Freedom means a lot of things to different people. After 37 years in C-suite corridors, the wheel is still turning but the hamster has run away.
The hamster in this case, is Abel Munda, the erstwhile Managing Director of Liberty Life Kenya. Fresh off the boat of retirement, he has never been tired of work, much less of life. He is wearing his age well, with a dash of eccentricity, putting the gold in golden years, said gold which he has to use to buy credit, fuel his car, pay for security—all things he never had to do for the last 30 years.
But Abel has never been the type of man who was defined by what he couldn’t do. There is a reason his name rhymes with able after all.
He’s evolving, spending more of his time with his nine-year-old daughter and catching up on the husband he could have been and drinking coffee at an unnecessarily heavily plant-potted Sipper’s Restaurant in Hurlingham, which is where we meet, he in a sharp polo and searing eye contact, with his fading salt-and-pepper hairline completing the picture.
He speaks like a punchline waiting to land. Sometimes you get the joke, sometimes the joke gets you. There’s something in the casualness of his attire that strikes a contrast between who he was and who he is.
There’s the set-in-his-ways gentleman doing things just so and the Bohemian man in the street who just doesn’t give a damn. Or at least, no damns he can’t handle.
Now, he is looking toward using his retirement to satiate his peripatetic adventures. Building things here. Getting massages there. Doing everything he could when he couldn’t—including waking up in the middle of the day, carefree, to sip coffee, which I suspect, tastes suspiciously like freedom.
Where have the years gone Abel?
Well, let me tell you this, I thought I wouldn’t be busy in my retirement, but I still am.
What are you doing?
I am a hobby farmer and property developer. I love seeing things come together from scratch and of course, earning rental income.
Currently, I am doing a project in Rongo, Migori County, but I am also thinking of doing something in Nairobi where I have some pieces of land. It [building] started as a hobby when I was in employment.
How was the shift from work to retirement?
In the first week, it was difficult, but I got used to it. Being able to sleep without worrying about numbers, human resources and strategies was a luxury I had to get used to. Now I go to bed easily, and it’s quite refreshing.
What’s different now?
I go to the gym when I want to and stay for as long as I want. I have my massage and saunas and then drink tea and coffee and just relax.
I don’t understand how people talk of boredom in retirement. Nothing has changed; I still go to the house at 7 PM or 8 PM.
Do you ever miss the office?
No, I made peace with that. When I was consulting some of my retired friends, they told me not to set foot in that office for six months, haha!
But very rarely have I gotten in touch with my former colleagues. That was to create this detachment. That was my life for 37 years! Can you imagine?
What’s the best part about retirement?
The flexibility to do what I want when I want. And not having to constantly worry and think about how to handle situations. It [retirement] just frees you.
The relief is welcome, ask any recently retired MD. I manage my flexibility throughout the day. I can play more golf with Steve [Okeyo]- Group CEO of Hospital Holdings Investments – and my other friends, without thinking of the office.
When you play golf you need absolute freedom, not thinking about when your boss will call. I also spend more time with my family.
I have a nine-year-old daughter, and she is 11 years younger than the sibling she replaced as the lastborn. She is a welcome gift from God, especially as I had promised to spend a little more time with her.
Do you do special things together?
Golf! I need to find more time to take her to practice. But I also read her storybooks. We also play together, even if it is football. She hates it when I go home late, and she will wait up.
Is fatherhood different now than when you were much younger?
Of course, it’s different. The way we are parenting her is informed by all the experience from the four other children, who accuse us of being soft on her. But I tell them it is experience [chuckles].
When we were young parents, we didn’t know the proper boundaries. Now we do, haha! We’ve also managed to vacation together. Initially, I had to be very deliberate about when and where.
Talking of fatherhood, for the longest while I have wanted to play a guitar. But my father, a staunch SDA faithful, would hear none of that. He was so set against it that he destroyed the guitar I bought in Form Two. Now, I’m learning to play.
How’s the guitar journey coming along?
I am starting my lessons this month.
Seems like you have a lot on this retirement plate?
The interesting thing, Eddy is I have another job offer, which I am going to take, effective tomorrow [September 1].
I came to the decision after discussions and consultations with friends and family. It was apparent that I was still bubbling with energy, haha! But unlike my previous station, I will just have 11 people reporting to me. I will give it five years, and then retire permanently, haha!
Are you doing anything special with your other children?
Well, they are mostly in universities abroad, but now that they are here, we recently went to the [Maasai] Mara. But they don’t like going to shags [rural home], haha! Aki if my mother was still alive, I would camp there. They complain that they don’t have friends there. Children!
Do you have friends in shags?
I go to visit my brothers and to look at my small investments and savour home. It’s a nice environment. Sometimes I wonder if I can settle there. It’s such a big shift. We discussed it with my wife and agreed that it would be difficult.
We can visit for two weeks, but outright relocation? Ngumu [it’s tough], haha! Even our friends are in Nairobi. My brother expected that when I retired I would go home. I told him everything I do is here. I have a house here, all the recreation I do is here.
Are you in a “support” group for retired people?
No. I wanted this six months ago just to find my level. I didn’t know what it was, and I have so much experience now, and I have the ability to fend for myself and do my own things.
One must always be alive to the fact that those perks that you enjoy [while in employment], will one day go. The moment I left as an MD, my phone, fuel, a driver, car maintenance, and security—all those were catered for by the company.
Nowadays I am on the phone and it just goes ta! The credit is out. Bwana, that phone thing is messing me up. Imagine, for over 30 years, I had not fuelled my car.
Now I wait until the tank is almost next to empty, but back then, half a tank, the drivers would go to fuel. I am also getting used to navigating town alone, haha!
What was your nickname growing up?
My mother called me Apiche from my second name ‘Apiyo’. If you call me Apiyo I will know where you are from, haha!
What remains unchanged about you since childhood?
Good question. I am an amiable person; I have always been easy to talk to. I kind of sometimes want to avoid conflicts, and my previous boss used to talk to me about that.
If a conflict is avoidable, I will avoid it. I think it comes from the fact that I am an introvert. I draw my energy by being alone, and then I can go and expend the energy on people.
What’s the secret to life?
Being true to yourself. Treat people the way you want them to treat you. There is a verse in the Bible that reads, “Whatever job you are doing, do it like you are doing for God” [Colossians 3:23].
Honour your responsibilities and whether people are seeing or not, it will eventually bring out who you are. Having the mentality of abundance is often critical. Don’t think that it’s because I have that you don’t have. No.
We all have enough time to be rich, but the question is how we go about it. It is important to be continuously improving, where you were last year should not be where you are this year.
You also need a good circle of friends. And spirituality, that there is a bigger being, that we are inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. It keeps you humble.
What’s a special treat that you do just for you?
My me-time. It can take five hours, even more. I work out, have a massage, do sauna, and then spend some time with friends chatting about useless stuff. Then we laugh and laugh and go to bed.
Have you figured life out?
It is a learning process. You always have to be attentive to the situation at hand. The older I get, the wiser I become.
I can read situations and people from afar. I used to laugh when my staff used to tender their resignations because I already knew [chuckles].
Is there something that used to bother you that now doesn’t?
Before I was married, the issue of courtship and wanting to get beautiful ladies. There was this unstated competition, but I never got the beautiful ladies.
It motivated me to work harder because I knew if I made it in life, they would come, haha! The bad boys got all the beautiful girls I also wanted, haha! Those are things that are no longer a factor now.
Going out doesn’t really excite me. After some age, you stop seeing the adventures and start seeing the risks. I stopped doing that. Parenthood has also shaped me a lot, fatherhood is quite something, and this is my child.
How has your relationship with money changed?
I don’t have a good relationship with it, haha! I am an impulse buyer. Whenever I end up in a mall, I am likely to buy something I hadn’t planned.
I also don’t like to have money, because I am quite generous with it. But when I don’t have it, I don’t have it [chuckles].
So, I try not to have any money by investing it somewhere. Once I sort the clubs, pay the fees, and buy food, I invest the rest in my real estate.
If you were to give me Sh100 million now, I won’t go crazy. I am used to it by now. My wife says I don’t know how to ask for money from my debtors. Maybe it’s a good thing.
For them yes! What’s the dumbest thing you’ve spent money on?
Haha, many! I have bought so many shoes I don’t wear. And shirts. Sometimes I buy them and my wife says I know you will never wear that thing. She is usually right. But now I have limited cash flow, so I will manage it well.
How many pairs so far?
Fifteen. But I plan to give away 10 pairs. Sometimes I don’t even realise I have new ones; I just see them on the shoe rack.
What is an unusual habit or absurd thing that you love?
I love jazz music. In my quiet moments, I listen to jazz and blues, B.B. King, and the like. But it’s just for me. Otherwise, I am a Lingala person.
Can you dance?
Oh, seriously. I was the life of the party. Ask around, haha!
Do you play any instruments?
The guitar I am learning. I had learned how to play the piano but I forgot the notes. Maybe I should go back. Have I told you I love travelling?
I was recently in Mauritius. I planned to visit other parts of the world in my retirement. It is one of my serious hobbies.
What is one country that has stayed with you from your travels?
South Africa. Cape Town was especially really nice. We went to the jazz festival with my wife, then went to the Table Mountains. My travel bucket list includes Egypt, Israel, Asia, and South America, particularly Columbia.
I see a lot of people who look like us and I wonder how it is to be them. But they are also quite musical and I want that to rub off on me.
Are you a planner or are you spontaneous?
I have learned to be less spontaneous. For local travels, I’d wake up and hit the road. Now I plan a lot more. I try very much to involve my wife in the planning as well.
What’s the first thing you do in a new place?
Learn and understand the people. Then head to your tourist attractions.
What’s the best compliment you’ve received?
Hmm, let me think. [Thinks]. They say I am humble and always willing to listen. I keep my word.
What’s something you wish you were better at?
A better husband. Listen to her more, her being my wife. There’s always room for improvement. I wanted to dedicate just more time to her and my family.
What is something you wish you’d have said ever?
There was a guy who was pivotal in my career progression. He was very gracious to me, and he passed on before I could tell him.
Invariably, we all need someone to give us an opportunity. I was never that expressive, and I should have told him, “Ken if it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t be here. “
What does your billboard say about Apiche?
A good guy who has accomplished what he could against all odds. I am the lastborn in my family, and I ended up doing what I could with what I had.
I may look cool and humble, but internally I am very assertive. I am a goal-oriented person.
What is a weekend hack that can make my weekends better?
Take time out in the countryside. It is very refreshing. You can go picnicking and hiking in the mountains. During my younger days, we did that a lot with sporting activities. We’d go to Naivasha, Nakuru, Baringo, Mt Kenya, Namanga and Arusha, just appreciating nature and people.
If you can make it to Lake Victoria, boating and fishing are some of the things I recommend. Let me tell you a secret. We are trying to develop a resort in Homa Bay County with some of my friends.
We expect it to come to fruition within the next two years. We’d love additional investors but have already done a lot to acquire land. This will be a one-of-a-kind.
All the best. Are you happy?
All through. I have had a fantastic career progression. In my entire career, I have been interviewed only twice. The rest have been promotions. How lucky can one get? But you make yourself happy.
The world is full of atrocities, if you can try and make your ecosystem and the people in it happy, you shall be just okay. Your happiness is derived from yourself. It is from the inside.
Who do you know that I should know?
I know several people but I am not sure they will be willing to give you an interview, haha! I know Sammy Onyango and he is such a fine gentleman.
And Charles Ogalo who is also retired and even more reserved. They are both retired and immensely enjoying their retirements.
And Joseph Chungu. He has really kept himself well, he must be in his mid-60s but when you look at him, he looks like a freshly minted 50-something-year-old. Or maybe some people just have good genes haha!
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