Kaddu Sebunya, President of African Wildlife Foundation, is out of the country, going by the ringing of his phone.
What gift would someone—a colleague, business partner— give you that would catch your attention during the coming festive season?, I asked him.
“A clean environment,” he says without missing a beat.
No, Kaddu, something that can be delivered to your office with a red bow.
A small pause ensues. “A saxophone,” he says. “It’s an instrument that calls...it calls someone. You can’t miss it in a tune because it just calls. (Pause) With what’s going on in the world, we need to hear more calls, eh?”
And where are you, Kaddu?
“Entebbe airport, about to catch a flight back to Nairobi, actually I’m boarding now...”
The next call is to Martin Dunford, the founder of Tamarind Group, with Carnivore ( inspired by the Rodizio concept of Brazilian Churrascaria steak houses) being their most prominent brand.
Martin’s voice fills the phone, a voice as tall and massive as the man himself. “You are talking to a man who has all the toys he needs,” he laughs loudly and then pauses to think.
“Let me call you back.” The line goes cold.
Rita Kavashe, Managing Director of Isuzu East Africa, responds to the same question with a pithy SMS with only two words: ‘‘A Car’’.
Not one of your own, surely, I text back, appending a smiley face at the end of the message.
“Yes, ours,” she texts back, “an Isuzu MU-X, 7-seater.”
This particular model is yet to be launched officially in 2018 so there is no price guide yet but online sources estimate the price could be anything from Sh4 million. A dear gift, that.
Aldo Mareuse, chief executive of Telkom Kenya picks on the second ring on a hot afternoon.
“A gift for Christmas?”, he asks with a laughter.
“Oh boy, not another basketful of things, I will end up throwing away. Listen, I’m not big on Christmas,” he says.
“I’m also not big on bad alcohol and cheap chocolate,” he says with a raucous laughter.
“I prefer good chocolate over bad alcohol any day, a small quality gift goes a longer way than a big bad gift. But you know what would be really practical? he asks in an English accentuated by heavy French influence.
“If someone gave me something that I would donate to charity. Actually I think I’d prefer to receive something I can pass over to charities.”
Two hours later, I send Martin Dunford an SMS reminder: “Don’t forget me, Mr Martin.”
I then call the CEO and founder of Nairobi Women’s Hospital, Dr Sam Thenya. He picks up the call sounding gruff and green around the gills. The good doctor has not been eating an apple a day and so has a flu.
‘‘Doc, one gift that you would like this festive season?’’ (Apart from a cartful of apples).
“A good book,” he says. “Because whisky, wines and chocolates are so commonplace and uncreative. I would like a good fiction book because most CEOs really don’t read non-fiction,” he says.
He is currently reading a non-fiction, The Rules of Wealth by Richard Templar. But maybe Anthony Doerr’s All The Light We Cannot See, a book in Barack Obama’s 79 book recommendations would go down well with Dr Thenya’s flu.
Edwin Dande, the CEO and founder of Cytonn, a financial juggernaut, focusing on alternative investment solutions to high net worth individuals and real estate, is in a meeting but graciously calls back 45 minutes later. He speaks deliberately, purposefully like he is giving a keynote speech.
“For me the gift would have to be something that captures the spirit and the key moments of 2017, nationally, politically and economically,” he says.
“A plaque capturing this would be perfect. Or a scrapbook with paper cuttings of some of the moments of this year. I think a gift like this takes time to make, which means it is thoughtful and useful.”
Over at Centonomy, a company that offers a personal financial management courses, founded by Waceke Nduati, she says: “ I’m an SME, which means I might be the face of this company, but behind the scenes are many talented people who make this magic come alive. A gift that can’t be shared with my team wouldn’t make sense to me. Gifts like expensive bottles of wine or champagne would be a wasted on me because it doesn’t trickle down to my team which makes this company what it is.”
So what would be ideal?
“Lunch vouchers for the whole team, keyholders for the whole team, and chocolates for the whole team. Anything that can be shared with the whole team,” she says.
Thirty minutes later, Mr Dunford sends an SMS that says: “Not being a very materialistic person, the only gift that I would like to receive is an assurance that the politicians will calm down and let business community build the country’s economy in peaceful co-existence with and for the benefit of all Kenyans.”
Early the next morning, Kwame Nana Boateng, founder of Mama Ashanti, the West African restaurant in Lavington, picks up my call before 8am. You run a restaurant, I didn’t think you would be awake now, I tell him.
“Oh no, I’m a hungry man — I wake up at 4:30am.” He laughs. “A great gift I would appreciate for me? (Pause) You know, I always wanted to play golf so a one year membership to a club, a golf kit, would be great. I spend all my time at the restaurant and I think golf is probably the only thing that would keep me away from this place, at least once a week.
Change of guard
Joy Mboya, Executive Director of The Godown Art Center is not in the mood to mince her words when it comes to gifts that she would appreciate this season.
“I think the government giving us a new CS who is committed to the creative economy as a primary and important sector to Kenya would be ideal. Someone who can make the sector thrive.”
Because champagne bottles go empty, chocolates go to the hips and, seriously, who needs another diary and—God forbid, a desk calendar?