Victoria Sabula’s journey to escape her past

Victoria Sabula, the CEO of Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund (AECF) during the interview on April 08, 2024 at West End Towers in Nairobi. 

Photo credit: Photo | Billy Ogada | Nation Media Group

Victoria Sabula is no longer running. Not from the poverty-stricken girl in the village. Not from the girl who had a child at 17. Not even for fun. Maybe to her family, or husband, whom she beams uxoriously about—the one God kept for her, the one who zigs her zag, dots her i’s, yins her yang. “Hubby and I,” she keeps saying. She seems to love him with a power that can pry her ribs apart, I can tell. “He’s my high priest.” It is a romantic high noon, and I put on my armour as I sense Cupid pulling his bow.

“I am very strong-willed, but my husband isn’t threatened.” Her husband is no slouch either, he’s the CEO of the Kenya Association of Travel Agents. 

Now, she’s running the Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund (AECF); this time cognisant that she can’t have it all. She’s learned to retreat into her she-den, throw the bones and see how they land, just like our ancestors taught us. At her apex, coaching has revealed things to her, parts of her she’d rather keep hidden—that rock-bottom little girl and her mother begging from home to home after her father died. After all, where we come from has a bearing on where we are going, like how one can look at what surrounds a person to get a clue of what’s inside them.

I like the statement you made off the record that everyone is currently preoccupied with saving the world. When you say the world does not need saving, when did you realise all this? 

I have always really wanted to make a difference. I have this statement that I have printed and pinned in my bedroom: Why be ordinary when you can be extraordinary? One day in 2022, I got home, went upstairs, sat on my bed and didn’t want to come out. When my husband came home, he asked if I was okay. I said, “I feel the weight. I feel the weight of carrying an institution.” The next day, I had a board meeting that didn’t help my situation. When my husband came home, he looked at me and said, “If you can free yourself, we can keep the same lifestyle for a whole year. You don’t need to work.” 

How did you feel when he told you that? 

I was like, “Okay, no, I need to do this.” Nonetheless, that situation made me realise that I am important to some constituency of people—my husband and children. I realised I was not Victoria, the CEO. I am just a wife. And I want to be my children’s mother. I still give everything, but now I have to take a breather because this [points] is not Victoria’s seat but the CEO’s seat. When you’ve come out of a village, a part of you carries that thing of, ‘Wueh, nimetoka mbali.’ You feel like you need to work hard. 

Like you are afraid it will catch up with you?

That’s what running away from poverty looks like. But your speed must match the terrain—if you’re running in Upper Hill, for instance, you adjust to the hills. Some terrains demand you walk. 

You know, when you were talking about your husband, I saw your eyes twinkle. Do you think you have a storybook romance?

I think so. Sometimes, it feels too good to be true. I wonder what’s the catch. You see, I’m a very strong-willed person. I always say I’m so glad I met Jesus because He has worked around these rough edges of mine, but I’m very structured. I want to know the little details. This man takes it and spins it to his advantage. Does he get frustrated sometimes? Yeah. But he’s never felt threatened. I allow him to lead. He’s my priest, the leader of our home. Looking at us, I don’t think many people would think that with my personality, this man even has a voice. We’re good friends. I think that’s what makes a difference. He and I will hang out 100 percent of the time. We go to the market together. We don’t have separate lives. 

But let’s say he wants to go and have a mid-life crisis, so to speak, and buy a sports car. Would you allow it, or must he check in with Victoria first?

Look, there are things that I will never experience. I will never come out and find this sleek S-class Mercedes with a big red bow because it just doesn’t happen in our world that you can go splash millions of shillings on a surprise gift. We believe that, in life, you must be able to pace your financial decisions with the freedom it has accorded you.

They say when you are with someone for so long, you start looking or behaving like them. Is that true in your case? 

It’s fascinating that for us we looked like each other before getting married [chuckles]. We would bump into people, and they’d ask, is this your brother? We have a rhythm and a pattern. We are still very different people, but we have accommodated that individuality within and created what is a semblance of normalcy for us. 

What aspect of being a wife do you struggle with now? 

Because I am very solutions-oriented, I struggle to remember that he’s the leader. I have to remember to submit. I once asked him if he thought I was submissive. He told me, “I think you are respectful.” I speak my mind. I’m not the type of woman who says, “Whatever you say, baby.” I put forth my case, but I have to remind myself that he’s the leader and must be respected. I think it’s about wisdom, right? At that moment, there are things I want to say, but I don’t want to be single at 60, so I just zip my mouth. Many people misinterpret this to mean that you’re not going to have a voice, which is not the case.  

What did your first heartbreak teach you?

You should never allow someone to lower your value. I got my first child at 17. As a new mom, I dated someone who told me I was too confident for someone who had a child [chuckles]. I walked away from the relationship, thanks to my mother. She said, “You’re going to school, and I’ll take care of this child”. Later, when I was about to finish my university education, the guy returned, but I told him, “This is not the girl you met before.” I dated another guy after that for two months, and we broke up after he asked if I was trying to find a father for my son. I didn’t want my son to be in a place where someone felt I was modelling something just for him. I’ve been married for 16 years now, and there is not a day that I doubted their [son and husband] relationship. They are just father and son. 

Victoria Sabula, the CEO of Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund (AECF) during the interview on April 08, 2024 at West End Towers in Nairobi. 

Photo credit: Photo | Billy Ogada | Nation Media Group

How does that change how you approach subsequent relationships?

I invested in faith, which gave me a sense of identity. I also read a lot. There isn’t a book about being a Christian wife that I haven’t read. One that stuck with me is Fascinating Womanhood. It’s important that as people come into a relationship, they have worked on themselves and are complete.

People don’t normally speak the quiet parts of their lives this loud. What makes you this open?

I believe in vulnerability and that you must own your story and life journey. If we don’t share our mistakes, then people can also feel a bit lonely. Yet what they are going through is not unique. I know I am stubborn and strong-willed. Because I know that, I am able to say, ‘Vicky, this is you being strong-willed; you are not giving room.’ How is an amazing relationship going to happen if you are not giving room?

James Baldwin says you think your pain is unprecedented, and then you read a book. What is the most relaxing part of your day?

When I get home, I sit alone or with my husband over a cup of tea. I love tea. 

Which one?

Properly brewed Kenyan tea. 

The one with lemongrass and boiled till it threatens to evaporate?

Haha! Yes, it has to boil. I’ll do masala tea or rosemary tea. I’m a collector of cups now. So, whenever I travel, I bring back unique cups. 

What’s your idea of happiness now?

Being in sync with God and my children being okay. That is my happiness. My mother was a teacher who lost her husband in her mid-40s with nine children. She took all of us through school, and we all turned out okay. Being a Sacco member, she would borrow at the beginning of the year, pay all of the school fees, repay the loan through the year, and borrow again in January.

Have you grown up to become her?

I could never be.

To an extent? 

She’s proud of me, and she tells me that. Yeah, she’s very peaceful, but she’s raised strong-willed girls. My mum has a quiet strength in her. She is fierce. Raising us, she begged from everybody. She knew every politician’s home. She took us along.


Victoria Sabula, the CEO of Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund (AECF). 

Photo credit: File photo | pool

What’s the one word that comes to mind when you think of her?


What are you thanking yourself for?

For showing up even when it did not make sense, I pushed through. 

What are you apologising to yourself for?

I’ve been hard on myself so many times. I think there are a lot of things that follow you. I had a baby very young, so there’s a guilt that comes with that. What I subjected my family to, my mom especially, troubled me. There was a time when it was hard for me to tell people that I had a child. I was a CU leader in college, but one day, one of them said, “Oh, did you know that she has a child?” They deliberated and decided that I was not going to be a leader. I remember asking them, “You wanted me to walk around campus with a sign on my forehead saying I have a child?’ But because I felt like I fell short at one point, I put myself under a lot of pressure. So, how I showed up many times in my career was I have to do this for my mom and my child. I think I was hard on myself. 

Have you forgiven yourself? 

Yes. I have permitted myself to be imperfect. Giving myself permission to be imperfect has been so hard because, for a very long time, Vicky could not allow room to fall short. But that also translated to the people that I lead, right? Because of that, I didn’t give them an allowance. Now, I think about how my pursuit of perfection affects them.

What have you finally come to terms with?

Life is not perfect. The people or plans you care for the most will not go the path you wish for them. I no longer wait for the perfect season. Today is just the perfect day. I don’t know how long it will last.

Who do you know that I should know?

Eddie, that’s a tough question. But Strive Masiyiwa [Zimbabwean businessman and philanthropist]. Strive is an entrepreneur with a brilliant mind. He cares about entrepreneurship that is useful for society. I found him to be a very principled person. 

The other person is my auntie Flora. She represents maybe the household that has not had much, yet growing up, we would find ourselves in her house looking for a leftover ugali. Even in her need, she was and still is very generous—those who don’t give out of abundance. My Auntie Flora just gives. 

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