I don’t have many people I would call my close friends. However, Bob ‘Kihara’ Collymore — I named him Kihara for his obvious baldness — was one of my close friends.
We met in a funny way. He had accompanied then Safaricom CEO Michael Joseph to one of my ‘Bench’ interviews back in 2009. I actually thought he was one of Michael’s bodyguards and even told MJ how he had ‘upped’ his game by now having what looked like ‘foreign bodyguards’.
Michael laughed and made a comment that I can’t repeat in public. But seeing the ‘body guard’ taking a seat while MJ and I took to the Bench, I asked the waiter at the restaurant to get him a coffee and whatever he needed while he waited. After the interview (30-minutes later), MJ now decided it was time for introductions.
“Jeff, meet Bob Collymore. He works for Vodacom down in South Africa and he’s here for a few days.” We made our acquaintances and they departed soon after.
I didn’t think much of it until a few weeks later when MJ, in a press conference, was about to reveal the man who would succeed him as CEO of East and Central Africa’s biggest telco. And lo and behold, there stood the ‘bodyguard’ right next to him and then the announcement.
My jaw dropped and the only thing I could say was thank goodness I had ordered that coffee for him back then
Bob and I would become instant friends. The fact that we were born six days and eight years apart (I’m a January 7 baby, his was a January 13 one) made our bond even stronger. We shared many similarities but he was light-years ahead of me when it came to his humanity and his humility.
His passion for the poor and downtrodden, his compassion for victims of various violent crimes, his devotion to his job and later the M-Pesa Foundation — which was his and MJ’s brainchild — showed that he was out to put his money where his mouth was.
And when it came to his job and his role, he did that with diligence and devotion. He knew he had huge shoes to fill and he wasn’t coy about it.
“I can never wear Michael’s shoes,” he once said. “I’m going to wear my own shoes.” And he did, transforming Safaricom One-Point-Oh to what he called Two-Point-Oh and taking it to greater heights than many of his critics would ever have imagined.
But to us (we would meet regularly as a group of five to seven friends), he was just Bob or Kihara or just plain BC. He loved his jazz music, openly scowled at my love for country music (this, I’ll never know why) and he never failed to listen and more so speak his mind.
He was full of life when surrounded by children, always making time to listen to them no matter their ages. Bob lived life to the fullest and dedicated his life first to family and then his profession.
Bob travelled widely, dined with kings and princes, presidents and high level executives and then he’d come home and ride in matatus with Juliani to visit the poor in slums like Huruma and Mathare, Mukuru and Majengo.
Bob was the ultimate people person. He must have taken a million selfies in the streets of many capitals, always accommodating, always smiling that broad smile of his.
Two days before he died, our group went to his house to hang out with him. As usual, that broad smile greeted us at the door. He was in pain. We could see that. He said his spine was ‘killing’ him but he walked us in, his back straight as a rod. We sat down and me being the youngest served everyone with drinks. Bob’s wife, Wambui, brought him some herbal tea. He talked and talked.
“I’ve lived a great life, gents,” he said, “I’ve made mistakes but I rectified them. That’s what you guys have to do. Rectify your mistakes otherwise you will have learnt nothing from life.
“Thanks for being there for me. You guys are my real friends.” We sat there and listened and none of us spoke. Occasionally he would get up and stretch his back.
“My spine hurts like hell,” he said. One of us asked him if he wanted a pain killer. He refused. Bob was like that. A fighter to the very end.
Two hours later we decided to leave him so he could get some rest. He got up on his painful back and walked us all to the door. “See you in a few days, BC,” we said. That was the last time we saw him. That was my last memory of Kihara…
Rest with the Angels, my friend. So long for now and we’ll see you when we get there.