Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) Governor Dr Patrick Njoroge has broken his silence over the huge influence of his faith in his day to day life.
The Yale-trained economist whose appointment as the regulator early last year stirred the country but also spawned emergence of a new order for financial institutions in Kenya, revealed in an wide ranging interview with the BBC World Service’s Outlook radio programme how his Opus Dei faith has shaped his daily life and work ethic.
The Governor in the 10-minute interview recalled the “embarrassment” caused to him by legislators as they vetted him when they wondered why he had no wife at 54 years of age.
He also spoke about his peculiar decision to refuse to take in the trappings of power associated with his plum post a move that baffled many Kenyans.
In the interview, the governor explains his steadfast belief in the President Uhuru Kenyatta’s quest to fight corruption.
He recalls his childhood in Kenya saying it was fun, but also delves into how he landed his current job while “at the top of his game” as an advisor at the International Monetary Fund.
The following are the excerpts from the BBC radio interview below.
Matthew Bannister: Tell us about your childhood?
Dr Patrick Njoroge: Our parents set very high standards for us, there is no doubt about that. There wasn’t a sense of it being handed to us on a silver platter, no, we had to work hard study hard and so forth.
MB:And you were brought up in the Catholic faith:
G: That’s correct. That was also an important element in our life, Catholic faith, and yes they taught us that right from the beginning. I was baptized when I was three days old. And in the end of course there are other things that come through, being responsible, working, we were taught well in that regard.
MB:What made you decide to become an economist?
G: My intention was to go and do electrical engineering at the University of Nairobi. After finishing High School we actually had to stay out maybe seven, eight months. During that time, it became clear to me that an electrical engineer is no more than sort of a gloried electrician.
I began to see issues about poverty, about connection with people, development and I began to see that maybe I could make a difference in people’s lives by working as an economist.
MB: And then you went to Yale University in the United States. Did you fit in well with the American lifestyle?
G: (Laughing) I am not sure about that. I think the American lifestyle as graduate student is really different from what you call an American Lifestyle. The Grad student is poor and every free moment is used to study, but I did enjoy that I had a lot of friends. One of the interesting.
MB:So you found a job at the International Monetary Fund and your vision there was that the IMF is a force for good in the world, is a force which can help developing economies develop better and faster, through money from the international community?
G: That’s accurate. It has not been disappointing, I think my 20 years there were phenomenal. If I had to do it again yes I would exactly what I did.
MB: Can you pick out some high lights of your time there that you are really proud of?
G: Highlights and low lights. I remember in Kazakhstan negotiating with the Kazakhks for some programme. I distinctly remember going bowling with half of the Cabinet of that country.
We had the deputy prime minister with us. (Laughing) It was kind of interesting. I think without a doubt the high point of it all was working in the office of the managing director just before I took over this job as the governor of the Central Bank of Kenya.
MB:How did that happen? How did you get the call to be the governor of the Central Bank of Kenya?
G: I was at the top of my game so I could do whatever I wanted. But this job came along and I looked at it and I sort of thought, well you know I may never know if I never apply if I could have got it or not. And in any event if I want to help Kenya or work with Kenya I do have specific skills and unique experiences that I think would be very useful for Kenya so may be this is the time to check that out and see what happens.
MB: Did you have to go through some rigorous selection process?
G: Yes, it was rigorous because we had to go through the vetting as we call it here by Parliament.
MB:Those MPs put some scrutiny on your private life, didn’t they?
G: They asked a lot of questions about my private life. How much property I have and things like that. But I guess the point in all this which was surprising for some of the listeners, indeed some of the Parliamentarians, was that I didn’t have a single asset in Kenya.
MB:Why was that?
G: I had decided not to put my money into investments, I give it away to charity and I spend it in my own things and I am not apologetic about that.
MB:But that was a result of your membership of Opus Dei, was it?
G: That’s correct?
MB: Could you tell me what it means to be a member of the Opus Dei? What is it that members sign up for?
G: The first thing is to realise that really what it is about is working towards becoming saint meaning relate to God in your work, in your daily activities.
MB:I believe that you also live in a community with other members of the Opus Dei, presumably that means you turned down the offer of the Central Bank Governor’s mansion?
G: I could have stayed in the mansion if I wanted to. I didn’t need to. They are not me.
There are aspects of my life that I feel strongly about and I just feel that that is not something I would want to do. And it’s not because, it’s an Opus Dei thing or not, may be other members of the Opus Dei or other people would have wanted to stay there. I didn’t feel that that’s what I wanted to do.
MB: They also wanted to know why you are still single at the age of 54, it seemed like quite an intrusive question but they did want to know that?
G: I found it a little embarrassing. I had decided to be single and to remain single, to be celibate and that’s my decision. And as members of Opus Dei who live celibate lives, some of them, not all of them, some of them, do live in a house together.
MB: Some people would say you’ve given up something very significant in deciding to become celibate?
G: I don’t think so. We give up a lot in our lives. A lot, a lot. Years ago I looked at Lisa Ondieki, she was training for a marathon and she had set a record in the New York Marathon. She used to run 120 miles every week. I mean that’s some serious dedication.
MB: And your faith is your marathon?
G: It’s not my faith, my life is my marathon. I don’t distinguish my faith from my profession, from my relations with others It’s one package, it’s a seamless package.
MB: And you also turned down the big car? There was actually fleet of cars I think, do you have any of those?
G: What I would say is that what I’ve done is to minimize my - not just use - but also access to some of those things. That I think is accurate. If I need to write well, I have just one pen, I don’t need two, the same thing with motor vehicles, and the same thing with other things? There is no point in just amassing property or amassing instruments that I cannot use.
MB:I am sure people will be impressed by your pledge but I suppose some of them will be surprised to find a banker, somebody who is looking after money who is so uninterested in material possessions?
G: That may well be the case, but I think I would turn it on its head, there is nothing about banking that requires you to be attached or to be so wrapped up in material possession.
As a matter of fact there is everything to say on the contrary. Maybe a lot of us have been stuck in a certain way of looking at things, that material possession is everything. Maybe that’s what we need to change. Maybe that’s where we need to start.
MB: One of the issues that we know faces Kenya is the endemic corruption in society. How can someone like you in the influential position you now occupy begin to tackle that corruption?
G: I think one needs to look at what their responsibilities are. My responsibility now as the Central Bank Governor is the commercial banks, making sure that the rules that are in place are supportive of reduction in corruption and things like that.