At the age of 21, Baringo born Cabinet Secretary for Co-operatives and Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) Simon Chelugui approached the then President of Kenya Daniel Toroitich Arap Moi to lend him KSh 30Million.
This would mark the foundation of his sour and sweet entrepreneurship and political achievements.
He epitomizes the old adage, fortune favors the bold. Now the custodian of the bottom-up economic and transformation agenda in President William Ruto’s government, the former YK92 member recounts his epic journey to the top.
Chelugui is a firstborn. He was born of a teetotaler couple in 1971, a virtue that has carried him through his life and with which he holds his parents in high esteem.
He started his primary education in 1979 at Ol Debes Primary School.
However, his resolve to succeed was undoubted. He topped his class and Baringo District in 1986.
“I was called to Moi High School Kabarak, a school founded by then-President Moi. He took interest in our dressing, subsidized our fees to KSh 96,000 annually and even paid fees for those who could not afford,” CS Chelugui told TV47 Digital.
He studied among classmates whom he would later serve with as a civil servant.
“In this regime, there are five principal secretaries and seven judges who were my schoolmates at Kabarak.”
CS Chelugui would later join the University of Nairobi to pursue a Bachelor of Commerce , Financial Engineering option. Characteristically, his two first years would become the most significant of his life.
“In my first year, Student Organization of Nairobi University (SONU), sought re-registration following a ban by former President Moi.”
“Former Mukurweini MP Kabando wa Kabando was the Secretary General then. We lost an academic year due to protests but eventually Moi drank tea with us and informed us that he had lifted the ban.”
“Prof Anyang Nyong’o, Kiraitu Murungi, Governor James Orengo, Senior Counsel Paul Muite, Chief Justice Martha Koome were among the leaders who led the campaigns,” stated CS Chelugui.
“They would bring the war to UON’s student body as they were able to make enough noise.”
Section 2A was eventually repealed in 1991 and this threatened former President Moi’s re-election.
By this time, CS Chelugui had nosedived into politics. President Moi’s in law, Gerad Bomett thrusted him into presidential campaigns for the 1992 general election.
It is at this point that Chelugui joined Youth for KANU 92 (YK92), that successfully campaigned for Moi who was able to defend his seat.
“I met President William Ruto at the YK92 as he was also a member,” CS Chelugui divulged to TV47 Digital.
After the hotly contested election, an Asian businessman going by the name Kanwal offered Chelugui shares in his company on one condition.
“The guy’s company was in receivership. He was unable to repay a loan he had gotten from Barclays Bank. I accepted his offer and got an appointment with former President Moi.”
“Moi offered me a KSh 30M loan. I became a director together with two others.
“I was hardly in the company as I was still a second-year student. The company was managed by two directors who I feel mismanaged it.”
“After a year, we were forced to sell the company. We found a buyer who offered us KSh 35M. We owed the bank KSh 31M.”
They subdivided the remaining four million equally among themselves and went their separate ways.
“I did not know what to do with my money so I put it in a lock savings account.”
He went ahead and completed his education then dived right into entrepreneurship.
All this time, Chelugui was still in the university. By the time he was leaving, the country was undergoing a structural adjustment program making it hard to get employment in the public sector.
“I started my company, Coffee Factory Services, and maintained the clients we had in the previous company.”
“I got to know a lot of co-operatives countrywide and this has been instrumental in my current docket.”
You know what they say about man planning and God laughing? That happened! He was unable to sustain running the company and eventually dissolved it.
He enrolled for a Master’s Degree but dropped out after two years due top financial constraints.
He picked himself up quickly and founded a water services company. “I became friends with the late Engineer Chesang’ who introduced me to other water district officers.”
“I opened the company. The beauty of the water business is that my services were paid off although the profits were minimal.”
At 25 years old, the political bug bit him. Chelugui ran for office. He vied for the Mogotio Parliamentary position against William Morogo who was a minister in Moi’s governor.
He gave Morogo a run for his money coming second with a difference of 211 votes.
“I thought my life had ended. I was depressed. I came back to Nairobi where I spent time with myself pondering on what to do,” he revealed.
“I decided to go back to my hustle and re-build. I operated in Taita Taveta and Turkana areas where no one recognized me.”
In 2002, he campaigned for Uhuru Kenyatta who was KANU’s presidential candidate.
“I did not have enough finances so I campaigned for Joseph Korir for the Mogotio Parliamentary seat. We won!”
Chelugui was appointed to public office for the first time in 2008 by former President Mwai Kibaki.
“I was appointed as CDF board member and then Chairperson later. The skills I gained are what I use to date.”
His term ended in 2011. He decided to contest in the 2013 Baringo gubernatorial election.
He was defeated by the former HELB CEO Benjamin Cheboi.
“In 2015, I got a call from then Deputy President William Ruto who offered me the position of Chairperson, Betting, Control and Licensing Board.”
“I resigned from office six months to the 2017 general election as is required by law as I planned to vie for office.”
He eyed the gubernatorial seat but the then Deputy President William Ruto convinced that he was the only candidate who would competitively run against Gideon Moi asked him to go for the Senatorial seat.
Ruto assured him that he would appoint him into office in the event he did not win. He came in second with 85,000 votes. Gideon Moi won with 100,000 votes.
“You know, we are used to politicians telling us all manner of things, it is not easy to believe a politician,” he stated.
“However, President Ruto’s word is his bond. He financed my campaigns, gave me a chopper and constantly called to check on my progress.”
Chelugui enrolled for his Master’s program at UON immediately after the election results. He graduated in 2020.
“In January 9, 2018 former President Uhuru Kenyatta named his cabinet. I was nominated to the position of Water CS.” He was the youngest CS nominee at 48 years old.
“I am happy because we were able to move water coverage to 5%,” he stated. Chelugui was transferred to the Labour docket in 2020.
“This was during Covid times, we needed to manage.”
Chelugui attributes his success in public service to his work ethic. He is the only CS who transitioned from former President Uhuru’s regime to President Ruto’s government.
“I have known Ruto and he knows my working style. I have always taken any responsibility he assigns me with determination and gusto. I am keen not to embarrass him.”
“I also tell him things other people are afraid to tell him like negative feedback. I do it in a closed room without exposing my source and without embarrassing him.”
Do you discuss the current cost of living?
Yes. I want to assure Kenyans that things will have gotten better by June next year.
By the end of November, Kenyans will be able to access 30% of their Hustler Fund savings.
Will you be running for office in 2027?
It is too soon to decide that. My focus right now is on ensuring this government is successful. As CS Co-operatives and MSMEs, I am the anchor of the Bottom-up transformational agenda.