I carried Kibaki’s golf clubs for 10 years: Joshua Kimemia

Joshua Kimemia was Kibaki’s caddy for 10 years Photo: Courtesy

After finishing his secondary education in 1990, an energetic, fresh-faced youth from the sprawling Mathari slum was desperately looking for a job. Owing to Joshua Kimemia's disadvantaged background, opportunities were hard to come by until his father asked him to ask his younger brother help him secure a job at the nearby Muthaiga Golf Club. Doubt crowded his mind. Joshua didn't have the faintest idea about golf. He'd only heard about it in passing, but one thing that was certain to him was that it was a sport for the wealthy.

Culture shock

With nothing to lose, the first born in a family of five decided to try out his luck at Muthaiga. But, what he found completely amazed him. Apart from the obvious culture shock owing to how the rich spent their time and money, Joshua was in awe of the immense opulence on display at the club. From the lush green of the fields to the gleaming cars, the then 21-year-old had been thrust into a completely new world. Never mind that the club and Mathari, his home, were only a few hundred metres from each other.

"The job was that of caddy. I'd be assisting the golf players carry their clubs. I stayed there for only two years until I moved to Windsor in 1993," Joshua, 47, explains.

Owing to his hygiene, discipline, good communication and the fact that he had learnt so much about golf in such a short time, Joshua was one of the people chosen to go to Windsor Golf and Country Club as a caddy.

"Many of the caddies were from poor backgrounds and were uneducated. I guess this is why Kibaki chose me. I became his permanent caddy. Back then he was the official opposition leader in Kenya."

Kibaki on the course

According to Joshua, the former president used to play nine holes every day. His lucky stars continued to shine brightly because Mama Ngina Kenyatta started bringing her grandchildren – Jomo, Njaba and Ngina – to the course for golf lessons. He also trained Jimmy Kibaki's children. Due to his now gained prowess, he gained a reputation for assisting and training prominent personalities, diplomats and top politicians.

"One thing of note is that caddies, even today, are not permanent employees of golf clubs. Caddies are many and employing them would be a huge cost to the clubs. They're paid per nine or 18-hole round. For instance, in the 90s, we got Sh50 for nine holes and Sh100 for 18 holes. The sum was meagre and that's why I preferred the high rollers because they were good tippers."

"Assisting a well-off golfer would see get a tip anywhere from Sh150 to Sh200. This was good money back then. The rates today are about Sh500 and Sh1, 000 respectively. In caddy lingo, there's a muchore and mbogo. The former tip well while the latter are a stingy lot," Joshua adds.

Although, as president, Kibaki was caught missing a few tees, Joshua says that not only was he a talented golfer, but also a good tipper. "He could give me in excess of Sh1, 000 every time he came for a round of golf. Kibaki also had a habit of using new balls every time he came to play. I would buy them on his behalf and sell the ones that he'd already used."

Joshua says that Kibaki was a good-hearted individual and was never rude. The two enjoyed each other's company. He also used to make conversation only when the two were alone. Due to the trust that he'd gained from him, Kibaki's security never bothered Joshua.

So, did he ever mention that he was from a poor background? I pres I did. He used to tell me that we should turn up and vote so as to oust the then President Daniel Moi from power."

Deals struck on the course

The only time Kibaki didn't talk to Joshua was when he was playing with his friends.

"His clique was made up of people like Joe Wanjui (a businessman, political advisor and a king maker), Nak Kange'the (a business associate), Solomon Karanja (a former ambassador and business associate). Their discussions revolved around politics and business. If there's one thing golf courses are known for, it's the kind of deals that are struck. During my time there, it was no different because deals worth millions of shillings were struck in my presence. But I remained mum and pretended not to have heard anything. In such instances, our opinions were never sought."

Joshua says that the only time a player seeks a caddy's opinion is on a subject that's golf-related.

The last time he met Kibaki was two weeks before his accident on December 3, 2002. Three weeks later, he was elected president, signaling the end of a decade-long relationship.

Joshua's time as a caddy came to an abrupt end in 2009 after he was involved in a serious accident of his own while coming from Limuru Golf Club. The other occupant was not injured but Joshua was – his shinbone was severely fractured. He was rushed to Kijabe Hospital and asked to deposit Sh40, 000, a sum he didn't have.

"I called the people I knew could afford the money and would help. Patrick Musimba, the then MP for Kibwezi paid the full amount while another person called Dr. Collins paid for my therapy. Not only had I been a caddy for the two, but I had also trained them how to play golf."

Other than that, Joshua, a founding member and national coordinator of the Kenya Caddy Golfers Welfare Association, says caddies don't gain much from rubbing shoulders with the high and mighty.

"Since I started this job, less than 100 people have been employed or directly benefited from carrying golf clubs. When I pointed out the close vicinity of Mathari to Muthaiga Golf Club to a wealthy golfer one day, he said that it wasn't his problem and that as far as he was concerned, the rich would only keep getting richer," a dejected Joshua points out.

Joshua notes that the wealthy like to stick to their own kind.

"They do not like to socialise with other social classes. And they introduce the golf sport to their children. Golf is their 'thing'.

Although he's been a caddy for Manu Chandaria, Jimmy Kibaki, Chirau Mwakere, Amos Kimunya, Samuel Pogishio, the late David Mwiraria, Martin Shikuku and former Portuguese ambassador Ruis Rovaro among others, the father of three now spends time as a member of a Community Based Organization (CBO) called Anti HIV and AIDS and Mathari for Peace. To make money, he organises local golf tournaments and also trains people. He laments the state of the sport of in Kenya.

"In Kenya, golf is viewed more as a recreational than a professional sport. The professionals here have never been serious about golf. That's why the Kenya Open is always won by non-citizens since its inception in the 1960s. Our professionals come to such tournaments ill-prepared because they're too busy engaged in other non-golf related activities. It's also not unusual to find them drinking alcohol."

The sport is regulated by the Kenya Golf Union. An attempt by the union to prohibit caddies from taking part in professional tournaments is said to have been an effort to stop the cases of caddies beating the very people they serve in such tournaments.

At one time, the Professional Golfers of Kenya brought forth strict conditions for caddies. It declared that all caddies must have a high school education and be able to communicate in English.

Surprisingly, most of the well known golfers like Nicholas Rokoine, James Rorum and Ali Kimani were once caddies. According to Joshua, he didn't see the need to turn professional because his heart was and still is in training others and growing the sport locally.

So what can be done? "The government, through the Ministry of Sports, should set aside a kitty to grow the sport especially at the grassroots level. The money would also see local professionals participate in international tournaments. This notion that golf is a sport for the rich is untrue," Joshua advises.

Being a caddy is a serious profession      

A caddy's role is to carry clubs and bags for the golfer while offering moral support.

It's a dog's life for most local caddies, but in countries where golf is taken seriously, caddies are an integral part of golf. A classic example is Steve Williams, a New Zealander who was Tiger Woods caddy from 1999 to 2011.

Other than a psychologist, nutritionist, coach and manager, Williams, 54, was also an important member in Tiger's team as his boss was the number one ranked golfer in much of the caddie's tenure. In this time, Williams was entitled to 10 per cent of all of the former world one's winnings in all the tournaments he featured in.

It's unclear what kind of deal Williams had while he was on Tiger's pay roll, but according to Business Insider, on a 10 per cent cut, Williams would have made just north of US $8.8 million excluding endorsements. Tiger kept on winning and the two later made another deal which saw Williams's salary jump to a 15 per cent cut. It's estimated that he's now worth US$20 million.

As of December 2016, Forbes estimated Tiger Woods, 41, to be worth around US$740 million. His wealth has been accumulated from winnings and endorsements.

Where can I play golf in Kenya?

There are about 50 golf clubs in Kenya. The four most expensive ones are Windsor, Karen, Muthaiga and Limuru.

To become a lifetime member, one has to part with over Sh 800, 000 for Windsor and Karen. Muthaiga charges about Sh 500, 000 while Limuru's membership fee is around Sh350, 000.

"On top of this amount, there's money one has to pay called subs. It's paid on either a monthly or annual basis. The sums range from Sh180, 000 to Sh200, 000, but it varies from club to club. This is the money used to maintain the facilities," Joshua explains.

Windsor is owned by the late powerful minister John Michuki, while the others are owned mostly by a myriad of investors

On the lower side, Kenya Air Force Moi Air Base in Eastleigh charges a lifetime membership fee of Sh50, 000 which can be paid in installments. The subs here are paid after every three months and will set you back Sh6, 000. Ruiru Golf Club also tends to be pocket friendly because the membership fee is only Sh150, 000.

Whether golf is or is not for the deep pocketed, you'll have to judge for yourself.