Thank You, Bob Collymore, For Opening Doors For So Many Creatives Out Here

Edward Parseen, Wambui Kamiru Collymore, Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore and Jacob Asiyo, pose for a photo during the launch of the New Safaricom Logo at Uhuru Gardens Nairobi in June 2017. Photo courtesy of Safaricom.

In the second half of 2014, a 24-year-old guy had just stepped out of law school. Finally, he had finished school, awaiting graduation in December. It did not feel like he had always imagined finishing school would feel like. He wasn’t ecstatic or overjoyed. Not the way he felt like when he finished high school. If anything, leaving campus was more sad than happy, because it is in this university that he had found his passion. It was definitely not law.


That guy is me.

Like everyone else at The University of Nairobi School of Law, class of 2014, I wanted to be a lawyer when I joined. The prestige of it trumped all reason. We started calling each other learned friends when we were neither friends nor learned.

 Then as the years went by, I found another interest in writing. A seedling watered by the nods and laughs and ‘wow this great work’ of my classmates who read my blog. By third year, my love for writing had surpassed my love for the law. I was skipping classes to go look for stories by the poolside or pool table in the entertainment room. I was still passing exams though because that has never really been a difficult thing for me to do.

By the end of the 4th year, I knew I was never going to be anything else. I gave away my suits. I no longer wanted to be like Harvey Specter or Allan Shore. I had found new heroes in Oyunga Pala and Jackson Biko.

The world I was walking into was evolving in a pace nobody had expected.  Everything had moved online, and not in that dot com way that our parents had done before us. You could catch the news on Facebook and Twitter and from blogs, long before they hit the 1 pm or 7 pm news. People were making a living off the internet. Bloggers even had an association – Bloggers Association of Kenya (BAKE).

It only made sense that corporates would follow suit. The ones who jumped in earlier than everyone else was Safaricom. They were sponsoring BAKE, disseminating their news using bloggers, launching products online, and engaging in paid partnerships with influencers. Earlier, tweeps and bloggers had a reputation for being rabble-rousers. Causing grief on the government of the day, but now, a paradigm shift was happening.

We’d later find out that a lot of this was because of the leadership at Safaricom, led by their then CEO – Bob Collymore. He had the mind to see and tap into the potential of the internet.

As I graduated from law school, fixated on being a writer, I was armed with nothing but my words and my blog. Three months in, I got a phone call asking me to take part in a project dabbed Capture Kenya. Where five bloggers and five photographers went around the country collecting stories in words and pictures and telling them on our blogs and social media platforms.

We were paid well for it. That is the most important thing. Because not only did Capture Kenya give us the exposure we needed, it also showed us our true worth. Today that is how I make my living – I tell stories in words and pictures.

Perhaps that was Bob’s biggest legacy; showing us what we were worth.

Because what can be said for me is true for others as well. Rayhab Gachango, the founder and editor of Potentash says, “What I liked about Bob was his passion for the creative industry. You could see it in how he interacted with the kids of Ghetto classics and how he generally treated artists of all types. I feel like he treated us bloggers with respect and the respect was returned.”

Safaricom’s Bob Collymore shows Brian Mutwiri from Claire’s Community Center how to play the Sax.

Then there is James Wamathai of Hapa Kenya will tell you fondly of how Bob once called the blogging fraternity and asked them how Safaricom could become better for them. He remembers afterwards how since then, “There was a willingness to listen to us, bloggers. There was inclusion, in the same way, traditional media was included. From press releases to invites to exclusive interviews.” This was important for a blog that has now grown into one of Kenya’s biggest news sites.

By the time Bob died, me and him had never met. Pretty sure he didn’t even know my name or read anything I ever wrote or saw any picture I ever took. We were two ships sailing in the dark. At first, I was quite sad about it, because I wanted him to see what he empowered. But then with time, I realized that he really didn’t need to. He had done his part, and that was enough.

We Kenyans say tenda wema nenda zako. Do good and walk away. Do not expect any congratulations for your good deeds. Well, Robert William Collymore did just that. He did good and then he left us on July 1st 2019. He did not – at any time – ask for gratitude. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t deserve it.

So thank you, Bob.

Safaricom Jazz: Interview with Bob Collymore

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Magunga Williams is a writer based in Nairobi.