By Mukurima Muriuki, Los Angeles
In 2018, Bob Mwiti held the distinct honor from the Kenyan American Community as one of the most inspiring Kenyan men in America. Originally from Meru country, he now resides in Tampa, Florida where he runs his own organization, Appstec America, a consulting firm that helps African immigrants find graduate studies and IT job opportunities that are abundant in the USA. Because he was born to teenage parents, he became very close to his grandparents who raised him as one of their own.
Like most Kenyans, Mwiti is a hard worker who strives for excellence. When he arrived in the US in 2009, he promised himself that as soon as he had an income, he would fly his grandfather to America. He delivered on that promise and has been generous enough with his time to give African Warrior Magazine a peek into his amazing life in the diaspora.
“First, I would like to sincerely thank the Kenyan community in the US for recognition as one of the most inspiring Kenyan men in America. I think this was my first ever recognition in the diaspora, and it was a great feeling to know that my community had noticed what I started a few years before,” Mwiti said. He commented that this validation of his earlier investment gave him the motivation to work harder than ever before.
As previously mentioned, Mwiti grew up in Meru country with his grandparents. “My grandparents were like my parents, and it took some time for me to even know they were not my biological parents. This is because no one really told me, and because I was always treated like the last born in the family,” he explained. His grandparents were “typical village folks.” They did not have many earthly possessions, but he felt like he never lacked parental love.
Mwiti’s early life, like that of most children in Kenya, consisted of attending school and helping at home. Mwiti excelled in school and attended the local village public primary school known as Gikumene, where he graduated at the top of his class in the 1997 KCPE. For his secondary education, he was admitted to Nairobi school. Unfortunately, his grandparents could not raise an equivalent of 500 US dollars for him to attend the school of his choice. Growing up, his dream was to go to Nairobi and leave village life. In fact, when he was choosing his high school prior to sitting for KCPE, he intentionally chose Nairobi school not only because it was a national school that he had a chance of joining based on his performances in class 8, but more importantly because it was located in Nairobi. He lamented, “The name Nairobi school sounded enchanting to me. It was so devastating to me after I missed out due to lack of school fees!”
Although he did not attend Nairobi school, Mwiti was admitted to Nkubu high school which he said was an equally good school located in Meru country. At this school, he took his KCSE in 2001 and scored a B+ mean grade which enabled him to attend The University Of Nairobi for a BS in mathematics.
After the disappointment of formerly being unable to go to high school in Nairobi, as providence would have it, Mwiti was given another chance four years later. He was presented with an opportunity to choose his degree of study prior to sitting for KCSE. “Again, I chose anything that had Nairobi on it!…and that is how I ended up getting admission at The University Of Nairobi-Chiromo campus. After joining UON, I stayed there for less than 6 months before switching to Strathmore University where I graduated with an Accounting & Finance degree in 2008,” he said.
Growing up in the village, he never really thought of coming to America. However, providence intervened again, and his biological father contacted him. His father was living in the UK at the time and approached Mwiti about going abroad. He initially tried to travel to the UK, but his visa application was denied four times. Next, he decided to try the US for his Master’s program, and he was awarded the visa in 2009. His destination was as an international student studying for an MBA at the Indiana University Of Pennsylvania – a mid-size university located in a small rural city known as Indiana which lies on the western side of Pennsylvania.
Like most newcomers to America, Mwiti was ready to explore. “The first thing that struck me on day one was the infrastructure. I could not believe how developed the country was. I remember vividly my journey from the airport to my school which was about 2 hours away. It was a breathtaking journey as we passed through western Pennsylvania in our beautiful school bus full of other international students, mostly Asians. It was surreal!” he explained.
Although he enjoyed the beauty of the US, he did not like the price tags that came with the commodities. “In my head, I used to convert the currency into Kenyan shilling every time I made a purchase, and I would go nuts. It is because of how expensive things were that I decided to buy my own hair clipper during my first semester and started cutting my own hair, which I have continued to do up to this day!” he exclaimed.
When asked about his company’s education airlift program and its comparison to the Tom Mboyas Airlift of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s that sponsored Kenyan students to various universities in America, Mwiti explained that when he and his business partner Hon DMK Kiogora (MCA, Abogeta-West ward) started the initiative, they drew inspiration from the Mboya’s airlift, and that is why they had named it “The Kenya Airlift Program”. He added that as much as the program is compared to the Mboya one, he is trying to solve something significantly different from what Mboya was solving in those days:
“I know most people see the program as an initiative to bring brilliant Kenyans to study for an IT Master’s degrees abroad, but what we are really trying to solve is a bigger issue that has affected a lot of Kenyans who have tried to come to America as international students,” he said. His belief is that most Kenyan students who are able to study in the US face many difficulties when transitioning from being a student to working in corporate America. So, apart from sourcing for student’s tuition funding in terms of graduate assistantship awards and unsecured international student loans, his company is trying to build a movement of brilliant Kenyans in America who they can train on cutting edge IT job skills as they pursue their IT Master’s degrees.
The reasoning is that this would help the students acquire good jobs in the IT sector once they have completed their studies. “We want to hold their hand and help them figure out how to get immigration papers through employment as well, since that is also one of the major problems that Kenyans in the Diaspora face,” Mwiti explained. Mwiti, lives in Tampa city, Florida. When he made it to Florida, he almost immediately knew he wanted to stay. He has lived there for about 7 years and after living in Pennsylvania, Kansas, California, and Texas, he said that he fell in love with the “sunshine state.” “I would highly encourage new immigrants to try Florida. One big benefit of living here is that we do not pay state income tax, so that should be a big luring bait!” he exclaimed.
When asked about his grandfather and his trip to America, Mwiti explained it further. “Once I became an IT consultant in 2012, I managed to achieve the first promise I had made to myself, and that was to build a nice home for him. In 2015, I tried to get him a visa to the USA but unfortunately, he was denied. In 2017 when my spouse and I visited Kenya, we decided to try to get him a visa to accompany us back to the USA. I took him to the embassy, and I took his visa interview, and voilà! We got it! It was exciting for him to finally get on a plane and fly abroad for the first time in 80 years of his life! As they say, It is never too late, and every dog has its day,” he recalled.
America was an amazing experience for his grandfather. He was shocked that there were no people jaywalking all over the roads like in Kenya and that there were no boda bodas in America. “Every time we drove him around, he would ask, ‘Au Mbobu naja nyinge kwi bonda?’ Loosely translated as: Bob, you want to tell me that this place has no boda bodas?’”
The highlight of his grandfather’s trip was his visit to the White House! Mwiti said that he became an instant village celebrity when he got back to Menga Village – a sleepy village on the eastern slopes of Mount Kenya near Meru town. “I was happy I was able to accomplish the promise that I made to myself when I left my motherland. We had really good times with him and we miss him a lot, especially the care he took for our flower beds and the yard,” Mwiti recalled.
Although his grandfather was initially overly excited about the trip, he soon became bored and wanted to go home after only 3 weeks, however, they managed to convince him to stay. “It was the longest 6 months of his life! I think he would love to come back though, but for just a few weeks,” Mwiti said.
When thinking about fellow Kenyans and their opportunities in America, Mwiti has this advice. “America is a land of opportunities, and I would highly encourage anybody interested to try. Having said that, I also believe there are opportunities back in Kenya too. If one is unable to make it to the USA, it is not the end of their dreams. Believe in your abilities and you can make it anywhere in the world,” he said. “Migrating to America can be very tough. An extremely high number of Africans get denied visas, especially those interested in relocating on non-immigrant visas like a visit, or student visas. Also, quite a number get visa denials for the Diversity Visa (green card lottery) too. Just getting picked in a green card lottery does not guarantee a diversity visa. However, if you are really interested, keep trying. Having said that, for those that want to come on a non-immigrant visa, I think the student visa is the “easiest” route, especially if you are coming for your Master’s,” he suggested. Mwiti believes that it is better to come for graduate studies in the USA instead of undergraduate. His reasoning is that education is extremely expensive in the USA. “Four years of undergraduate education can be very costly unless one has a family with deep pockets. Also, coming for graduate studies after one has tasted the hustle life a little bit back home would make one more prepared for the challenges that lay ahead in the USA,” he said.
Although family life is more fast-paced in America than in Kenya, Mwiti believes that one must do the best that he can when in a new environment. “The fast life in America can be incredibly challenging. Back home everybody is used to working during the day, but in America, you may find that everyone in the family works different shifts and therefore they have no time for each other. That can bring a lot of issues for family and relationships,” he explained.
America is about to hold a general election in November and a key issue for Mwiti is immigration. He feels that Biden has the best interests of immigrants. “Trump administration has tried to shut the DACA program, made tough changes to the H1B visa program, as well as making sweeping changes to the student visas (which has not been passed yet) and his latest executive orders to bar those with work visas until December 2020 was a further indication of how his presidency has targeted immigrants. I hope Biden carries the day!” he exclaimed.
Mwiti is convinced that the lack of support of Kenyans by each other needs immense improvement. “Sorry to say, but we are the most divided immigrant group in this country! I think we need to borrow a leaf from Asians (specifically Indians!) They are doing amazingly well, and it is all because they are very connected to each other,” he said.
Further, he explained that Indian immigrants are the wealthiest in America, and their median household income is about $100,000 USD. “Africans don’t even make something close. I think the median house income of all Americans is roughly 60,000 USD. Africans have been recognized as one of the most highly educated groups of immigrants, but we are not doing well, as compared to our education qualifications. One of the main reasons is because we are not united. We rarely share information about great opportunities,” he said.
Of his personal struggles in America, he remembered how difficult it was for him to find a good job in corporate America. He explained that it was through his own observations of what the Indians were doing that allowed him to pursue the area of technology consulting even though he had no tech education background. He wanted to follow their path.
Lastly, Mwiti wants to leave his fellow Kenyans with some encouragement. “In whatever you do, remember that it takes time to reap the benefits. It is a journey! Also, remember that we all have unlimited potential in us. What you do with your abilities and potential is what will set you on a path to becoming a successful immigrant. Keep your dream alive and never give up,” he said.
To learn more about my organization’s amazing programs, please go to.
www.appstecamerica.com or www.successwithbobmwiti.com
You can also contact me at;
+1 813-573-5619 ext 402