George Tafaria Waititu lived what many would describe as a life of a king. As the Managing Director of Ipsos Synovate, an international research company, he had power, influence and money. In June 2011, Waititu quit to pursue a childhood dream. Tired of building other people’s dreams; he decided to build his own – literally.
Waititu owns Tafaria Castle and Country Lodge in the Aberdare Range – 224 kilometers north of Nairobi. He went back to his childhood village with one aim – to conquer the brutality he experienced when growing up.
“The castle is supposed to transform my village from a dark age to a more enlightened age, similar to what happed in medieval times. This place molded my character and made me the person I am today. It is desperate for help and development,” says Waititu.
The castle, with medieval architecture, cost him $3.5 million to set up.
“I could have chosen to get into the lucrative real estate sector in Kenya and by now my return would have doubled,” he says.
Three years later, the investment has paid off.
Building it was a labor of love. After four years, he was able to open its doors in September 2012. Seventy percent of the construction was done by locals.
“People just need to be inspired, guided and supervised,” he says.
Along with roads and power, Waititu created employment and a market for locally-grown produce. The area’s development has also resulted in the value of land skyrocketing.
It wasn’t always easy; the project stalled several times due to a lack of resources. Waititu had to negotiate with his neighbors for land and water. Heavy rain also made it difficult to access the area before Waititu invested in a proper road.
He is proud of the transformation he has brought to his village. He is even prouder of the skills the villagers have gained.
“The rains can come and wash away the roads but the skills they acquired can never be taken away from them.”
Waititu aims to make Tafaria a model village and guide the development of the area.
“I don’t want to change the rural life. I just want to improve it without changing its rural setting.”
The source of Waititu’s inspiration can be found in his childhood. His mother moved to Aberdare from a crowded colonial village in Nyeri, central Kenya. Unlike the lush and fertile highlands of Nyeri, Aberdare is dry and hot.
The family lived in the bush, along with wild animals that roamed freely. They would wake up in the morning and find animals had ravaged their farms and killed people.
“The first funeral I attended was of a neighbor who was killed by a buffalo on a farm.”
Waititu remembers two serious droughts, forcing the family to survive on donated yellow maize.
“These things molded my character. That upbringing made me a risk taker.”
When he visited his family in other towns, Waititu’s eyes were opened. He saw vehicles, electricity and other amenities which he craved. That is where the seed of transforming his village was planted.
“I did not desire to leave my home; I desired to make it better.”
With the castle he built there, Waititu has achieved his lofty goal.