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Jeff Koinange: How Kenya lost Dangote cement to bribery and greed

Famous former CNN Correspondent Kenyan Jeff Koinange has come down hard on corrupt, greedy, bribe-seeking politicians in his country for frustrating Aliko Dangote from setting up a cement factory in Kenya as he has done in most African countries today. 

dangoteKoinange, who for six years was CNN’s West African Correspondent, is one of the global and Nigerian big name personalities sharing their reminiscences and insights for my forthcoming epic book on the African business titan cementing his way throughout the continent and crashing the price of cement everywhere he goes. 

Luckily, Koinange shares with me this belief that a book on Dangote is timely and a must-read for Africans and everybody in the world desiring to achieve success against all odds.   

“I hope he writes a book one day about his life.  He has to pen a book,” Koinange insists.  The star journalist recalls his time in Nigeria:    

“Many have not forgotten the interview I had with Dangote way back,” Koinange says.  “He was very shy.  Very shy.  He didn’t want to do any media at all.  And I chased him for like six months.  I said to him: ‘Look, Alhaji, we are doing a story.’  And he told me: ‘I don’t need a story.  I don’t need publicity.’”

“‘It’s not about publicity,’ I told him.  ‘It’s about people knowing who you are and what you do.  Let me do what I will call A DAY IN A LIFE OF ALIKO DANGOTE.’” 

“And I spent a whole day with him from dawn to dusk, from when he wakes up to pray.  And he does this at 4a.m. every morning.  He prays five times a day.  He finds time to pray.”

Koinange was in Nigeria recently with his wife as one of the numerous VIP guests from all over the world invited by Dangote to attend his daughter’s grand wedding celebrated in Kano, Abuja and Lagos.  Konainge had flown in from Kenya that Friday morning for the lavish Lagos dinner that took place at Eko Hotel.  And like the true reporter that he is, he shares his wedding experience vividly in a series he calls “A Story a Day.”  It is available on YouTube. 

Not just the wedding, he told the dramatic story of Dangote’s rise from a trader to a manufacturer, how a young man in his early twenties borrowed money from his uncle to go into trading forty years ago.

“Fast forward, he stopped importing cement and started building his own cement plants.  And all the money he would make, he would pump back into the economy, building other plants, building a refinery here, doing all these things.  This man supplies half, if not more of Nigeria’s cement needs,” Koinange narrates. 

He also tells the story of Nigeria itself in a narrative, so flattering that you will think Konainge is Nigeria’s newest ambassador laundering our country’s dented image abroad through his platform.  For his nice portrait of Nigeria, this guy should be given national honours. 

While Nigeria scored high on Koinange’s reporting scale, his country Kenya was at the nadir, being named and shamed as a bastion of bribery and corruption where greedy politicians allowed selfish interest to eclipse national interest.     

“Aliko Dangote wanted to establish a plant in Kenya but it was obstructed by the greed of our people.  Greed!!!  And I asked him the other day: ‘Alhaji, when are you coming back to Kenya?’  And he replied: ‘Look, there are people over there who put greed and personal interest ahead of national interest Jeff.  I didn’t think Kenya would be so corrupt more than Nigeria.’  That’s what he said. 

“I hear his cement was about to trade at 200 shillings.  And the other companies would have towed the line.  The monopoly that they enjoyed for decades would have been challenged.   Anyway, that is Aliko Dangote for you.  And he’s got interest in 15 countries across the continent.  When Kenya turned its back on him, you know where he went?  He went up to Ethiopia, built a $1.2 billion plant, reduced the price of cement and as we speak, he is producing and exporting cement.  He is in Zambia, he is in Zimbabwe, he is in DRC.  We missed him here in Kenya because people want too much money, asking for bribes and handouts and all kinds of things.  Ridiculous!  And just imagine having the name Dangote Cement here in Kenya!”

The story goes on and on.  But Koinange’s most unforgettable Dangote moment was on an early morning at Eko Hotel, a day after the wedding dinner: “At about 2.30 am, 3 o’clock, we all go back to our hotel amidst tight security.  We were just chilling and taking it all in.  By 7.30 am, I woke up.  I take a walk downstairs and who do I see down there?  Alhaji Aliko Dangote himself walking Mo Ibrahim to his car. 

Alhaji had woken up and personally he is taking this man outside and opening the door for Mo’s wife and Mo to enter the car and bidding them goodbye.  Seven thirty in the morning.  And I said to him: ‘Alhaji, you are up?’  And he said to me: ‘Jeff, I only sleep three hours a day.’  He goes back to his room.  Ten minutes later, he is back downstairs.  And he is escorting AfDB President (Akinwumi Adesina).  He goes back up, comes back down, he is escorting Patrice Motsepe (South African billionaire mining businessman). 

He did this from 7.30 till about noon.  Going up to his room, the next person is leaving, personally coming downstairs to escort them out.  Have you ever heard anything like that?  That is humility of the highest order.  That is Aliko Dangote for you.  He could have gone and slept and wake up at 2.  But he said to me: ‘These are my friends.  And they came to my daughter’s wedding.  The least I can do is to escort them and say thank you.’  I just said: ‘Alhaji, Alhaji Aliko Dangote.  Na wa for you ooooooo’ as Nigerians would say.”

“We were just there chilling, having a good time in the hotel and later on Alhaji came around to hang out with us and asking us: ‘Did you enjoy yourself?’  Imagine him asking ordinary people like us: ‘Did you enjoy yourself?  Are you being taken care of?’  Who am I? 

“Ah, Nigeria!  What a place!  By the way, they were so concerned about Kenya.  Everybody was asking me about Kenya.  My good friend Baba Obasanjo asked me: ‘How is Kenya now?  Is everything OK?  Did the handshake help?  Are you people moving forward now?  How is the President?  How is Raila Odinga?  Are they getting along?’ 

Everybody was concerned.  Everybody.  The people are genuine, men.  They speak from the heart.  What a place!  What a weekend!  What a time!  And that’s what we call A Story a Day!”

*The full story of the Koinange Nigerian experience is a chapter in my forthcoming book on Dangote—Insider Stories of an African Business Caesar.    

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