NAIROBI, Kenya, Jul 20 – Like most senior citizens in Kenya, Cecelia Wangari, guesstimates her exact age.
Her national identity card reads 1940 as the date of birth, which is about right because she was born during World War 2, or ‘the German – Italian war’ as she calls it.
At 78 years, the great-grandmother of three, known as Shosho (grandma) runs four audio systems shops and service centres in Nairobi’s Eastland area with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
At Shosh Sound Systems, in Kariobangi South, we find Shosho cleaning a car stereo as two of her great-grandsons assemble speakers which will later be delivered to different clients.
The other three shops are managed by her family members including sons, grandsons and their wives, providing employment for 17 people including hired staff.
But Shosho is not just a manager – a role she does very well according to her grandson Samson Kamau – she also gets her hands dirty fixing the radios, handling the finances and keeping customers engaged with customer care skills that corporates only dream of.
“I often pass by to say hi to Shosho even when I am not buying anything,” says Joseph Kinyanjui, who has been Shosho’s customer for over 10 years.
She first shattered the glass-ceiling when she got into the public transport industry in 1980 with her matatu plying the Eastland – Nairobi CBD route.
“When the matatu broke down, I would go to the garage and keenly watch the mechanics fix the problem and within no time I was making the repairs; removing and replacing engines, fixing the cylinder heads, replacing pistons and sumps, and other many other things,” she says.
But after a decade in the matatu industry, and having grown her fleet to three vehicles, Shosho had to leave the public transport business on doctor’s advice due to the stress of managing a struggling business in a sector characterized by harassment from cartels and authorities, frequent vehicle breakdowns and theft by employees.
It is through her grandson, who she sponsored for an electronics course, that she learnt how to repair radios and fix speakers soon after her Matatu business folded.
“I really like it when we work together. No one in my family bothers the local leaders or other people with job requests and I haven’t heard anyone looking for a job elsewhere…even these young ones have learnt how to work and are now earning a living,” says Shosho, referring to 20-year-old twin great-grandsons.
“If we all knew how to work with our hands, we will not have problems in Kenya,” says Shosho, adding that she has been brushing off critics and naysayers who have tried to fix her in gender-specific roles since she was in her 30’s.
“I was once a tout and a driver. I could even drive a trailer and people would laugh or taunt me, but I would just continue with my job,” says the grinning toothless Shosho.
At her age, one would expect she should slow down and enjoy her sunset years, but Shosho is not about to hang the overall workwear, screwdrivers and soldering gun.
“I sleep outside like a trailer,” says a laughing Shosh, when I ask her what time she reports to her shop in the morning. “I sleep behind this shop and my number is (posted) outside so I can attend to a customer at any time, day or night.”
For Shosho, personal responsibility starts at her doorstep; whether it’s securing the future of her lineage by providing job opportunities or ensuring the street where her shops are located are clean.
“The problem with this generation is that everyone talks about ‘My rights’ but no one wants to talk about ‘My responsibility,” says Shosh.