The story of Robert Muthee is both sad and inspiring. He narrated how his life changed from making up to Sh1 million in a month to hawking masks in Thika Town.
From Millionaire to Hawker - How Muthee is rebuilding his life from scratch
Grace to grass.
In a recent interview with The Standard, Muthee said he started out as a casual labourer at Bidco before he left in 1998 to start his business as a freelance photographer.
His business picked very fast and soon enough clients from all over the came calling. He would shoot for presidential occasions, businessmen and CEOs who paid very well such that he was able to buy Sh2 million worth of equipment and his first car in 2002.
“The services started from Sh25,000 to Sh150,000 depending on the time and what the client wanted. On a bad month, I was getting Sh250,000 and on a good month I would get up to one million,” Muthee explained.
Most of his work came through referrals from happy clients who would recommend his services to friends.
“I remember one time I was booked for 5-days to shoot a wedding in Mombasa and the client catered for everything including flights,” Muthee recalled.
The photographer’s successful business came to stand still after the Covid-19 pandemic began.
Things started going downhill when one of his friends who was a shylock offered Muthee a Sh200,000 loan that he didn’t need. During the interview, he said that seeing the money in cash convinced him to take the loan and expand his business.
“I had accessories worth Sh2 million, a new car, and a good business I had established without any debts. One day a shylock who was a friend came to my office with Sh200,000 and started counting it as I was editing videos. I don’t know what got to him and he offered me the money which I was supposed to repay as Sh240,000.
“My problems began when I took the money. I thought I could expand my business and get more money to pay back. I bought printers, more video accessories and photopaper,” Muthee recalled.
When the loan was due, he had been left with Sh180,000 which he decided to return to the shylock who then demanded the Sh20,000 balance and Sh40,000 interest.
“The shylock said that he would consider the Sh60,000 balance as another loan, and gave me another month to pay with an interest of Sh12,000 on top.”
Muthee started sensing danger and decided to sell his car. He also took a loan of Sh100,000 from a different shylock to repay the earlier debt before finding a buyer for the vehicle. When it was finally sold, Muthee paid all his debts.
One of the companies that booked him started noticing that he would take a lot more time to arrive for work and decided to finance his car which he paid for through his work.
Muthee would again fall into financial troubles and sold the vehicle. The same company helped finance another car which he eventually sold due to the debt cycle that had consumed him.
“That debt cycle accumulated a lot of money, almost Sh4 million. Two of my banks gave me credit cards, one with a Sh250,000 limit and the other with a Sh100,000 limit.
“In a month I could spend Sh350,000 which was not my money. Credit cards attract high interest rates when you fall behind the payment schedule so I started to borrow money from friends and family to repay,” Muthee narrated.
One of his creditors even pulled a knife on him one day and marched him to an ATM where he was supposed to withdraw money and pay it back. Unfortunately, the ATM card was ‘swallowed’ by the machine.
Muthee thought about how to get back on his feet because his photography business was affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and settled for washing cars in his neighbourhood.
“The popular slogan which says ‘Salimia watu pesa huisha’ became very real to me. Sometimes when you have the money you think you’ll have it all your life,” he said.
After washing cars for a while, Muthee turned to hawking masks in Thika Town where sometimes he overhears people talking in the streets that he was doing very well but now he is struggling.
“Do not be afraid to start small because God will bless it. I took the step because I know this is not the end. I also plan to do something else because the pandemic will end.
“My mask hawking business has now helped me foot more than Sh1 million debt and at the same time, I’m doing my own things,” Muthee concluded.
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