that would pave way for further business expansion.

    I consulted my uncle —who helped my father combat his illness— and shared my plans with him so that he'd offer insightful advice. He concurred with the plans, and blessed the works of my hands. Therefore there was no turning back.

    After I acquired my truck with the help of Co-op Asset Financing, and my family's blessings, I capitalized on cattle sales, and introduced hay and fodder farming that kept livestock fed during drought.

    Also, I shared ideas with locals that positively shifted their perspective as far as farming, irrigation and subsidized grazing was concerned. I also opened an abattoir, and encouraged locals to keep sustainable livestock, and embrace technology in their activities.

    Years down the line, as I drove around my hometown I watched as green expanses of crops graced the scene where there initially existed dusty arid fields.

    My two sisters were in high school in Nairobi, and my mother had started a women's initiative where they kept chicken, and planted vegetables for sale. I was proud of my choices, but meek with the knowledge that the journey of my life was just beginning.