Picture this: Upon completion of school and professional training, you are propelled to a career path that allows you to rub shoulders with the high and the mighty. You have your whole life figured out and things seem to fall in to place so seamlessly. Imagine an opportunity to directly or indirectly work with or for a President, or taking up assignments that make you cross paths with them.
This is an ideal life, an ideal career, and a dream for many. At this point, you have climbed the financial and career ladders. You work so selflessly, make money with ease and lead a satisfying life.
Then one day, just as you are going about your daily routine, the heavens come collapsing on your shoulders. The silver lining on your platter is taken off. Your career comes tumbling down, your financial fortunes quickly dwindle, and a dark cloud hangs over your head. You fall into financial depression, your life is animated with sprawling debts and comes down clashing like a house of cards.
At this point, you will have to make a decision. A decision on whether to remain at your lowest, or a decision to pick up the pieces and start all over again. This is the case and the story of Robert Muthee.
From being a regular photographer of presidential events to rubbing shoulders with billionaires, Muthee had it all, he had reached the pinnacle, the apex of his career. However, today, Muthee can only narrate his story in what can be described as a fictional characterisation, from his make-shift stall where he sells face masks on the streets of Thika Town in Kiambu County in kenya.
Muthee, who owned a thriving photography business in Thika Town, can only reminisce on his heydays glory. The once flourishing business is now a pale shadow of its former self.
He, however, says that he had to make a decision, a decision that is not popular with many people.
“Before I started selling masks, I was in the photography business. I worked with many dignitaries including Kenya’s three Presidents,” he begins his narration.
Muthee, a man who started taking photos in the year 1994 as a casual labourer, narrates that he delved into photography as a career in 1998 and opened his studio in 2002, a move that saw him work with the who-is-who in the corporate world.
“I have worked with very many big people in the industry. I have worked with industrial giants and billionaires like Manu Chandaria and Vimal Shah of Bidco,” narrates Muthee.
The one-time revered photographer turned mask seller, says that despite the calibre of his client, he charged the same rate for all his services.
Running his company, Muthee Media International, clients came calling, seeking the services of this popular and talented photographer, and owing to the quality of his work, the clients became regulars and sent referrals his way.
Despite his rate of Ksh25,000 per hour for both photography and videography, business was booming and he was always fully booked, making a minimum of a quarter a million.
“On a bad month, I was getting like Ksh250,000. On a good month, I would make up to Ksh1 million,” he recalled.
At his peak, Muthee narrates that he expanded his studio and lived a lavish lifestyle, owning equipment valued at over Ksh2 million and a brand new car at the time.
However, right at the peak of his career, a visit from a friend, who operated a pawn shop at a different location, would change his life completely.
“I had a good job and did not owe anyone any money. But it all changed the day my friend, who is a shylock, walked into my office with Ksh200,000 in cash.”
Muthee, who was then editing a video clip on is computer, could not help but notice how his friend was counting the money. Upon noticing his stare, the friend asked the bewildered Muthee on whether he would need the money. Convinced, he accepted the offer without a second thought. Little did he know that this would mark the beginning of his financial tribulations.
“He offered me the money and told me to return it at the end of the month. I saw it as a deal and took it,” he stated.
Muthee used the money to buy more accessories for his business, hoping that he would return it by end of the month as agreed. However, when the time came, he only had Ksh180,000.
His friend stated that the remainder had to be paid as a new loan. Noticing that something was not right, he took another loan of Ksh100,000 from yet another shylock to fund the deficit.
At this point, he put up his car on sale and when a seller came calling, he used the proceeds of the sale to settle his debts. This was the beginning of his debt-ridden life.
The borrowing grew to an addiction. All the banks he held accounts with offered him loans and credit cards which allowed him to access in upwards of Ksh350,000.
At one point, he went to the extent of taking vehicles on credit from one of his regular clients who was then in the car business. The dealer would make monthly deductions from the payments of the work Muthee did for him. In the process of accumulating debts, Muthee lost most of his friends, going to an extent of receiving threats from one of them.
“He (his friend) lied to me that we would go to the police station and negotiate a repayment plan there, but when I got into his car, he drew a knife and demanded I pay the Ksh25,000 I owed him,” recalls Muthee.
By the time it dawned on him how deep he had sunk into debts, Muthee had accrued credits of over Ksh4 million. At this point, he could not seek help even from friends and no financial institution would come to his rescue.
With determination and having made a decision, Muthee swallowed his pride and got a job to wash vehicles at a car wash owned by one of his then friends. For every unit he washed, he would be paid a paltry Ksh50.
Despite the job humiliating him, he persevered for several months and when the Covid-19 pandemic came sweeping through the world, a business opportunity crossed his mind, and that was the beginning of his own venture.
Muthee strolled to the streets of Thika Town, sought a space, and with the little he had, he set up a roadside kiosk where he started his current business of selling face masks.
Through the mask business, he narrates, he has been able to offset some of his debts. He, however, regrets not having thought twice before taking up that very first loan from his friend.