Hosea Kili knows something about the real dichotomy of triumph and tragedy. His triumph, in his words, is having achieved all his life’s dreams.
Born and raised in ‘a hole’, a little-known village called Kapkeringon, to become the best serviceman of his year at National Youth Service, join the university and later become an advocate of the high court.
He now heads CPF Financial Services, one of the largest retirement benefits schemes in the country.
However, he has also known heavy clouds of tragedies; he lost one eye years ago and then lost the apple of his eye - his daughter - to a senseless murder of passion that captured the nation’s imagination.
He has managed to deflect these tragedies with sturdy religious armour and fistfuls of philosophies. Above all, he remains a truly remarkable storyteller; unapologetic, deep-seeking, and unfettered.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in a hole. (Chuckles). At a place called Kapkeringon in Mosop, Nandi. Kapkeringon means a place of holes. These were natural caves, but in my community, we call them holes.
There were also other holes made by antbears, which were used as graves by my people many years ago. That's the land where I was born and grew up. Mosop means a place that's neither too hot nor too cold.
What kind of people were your parents?
My father, who is still alive and sometimes pays me a visit in this office, had a very interesting life. Those days it was not uncommon for women in my community to run away to live alone in distant urban areas.
Their husbands were often very hostile and would beat them. Running back to their parent's homesteads was not an option.
Another reason women ran away was the railway line that passed through the village. Women started trading with the railway workers and when the line was done, the train opened the horizon to these women who fled to towns like Nakuru, Mombasa, and Bondeni among others.
Some remarried, and others like my grandmother became maids when she moved to Nakuru in the 1930s. So, my father was raised by his uncles because his father was absent.
So I grew up in that environment. I was born in a Christian family, my father converted to Christianity in the early 50s. I went to the National Youth Service before joining the University of Nairobi to study law.
I was a tall, agile, and very disciplined young man. Out of the 1,969 students who were going to university in 1984, I was the best serviceman.
I have an award somewhere. I was admitted to the bar in 1990. I am married to one wife. I have three children now.
I used to have four, but we lost one of the girls. But I have a large extended family; I have adopted all the children of my late brother and late sister.
Interesting. What about your mom; is she still alive?
Yes, I’m lucky she is still alive. She’s 80. She was a businesswoman who sold mitumba in the 1970s. She didn’t go to school much but learned to read and write. She raised her family through sheer hard work.
She is a good cook; everybody likes to eat in her house. She’s a lovely lady. Every good thing I have I attribute to her and, of course, my strict father.
(Chuckles) He’s one of the few elders in the villages, and so the county relies on him for advice and dispute resolution. He’s very good at that. He has one of the sharpest memories I have ever known.
Our founding patriarch was a Samburu. It’s a story about the assimilation of a Samburu boy into the Nandi culture.
That is interesting because these communities led a nomadic life with hardly enough time for procreation. So to build their population, they’d assimilate the conquered communities into theirs.
By the way, Biko, these livestock raids between our communities were not acts of stealing as people perceive them now.
Nobody stole livestock, it was simply the stock exchange. (Chuckles) The practice was that you take mine, I come and take yours.
The word stealing is not in our vocabulary. That is why it’s so difficult for the government to finish the menace.
We’ve got to change the mindset of these guys because if you tell a young man not to go raid cattle, you are telling him it’s wrong to acquire wealth this way. For them it is legitimate. Pure.
Do you have a son?
Yeah. Emmanuel. He’s a father himself now.
What do you regret that he will not experience in the Nandi culture?
He should have experienced the tough life we went through. We’d sleep on a hard floor, but our grandmother’s stories were a balm.
There were nine of us in my family, and we shared everything. The boys had one blanket, as did the girls, but we all slept on the same cowhide.
We didn’t wear shorts or any other modern clothing, we only had shukas. On the other hand, my children grew up in towns.
They had mattresses [and other comforts]. So by having all those things, my boy missed out on experiences that toughen him to face the world. And of course, it changes how he interacts with the world.
Why is it necessary to sleep on a cowhide?
It is about toughening up. One of the biggest problems we have, Biko, is that our sons are not the men they should be. There’s a value proposition in young people going through a tough life.
Our boys are soft now. Boys want to become girls and our girls want to become boys. Where are we headed? In the future, most likely, parents will choose their children’s gender at birth.
I don’t think education the way we’re offering it now is enough. There is more that parents must impart on their children until they’re strong enough to stand on their own.
What do you struggle with now at your age?
(Chuckles) I am always exhausted, waking up is a challenge, and keeping too many appointments is an even bigger one. But that is good because it is a sign that I must start letting go.
But the challenge is that I have a sharp mind that wants to do things but then my body is telling me no. (Chuckling)
If you were to go back in time, what would you do differently as a 30-year-old man?
I love investment and I think I took too long to get into where my passion is. I would have started earlier.
What do you fear at this stage of your life?
I shudder at the thought of discovering that I believed in falsehoods. I believe in the good in people, but sometimes I am shocked by what I see human beings do.
Just look at what young people are doing now despite their good upbringing. I also fear that we are fast headed to a disaster and nobody seems to mind.
Look at the earthquake in Turkey, the chemical contamination in our food and environment is getting worse. We’re on a rollercoaster with the destination being an abyss, but nobody seems to be worried enough to sound the alarm. That’s my worry and fear.
Tell me something interesting about money. Your story about money.
(Chuckles) Money is a game. When you don’t have it you worry so much. When you have it you worry even worse. That’s the problem.
How is your relationship with money?
I am not excited about money other than when it improves my life or the people I love. Otherwise, money gives me no excitement.
You can make so much money, but I believe you don’t have to do that. Because that is a narcissistic spirit that you acquire if you begin to chase money for money’s sake.
Are you spiritual?
What’s the one thing God has done to you that surprised you?
Making all my dreams come true. Yeah. That’s a beautiful thing.
What was your biggest dream?
(Chuckles) To make people happy. I have made my staff happy; I know they’re not worried about tomorrow. Pensioners sleep and wake up knowing that at the end of the month, there will be something in their bank account. That’s my happiness.
What’s your extravagance?
Well, since I like making people happy, sometimes I overdo it. (Chuckles).
In what way?
You know, when I am touched, I will offer to spend more than I can afford. Later on, I say, 'gosh, that was hard, but...'
What is this that touches you?
I really can’t stay comfortable when people are suffering or a child is not going to school. I run a foundation, I do a lot of sponsorship of students.
I think in a month I spend over Sh100,000 just paying school fees, for children I’ve never met. I pay for medical care for people in the village.
Everything that happens in the village I know, somebody dies, somebody building a church, a mosque…I’m involved. That makes me happy.
Are you comfortable talking about what happened to your eye?
Ah yes. I got injured and some operations went awry 10 years ago. So I slowly lost my eyesight.
Was it scary losing your eye?
It’s normal, my friend. You should expect these things as you grow old. You will lose your teeth. Prepare for that.
Does the world look different through one eye?
No. That’s the beauty of creation. There is compensation. When you lose your legs your hands become stronger. So, when you lose one eye, the other eye just gains more strength to see.
I don’t know if you want to talk about this, but you mentioned you lost a child…
Oh yeah. Well, the story of my daughter is all over. [The unsolved murder case of Careen Chepchumba that involved the former TV anchor Louis Otieno].
What have you learnt about life by losing a child?
You come to understand why somebody like Abraham was ready to sacrifice his only son. This was my firstborn daughter, the child I first held in my hands and I believed in her future. Then to imagine that somebody just took her life.
You can hold a high value for your child, but how does it compare with the value someone else places on her? I learned that in life you have to find a way to live on after such a loss. It took time, but we are living.
The beauty is that we remember our daughter in many things. We built a church in her memory. We are happy when we see people worshipping in the church that bears her name.
We also built a dormitory for girls in her memory in the high school I attended. It makes me very happy that I have so many children passing through that school.
And most of them are successful. So there are so many memories. It is very sobering to lose somebody you love so much.
How do you get past bitterness and anger and desire for vengeance?
Oh no, we never wanted any of that. Before the burial, my relatives were up in arms because they already knew the person who was alleged to have been the killer.
And if I were to let them do that, they would have hunted for that fellow. Some of them were so hostile. But I told them that I will not allow such a thing to happen.
During the church service, people could not believe it when I stood up and said as a family we have decided that we are forgiving whoever killed this girl.
All we were asking is that the person should be touched enough to come out and confess and seek forgiveness.
But like I said we forgave the guy. And actually, that is why we didn’t even pursue the prosecution.
At the end of the day, my friend, there is no way you can run away from the revenge which God exerts on you. I don’t want to say that I’m happy for any suffering anybody goes through, but I can tell you, even if you’re not punished by the world, you will be punished in some way.
Sometimes you’re punished by your conscience. Other times God does it. You know in the Bible they say ‘leave revenge to me.’ That's what we've done. We are past all that, we have grandchildren who need to live peacefully.
It troubles me that our daughter did not get married and give us a grandchild, but as I said, there are so many others who as a result of her name have given me life.
From the church to the school, and the foundation where we sponsor girls. So we are quite okay.
Do you believe everything happens for a reason? If so, what do you think the reason could be for losing your daughter?
[Pause] If you ask me, because I’m Christian, and I’ve read the scriptures well, I'll take you to the Garden of Eden. Satan planted sin.
It wasn’t something that happened by chance. It was a competition between God and the devil. And the devil wants to win all the time.
Sometimes he wins, sometimes he doesn’t. He wins when people die when people kill each other, and when we do wrong things to each other but he fails when people do the right thing.
So it’s a very simple thing for me. When you are a person who carries the image of God, you’re a very serious object of the devil.
So he will try as much as possible to bring you down because at that point he’ll win against God.
Thank you. I enjoyed talking to you. You are a very interesting man.
[Laughs] Oh thank you. I have many more stories, Karibu tena.