David Gicheru: The 'mitumba' fashionista at medic's table


David Gicheru, Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Council (KPMDC) CEO. PHOTO | POOL

Life is treating Dr David Gicheru Kariuki well. He sounds happy. He looks happy. But most importantly he is happy. These are far removed from his days in university as a mitumba seller, where he was Mr Steal-Your-Girl, wearing the latest fashion fads—that only he had access to. “Camera, mali safi,” he says.

Sat across me in the gazebo of Swiss Lenana Mount Hotel along Ralph Bunche Road, in the sweltering heat and a monochromatic suit, the head honcho of the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Council (KMPDC) travels 20 years back to when it all started. The table tennis. The darts. That cigarette moment. The Arsenal. Oh, The Arsenal. His great, and oft, lifelong unrequited love.

An obstetrician by training, ‘Obange’—as the streets used to call him—saves his best deliveries for his witty, pithy, and often scathing personal anecdotes. It’s just what the doctor ordered.

What’s the first thing you did this morning?

I woke up, exercised, and then started preparing for work.

Are you into physical exercises?

Not so much, just a bit. But now I am considering getting into it, joining a gym and such. I have made several attempts, but work gets in the way.

Where do you find your me-time?

I leave work at work, finish most of what I can during the day. That way, I  create time for myself during the evenings and weekends.

What’s your typical weekend like?

Mostly, I visit places. I am into farming and other side hustles. When I have the time, I watch some football.

Let me guess…Arsenal?

Does it show on my face? Haha! I have been an Arsenal fan for more than 20 years. I am yet to give up on them despite the several heartaches they are giving me.

Were you into football when you were younger?

Just a little bit in primary and high school. I was more of the table tennis and darts boys.

What was your nickname growing up?

Obange. [chuckles]. Obange was a friend of mine who I used to imitate because I was the best among those who could imitate him. He was a player.

What remains unchanged about you since childhood?

I am very calm and authentic. I have never had those crazy, wild moments.

What’s the most trouble you’ve been in?

I have never been arrested. Maybe traffic offences. After a friend convinced me, I tried smoking, but I never went beyond two puffs.

What’s your guilty pleasure?

Indulging in some wine or whiskey. Sometimes.

What’s the best part about being a regulator?

Seeing people doing what they are supposed to do rather than forcing us to go to enforce it. We are thrilled when people keep their part of the bargain.

Are there aspects of your own life that you struggle to regulate?

Urm, sometimes keeping time. Or there is too much to do but not enough time. That is an area I am still working on.

What’s the most boring part about being you?

That I am not a good storyteller. I tend to listen more than talk.

Any children?

I have several sons.

That is such an African way of saying things


What do you do with the said sons?

We usually take them to their grandparents. They enjoy it there. Some of my activities are also based in the village, especially my one or two cows.

When did you start farming?

I picked it up from my father.

Were you close with your dad?

Yes. My dad was a strict disciplinarian. You had to achieve what you two had agreed. If he thought you hadn’t done well, you’d have to repeat the task, even at night.

What do you think your children love most about you?

We agree on what they need to do. Once we agree, there is not going to be much noise. We live by our agreements.

What’s your favourite part about being you?

Being able to push myself to do things. And seeing it happen and not fearing that I will fail because failure is part of learning. It only becomes impossible if you don’t attempt.

Is there something you’ve been considering trying lately?

Urm, well, maybe getting into golf. I also saw bungee jumping, but I don’t know if I will muster the courage, haha! Am I too heavy for it?

Hmm. What’s on your bucket list?

Travelling to Maldives. People say it is a beautiful place. That and Mauritius.

Are you a hotel person or an Airbnb?

Mostly hotel.

Do you travel solo or with your family?

Both. It depends on what I am anticipating. Being a practising doctor, mostly when travelling with family, I could get recalled because of something that requires my attention.

What’s one place you’ve travelled to that really stuck with you?

Sun City in South Africa. It has everything you want to see—games, recreation, and food.

What’s your go-to meal?

Nyama choma with some ugali or mukimo.

But don’t doctors advise you shouldn’t eat a lot of nyama choma?

Well, those are some of the struggles, haha! Because outside of being a doctor, you are still a person.

Do you make nyama choma?

A good one. Kwanza [ in fact] last December I was showing my sons how to make some.

Have any of your children picked up the stethoscope?

None. It’s because it’s hard when they want to see me but can’t because of job commitments. I will, however, support them to pursue whichever career path they want.

What’s your superpower?

I have the ability to allow the people I work with to grow their talents and do the best for the teams. Sometimes, people may not notice that I am the boss when working together. We just agree we need to do this and let things flow.

What is an unusual habit or absurd thing that you love?

We can be sitting, and I am quiet. I am not very talkative, and you may wonder whether you are boring me. No. I am just a reserved person.

What’s the dumbest thing you’ve spent money on?

I usually buy caps, but I don't wear them. So far, I have at least 20. My boys keep on stealing them, and I keep buying. [chuckles]

What three words best describe your weekend?

Relaxing, quiet and happy. Finally, the week is over!

What do you have that money can’t buy?

My kindness. I don’t like seeing people in pain or in trouble.

Are you big on reading?

Yes, but most of the time, I am reading more technical, work-related books due to work. Once I find the time, I read other things.

From those other things, what is one thing you picked from a book that has stayed with you?

I was reading 50 Things You Need to Realise Before it is Too Late [by Manoj Chenthamarakshan]. One of those things is that regrets are a burden. You’d rather stay in the moment than live in the past. But more importantly, that time is the most valuable thing you have. How you spend it and what you do with it is crucial.

Where else are you most likely to be if you aren’t at home or at work?

I'm in a social place. You'd find me near a screen somewhere when I was an ardent Arsenal fan.

Do you have an Arsenal jersey?

No. I am yet to replace my old one. I stopped buying during our years of wilderness, haha! They had been handling us!

Have your sons taken up football?

Most of them are new fans, so they are probably Manchester City fans, haha. They don’t know history—when we would do three or four titles in a row.

What is that one thing people don’t know about you?

People don't know the journey; they assume you've always been here. I have taught in high school as an untrained teacher. I sold mitumbas for pocket money in school. By the time I joined college, there was something in mitumba we called 'camera.' In my first years in university, no one could match my fashion. Camera! You couldn't find it in any shop in the city, haha! Bale ya asubuhi [morning marchandise], hahah!

What is a weekend hack that you know that could make my weekends better?

Get out of the city and go have fun somewhere.

What’s something you wish you were better at?

Communication. I have everything in my head, but sometimes when I say it, it doesn’t sound the same in my head. Medical school doesn’t teach us that.

If you could do one thing to make your weekends better, what would it be?

Building better relationships with people. Because being an office person you don’t have a lot of time to interact with people.

Who do you know that I should know?

Maybe you already know them, haha! If I had to choose, Dr Patrick Amoth. He is a good friend.

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