In just about 10 years in a new country thousands of miles from his original Guyana home, Robert Collymore won hearts and minds of millions of Kenyans who mourned his sudden demise this week.
In those remarkable years, he managed the transition in the country’s biggest Telco- Safaricom- and in the process transcended the corporate success of his predecessor.
He established a vast networks of friends who warmed him up and found new love to insulate his last days. In those 10 years, he obtained a new citizenship but also met his end in his new home.
Running Kenya’s first Sh1.1 trillion company, Collymore was taking up a task that was until then unique in the public and private sector alike.
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He championed transparency in corporate governance and did that by example, becoming the first CEO in Kenya to declare his wealth alongside KCB Group CEO Joshua Oigara in 2015 urging other captains of industry to do the same. They did not.
Collymore published his net worth which stood at Sh277.3 million in cash and assets. He said he earned Sh9 million every month and an accumulated earnings of Sh109.5 million in the last 12 months including interests and dividends.
“I am optimistic about Kenya and its future,” he said at the time. “I am optimistic that the fight against corruption will be won. This is the reason why as an individual, and as the private sector, we have taken the first step of declaring assets.”
And it was not just rhetoric. Collymore actually made good his threat and withdrew Safaricom’s sponsorship of the Kenya Rugby Sevens tournament after allegations of corruption beset the Kenya Rugby Union (KRU).
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“Over the years we have closely monitored events at the union and highlighted our growing concerns with the lack of transparency and accountability of certain members of the board whose actions have brought the game into disrepute: a situation which jeopardises the Safaricom brand and which makes our continued sponsorship impossible,” he stated in a letter to KRU chairman.
His anti-corruption crusade did not spare his own company and each year in its Sustainability Reports, Safaricom detailed the number of employees dismissed over fraud and the company later hired KPMG to do an in-depth audit on 23 questionable tenders awarded between September 2013 and August 2015.
He extended the crusade for transparent corporate governance to the wider private sector and through the Kenya Private Sector Alliance, (Kepsa) pushed for the development of the privately sponsored Bribery Bill that was later handed to the President. The Bill seeks to pursue private sector players who engage in corruption with the national and county government. “The protagonists in this new story of corruption are the private sector, who are contributing to as much as 70 per cent of the fraud taking place in the continent,” Collymore said.
Collymore was interred on Wednesday at a private ceremony but one that was followed by hundreds of people in Kenya and elsewhere.
While the Hindu Shamshan Bhumi Kariokor Crematorium could only hold so many people and perhaps the reason why just close friends and family were let in, the online platforms whose usage Collymore helped deepen when he took over as Safaricom chief executive enabled many the proceedings.
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Kenyans were able to view the videos that people from all walks of life took and posted on social media platforms as the motorcade escorting Collymore’s body made its way to the crematorium.
And though the cost of data bundles might seem like a mundane issue given the sombre mood that engulfed the industry following the man’s death, the low cost of data relative to what it was in 2010 also gave the common Kenyan a way to express their feelings, with the social media bursting with different messages throughout this week.
They poured out their hearts in an overwhelming way. It was in such a manner that might be unlikely for any other corporate Kenyan figure and even politicians.
The attention Collymore got also speaks to his nature. He reported to work in 2010 and instead of sticking to his job, as many expatriates would do, he immersed himself in Kenya. The problems that Kenyans experienced became his.
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He would have probably given his fight against cancer a bigger shove had he gotten more time to work with the National Cancer Institute, where in May he was appointed to serve in the board.
This is perhaps why Kenyans, though on many instances accused his network of unfairly gobbling up their bundles and airtime, ‘came out’ online in droves to send off the man.
On Monday, Michael Joseph eulogised him as one who came to understand both the company he was working for and the community within which he found himself in and made the best of both.
“I think we all experienced Bob – his largeness, his enthusiasm, his affinity with people and that is what has driven this company. We should celebrate the life of Bob, the achievements he had at Safaricom, which he did in a big, humane and open way,” he said.
[Frankline Sunday, Macharia Kamau and Jackline Mahugu]
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