In his industry, Fernando Wangila is called “Starter of Things.” He is the director of ICT and Innovation at National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA).
Before NTSA, he was at the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA). He also worked at Coffee Development Fund (now Commodities Fund) as an ICT operations manager where he launched the M-Kahawa online platform.
The golf lover is the vice captain at Vet Lab Golf Club in Kabete, Nairobi, and has just completed his PhD in business innovation and technology management.
He met JACKSON BIKO at the Nairobi Serena Hotel.
When you work for the government, do you lose your voice of opinion? Are you aware of what you can and can’t say in public fora or social media as Fernando?
No. But personal opinions have to be fair. Just the same way you can talk about your father who has done something wrong and you think you can say it publicly or not. What I say on social media or even in meetings are things that I believe in and I know the people I’m telling also believe in them.
The first time I joined government, I was a very junior person as a network administrator. That was in 2003. I quit and went to work in private sector. People asked me, ‘why did you quit the best employer? You’re going to a place where you can be sacked.’ I told them that I’m the kind of person who is open minded. I hate routine because routine doesn’t make anyone think. So if you find you’re being told to photocopy papers or to format a machine, things that a low level skilled person should do, then make a decision.
There is a feeling that to survive in government, especially when you’re high up, you have to be able to play politics as well. Is that a good assessment?
Yes. You have to play politics and politics is not a bad thing. Good politics influence and mobilise. But there are people who do the kind of politics you might be talking about.
How relevant is the godfather syndrome now?
It’s there but it’s dying off. When I joined NTSA, I didn’t have a godfather. I got in with the belief of what was right to me and to other Kenyans. People who came in through godfathers don’t operate as well as people who’ve come in the right way.
People who’ve come in clean work very hard under all circumstances. People with godfathers cry all over the place when hard times come knocking. Also godfathers control someone. They tell you ‘wewe unajua ulikua wapi nikikuleta?’ It reaches a point you cannot work that way.
What will you have to do to say, ‘okay, my work is done here I’m going to do other things with my life.”
I will be happy when all services are connected and synchronised, when Kenyans will have one card that will stand in as a birth certificate, a death certificate and allow them to access any other service. It’s possible, we have the database.
What are you most excited about in your life right now?
(Pause) I don’t know if someone gets excitement anymore when they reach 40. (Chuckles) Excitement is when we used to get birthday presents and wait for a cake. Now I don’t even celebrate birthdays.
(Pause) I get excited when I see people who have looked up at me making it. But going out doesn’t excite me. I’d rather spend time coming up with new things or watching a movie at home or playing golf.
I’m handicap 14 now, I used to be 8 at some point. I’m now the vice captain at Vetlab Club but I don’t stay at the clubhouse too long. After I do my presentations, I call out winners, I tell them goodnight.
Why is that?
It’s just a habit. I like early morning meetings, never at night. Some people love night meetings but I realised that such a life only benefits the owner of the club not the person who goes there. I can’t go out to give somebody else money. I’d rather go to somebody’s house for dinner and stay there till midnight but not to a club.
What’s wrong with building somebody’s business?
I’m a bit selfish. I usually tell people to be selfish with their time and finances. Don’t waste time discussing things that have no value to you. Be selfish with your finances, and that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be generous. It depends, otherwise you will go broke giving money to everyone you meet.
You sound like the kind of guy who has friends who are in their 60s?
Yes, the 60 years are in my head. (Chuckles). But I don’t have friends.
You don’t have friends?
I don’t know what the definition of a friend is. I have people that I want to help, but they’re not my friends.
Are you successful?
Yes, I’m successful. I never thought I’d come this far. I struggled a little bit through my studies and I had an open heart surgery in 1996, on my birthday. I thought I would die. Before that I had borrowed Sh15,000 and I told the person I’d return the money but I knew I was going for an open heart surgery and I would die. So I went to Mombasa and did everything that at that time I defined to be successful. You don’t have to be the president to be successful. I know that I’m successful. If I die tomorrow, I’ll know that I died well.
Got married, divorced. I was divorced in 2011. (Chuckles)
Why were you left?
I don’t know. I can’t tell. I was a good husband, went home early enough, by 4pm. I tried to be the best husband. (Pause). Like I said I don’t know what friendship is, I don’t know what love is, I still don’t know. Those are things that happen. Just like having a headache. I guess yeah.
Yeah. I have children but not with my wife. I’m dating now, whatever dating means. I like things the way they are now. I’m not in control of a woman or her feelings. And I think even Adam was not. I’ve tried to understand them [women] I cannot. They can be very loving at some point and at some point very different. (Pause)