Building owners in Kenya: When the US President Barack Obama visited Kenya in July, last year, to co-chair the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, one woman was following the proceedings with keen interest.

Having surmounted a lot of hurdles to become an entrepreneur, she hoped the promises made to youth and women made would be fulfilled.

“I followed the US President’s visit with enthusiasm because it focused on mainly empowerment of women and youth, which is my pet subject,” says Margaret Mmuka. She says the message resonated well with her because she understands that capital is the biggest handicap aspiring entrepreneurs, especially women face.

Mmuka owns Khayega Trading Complex along the Kakamega-Kisumu road, in Kakamega county.  Margaret or simply Maggy as she is popularly known is regarded as one of the leading women entrepreneurs in Western Kenya. She runs businesses ranging from a supermarket, hardware shops, hotel, bars and restaurant.

She owns several  buildings at Khayega market. She is also into farming and real estate.  She owns buildings at Khayega market and is putting up a new trading centre at Museno along the Kakamega-Kisumu highway, about four kilometres from Khayega.

“Many people think it all came easy, but it was a journey with many hurdles,” she says. Born in a community that still frowns upon women in business and politics, she got her greatest inspiration and support from her husband and father-in-law, who run a retail shop.

“I got married in 1995 and I told my husband, Vincent that my greatest desire would be to become a business woman. My father in-law was already running some businesses and he granted my wish and mentored me,” says Mmuka.

He gave her Sh50,000 and she started off by selling and brokering cement at construction sites.

After one year, she set up a hardware shop at Khayega market. Upon his death several months later, she and her husband inherited the old man’s business worth Sh1 million.

Now, the businesses are worth Sh10 million. She says although she cannot estimate her net worth at the moment, but she has ‘several millions’. She has also ventured into the construction and real estate.

“I took a diploma in Control and Management of HIV and Aids at Kenyatta University. However, I wanted to do business. I was ridiculed for being ‘well read’ and choosing to become a ‘mama mboga’. I ignored my detractors and that is how I built what I have today,” she says.

As her business tentacles grow, Mmuka has now embarked on a programme to mentor and support women who are now doing small-scale businesses at Khayega, Museno, Ilala, Shihuli, Shitochi, Sigalagala and other market centres.  “I know what a woman can do with Sh100.

We are starting small, but being their role model and mentor, I keep monitoring and guiding them to succeed so that they can eventually succeed like me,” she says.

Despite the help, she says some women are not enthusiastic about improving their businesses.   “Some of my fellow women are yet to accept that they can succeed in business. But this is fast changing,” says the 46-year-old mother of six.

She hopes to join politics in the next elections and vie to become the Member of County Assembly for Isukha South. Some of her children are also following her entrepreneurial footsteps with the firstborn already incorporated in her business while the second-born runs a restaurant in Nairobi.

Both have completed university.   The third-born has however opted to study law and has already completed her pupilage only awaiting admission to the Bar.

Another is a third-year student at the University of Nairobi, the fifth is in Form One at Sunshine Secondary while the lastborn is in Standard Six at Booker Academy in Mumias.

First published here