The Unwritten With: MUSALIA MWENESI – ON HITTING ROCK BOTTOM & BOUNCING BACK UP

Musalia Mwenesi and I schedule to meet on a Wednesday, 3pm, at the Villa Rosa Kempinski’s Balcony Bar.

On the day, Mwenesi, as he is more fondly referred,  sends me a text saying he’ll be arriving slightly late.

When he finally arrives, Mwenesi, in his tall, striking, frame, gives me a firm handshake, a warm smile and a heart-felt apology: “I’m so sorry for being late. It’s a weird time. We are moving, and I’ve been receiving calls non-stop. They’ve been calling even now about some lights. Those must be some very serious lights!”

We both laugh, he takes a seat, and asks for sparkling water. The ice is broken.

As we planned for this feature, Mwenesi said he would be delighted to have a meet-up.

He said: “See you then, God willing.”

I’d assumed this was a phrase Mwenesi had particularly used because of the election intensity the country was in, but upon speaking more to him, I realised it was way more than that. God, is everything to Mwenesi. He lives, works, eats and generally-yet-dedicatedly functions by God.

Mwenesi also tells me, that it is why in his religion, they say, “Inshallah,” meaning, “If God wills.”

He is Muslim.

Mwenesi is a lawyer by education. He talks to me about his humble beginnings, his travelling parents, schooling in Kenya, moving to South Africa, travelling back to Kenya, hitting rock bottom, fighting depression, losing friendships and finally finding his purpose.

Later, when we are done with the official session, Mwenesi intrigues me with stories of the Nairobi business world, and describes to me just how mercilessly cut-throat it is.

He tells me about his competitors and people who think they are his competitors. He also tells me about business deals that have been stolen right under his nose – like the incident he had with a major Kenyan retail store.

This business-deal-gone-wrong is a very painful story to listen to, one that has me absolutely floored. But Mwenesi tells it with lots of laughter. He is over it now, “Oh, that was my first year in business. It was an extremely brutal one. But I got past it.”

To solidify his footprint, Mwenesi has gone digital, teaching viewers about etiquette, image, communication and branding on Get Yours, his YouTube channel.

When I ask him how he’s liking the digital space, and social media in particular, Mwenesi shakes his head: “I don’t understand it. I don’t quite understand it, and I’m not sure any of us who are in this space really do, yet.”

I tell him – as we slowly walk through the lobby and the hotel staff stare at us – that since his YouTube channel is doing quite okay for a beginner, his looks could be the added advantage. Mwenesi laughs. Then he says: “Yeah, Caroline (Mutoko) said there’s a thing about being bald. Who knew that was a thing?”  (Laughs some more.)

Mwenesi, perhaps it would  interest you to know, is also related to the former Tusker Project Fame star, Amileena Mwenesi. They are siblings.

Here’s more on him:

***

Mwenesi, I try to always ask every guest this question: why did you say, “Yes” to the blog? To this feature? 

I checked your blog out and it seemed like something I should say yes to. It’s clean. It has a sophistication to it. I like being associated with things that are sophisticated.

 Alright.

(Laughs) That’s not to say I’m uppity though.

Are you not, uppity?

No, I’m not.

For someone who’s never met me in person, or really interacted with me, they would think I am. I have been accused of it before. And there’s nothing I can do about that, especially if the person doesn’t make the effort to find out more. It’s okay, I like nice things. I like proper things, and I like being proper. But I’m also a firm believer in humility.

Tell me more about House of Major?

House of Major, is a strategy and communications firm I set up in 2014. It’s what many people would call a Public Relations company, but it’s also way more than that.

Our job is to look at the flow of information and see where best we can modify and engineer, so that the best outcomes can happen.

What sets you, as a professional, apart, from all your other colleagues and competitors in the industry?

I’m a certified trainer in etiquette and protocol; I got the training and certification from the US and Belgium. I am, as I understand it, one of only five, who have that certification, in Africa.

“Get Yours,” what are we getting?

Yours! (Laughs)

Really, anything you think is yours for the taking, you can get it. Your ideas, dreams, passions, all of it. That’s what we are trying to teach, that whatever it is you have, you can accentuate it; by behaving in a certain way, acting a certain way, being decent, courteous, diplomatic, name it.

Tell me a little about your upbringing?

My siblings and I grew up in Riruta, at the far end of Kawangware. My parents weren’t rich, but they did okay; I think we did okay. My dad is a lawyer and my mum is a research scientist.

Right. 

Yeah, every school holiday, we would go upcountry, and now when I think about it, I think it gave us a very solid foundation.

We would come back to the city, and then end up travelling, since my mum, especially, travelled a lot for conferences, and would decide to bring us along. I think that exposure between upcountry and international travel created a good balance for us.

Where did you attend high school?

I went to St. Christopher’s, I was there for all my formative years. I had a brief stint in the UK, then  proceeded on to South Africa where I completed my A-levels, did my Master’s degree and started working.

How was the experience in South Africa?

It was okay. At the time, I thought I was on top of the world, I thought I was in charge of everything.

And then it got messy; there was some unrest in Zimbabwe, there was xenophobia in South Africa, Zuma had just taken power, it was a whole mish-mash of problems. There was a lot of upheaval in the Home Affairs department, they started revoking visas, work permits; everything.  I had to come back home.

How was your return to Kenya?

Oh, I thought it was just going to be two or three days in Kenya, then I’d be back to South Africa. I ended up staying here for six months.

Wow. 

Yeah, wow is right. That wasn’t the plan at all. I actually had a plan, I was going to buy a house, my business was doing quite well, I was even engaged, everything was going okay.

Then overnight, all that disappeared. And that was the period when I found God. Or God found me. I don’t know. Something just happened.

That must have been hard.

Hard is an understatement. It was a difficult period Yvonne. I couldn’t recognise my life anymore. All these things that validated me, were suddenly all gone. I didn’t know where to start, where to go, how to proceed. I didn’t know how to go through it.

How bad, exactly, was the struggle?

It was really bad. I nearly slipped into permanent depression. You know it’s one thing to say you’re coming back home because you have a plan, and it’s another to just end up coming back home and realise you’re a visitor in your own country.

What happened to the things you owned?

Yeah, that was the other thing. I had to sell both my cars, my house, my business, it really was a mess. Then of course, with all that, my long-term relationship ended and so did my work relationships.

What gave you hope, as you went through all this?

Family. And God.

I could have actually died, in that period. That was absolute rock bottom for me. I wasn’t eating, I wasn’t sleeping, in fact, there was a time I went five days without sleeping. I lost so much weight, I started doing drugs, I was completely wasting away; all because I was trying to understand why this was happening to me.

What happened next?

I got a message. They sent me a message from the High Commissioner’s office saying: “Oh, you’re actually okay. You can come back. (Return to South Africa)” Imagine. After six months! It was horrible. It was just horrible! (Laughs) Unbelievable.

Did this experience make you more aware of the importance of mental health?

Absolutely. Having that peace of mind, having spiritual connections, those are extremely essential in life. And unfortunately, at the time, I didn’t have that spiritual connection. Eventually though, I did get out of the funk. I mean, my mum came back from the US and was like, “Ey, snap out of it! What is this? Man up.” (Laughs)

And then you snapped out of it.

Well, not really. (Laughs). Such experiences are not the kind where one just snaps out of. But with time, slowly, I did recover. I was, thankfully, surrounded by  kind people, I managed to find work, and slowly, things started going back to normal.

Did you see a psychologist to help you with the recovery?

I did. I saw a number. At that time, it was a matter of, whatever we can do to help this situation, let’s do it.

For the people who say, if you struggle with depression or bipolar for example, you should pray about it, what would you say?

Look, you cannot just rely on divinity. God has endowed people with education and knowledge, so, use that God-provided knowledge for your benefit.  Don’t just say, “God will take care of it,” God takes care of you through doctors, through  professionals, through specialists. Use them.

The relationship you were in, where you were engaged, did you ever get over it?

I did. Very quickly actually.

Really?

Yeah, once I realised everything happens because God wills it, I became very deliberate with my decisions.

How did you meet your wife?

Oh, that’s a tale in itself. I literally met her on Sunday at my boss’s house, we spoke on Monday, spoke again on Tuesday, Wednesday I mentioned her to my mum in passing, then on Thursday, I spoke to her again on the phone and I proposed to her in that same conversation.

Seriously?

Yes. Seriously. I told her: “Look, I’ve been through hell and back, I don’t have the time, and I don’t know if my brain will still be functioning by the time I hang up this phone. So, I’m not going to date you for another, however-long. This is it.”

And then you got married. 

And then we got married. (Laughs)

Do you think the proposal, was a symptom of post-disaster acceleration?

I don’t know. Maybe, maybe not. But in that moment, I knew it needed to be done.

In your opinion, do men love as hard as women do?

What do you mean?

For women, most of them love hard. They go all in. 

(Thinks) From a feelings perspective, I would say we do. It’s just that men compartmentalise a lot. We have tunnel vision. If we are doing one thing, our mind is just on that one thing. Until we move on to the next thing.  And that can sometimes come off as not caring enough. But I think we do.

Apart from your family, are you trusting of people, given everything you’ve been through?

(Thinks) That’s hard to say, given the nature of my work. One of the things I’m absolutely sure of, is that human beings are self-centred. We all are. We want what we want for ourselves. It’s only after that, that we can begin to think of others. This knowledge has served me well. It has prevented me from taking things personally.

Right. 

Yeah, now when people do things that are supposed to impact me negatively, I don’t get angry about it. I know they are getting theirs. I won’t even hate them for it. I just move on. But look, the world has eight billion people. There’s no need to force things. Someone else will eventually come along.

Okay. So say, for instance, you really need help and someone you thought you were really close to, doesn’t show up for you, will you still just move on?

I will. And clearly, I would be wrong, to have thought we were that close in the first place. There are very few people who I’d say I’m really invested in. Who if they need me, I’d be there for them instantly, and I would hope vice versa. These people are maybe only about three. But even then, sometimes people just surprise you.

How so?

Like there was a time I used to work for someone. We were really good, and tight. Then I decided to leave the job to do my own thing, and he got very upset, because I was no longer helping him grow his dream.

The news hit him hard, he lashed out, cut off everything, said he never wants to see anyone from my family, oh, it was quite a reaction. I used to feel bad about it, about our relationship being severed. But again, you just have to move on. Life has to go on.

Do you miss your twenties?

Mmh, not really. Mainly because I had too much fun then. I lived it up and got it out of my system. I was actually a DJ for six years. Now, every so often, I’ll try to take advantage of some free time, but not to that extent. I did it all.

For those in their twenties who are feeling lost and confused, what’s your word of encouragement?

(Nods) That’s exactly why I’m doing this, Get Yours, I hope these videos provide them with some guidance. If I knew then what I know now, perhaps I would have paid a bit more attention to some things.

Like?

Money, I would have paid deliberate attention to how I spent it. I would have been more conscious of what I put in my body, what I eat.

I would have invested a bit more in myself. Self investment is very critical, whether it’s education, or skill, or just becoming a better version of yourself. I think I would have spent my time doing that. I would have also listened more, and talked less.

Your advice to them now?

If you’re living your twenties now, I’d say, do the things I just said I wish I did. But most importantly, pay attention to  God, or the universe. Foster a relationship with whatever supreme being you believe in.

That’s the age where you are easily excitable. It’s a time where you can be easily taken advantage of and manipulated, by: corporations, employers, romantic partners and people around you.  Cultivating that relationship will prevent you from being used and misused. It will also prove invaluable in years to come.

There are also so many men in their early 30s who feel like they’re being left behind, life is just not working out and they don’t know what to do; how would you encourage them?

You’re absolutely right. These men are many  out here. They are many Yvonne. I’ve spoken to three such men just today. It’s a terrible situation. And many of them are getting sad, and depressed, and defeated.

I would ask them to first accept that they don’t know everything. They really don’t, and it’s hard for young, red-blooded, healthy, African men, to accept that. Be humble. Know your weaknesses, and maximise your strengths.

Any last words?

Get Yours! (Laughs) Just go get it!

 

3 thoughts on “The Unwritten With: MUSALIA MWENESI – ON HITTING ROCK BOTTOM & BOUNCING BACK UP

  1. Wow. Everyone has a story. Every.Single.Person.
    I admire the positive energy and attitude portrayed here.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *