German citizen adopts Kenya,finds identity in Kenyan village
Wolfgang Koehler is a proud member of the Aombe clan. Not only does he have a Kamba name, Muthiani Nzau, but he has also settled in Kibwezi’s Kasayani area.
His dream of officially becoming a member of the community was realised during a brief ceremony to give him a new name and welcome him into the clan. About 500 people were present at the occasion.
Wolfgang may have been born and brought up in Germany but Kenya has had a special place in his heart since he met his Kenyan wife, Caroline Mwelu, 20 years ago. He visited as frequently as he could, learning as much as he could about the local culture. The couple has lived in Europe and America but after 18 years, it was time to “come home”.
“I always felt an urge to settle in Kenya,” Wolfgang says. “I made my intentions known to my family and friends in Germany as well as my wife.”
During the ceremony held in his home in mid-December, senior members of the Aombe clan, Dickson Mulwa, Francis Musyoki and Paul Masai Kimwele, gave the “Muthiani Nzau”.
“Muthiani” means a seeker while Nzau is a bull (symbolic of power), elder Mulwa who performed the ceremony, explained as he spelt out the terms and conditions of being an Aombe clan member. The Aombe were traditionally craftsmen.
Speaking soon after he was formally accepted by his new kinsmen, Wolfgang could not hide his excitement and immediately assured the clan that as their adopted son, he would embark on a mission to improve their socio-economic welfare.
“I have had the best that one can dream of in life. I can live in any part of the world comfortably, but what appeals to me most is this simple village life in Kenya, this is where I want my children to grow,” he said soon after the ceremony.
“Although I cannot transform the lives of all the people of Kibwezi, my little contribution when it starts coming, will help to bring about the change that we all wish for.”
One of his passions is drawing from his experience and the technology of his birth land to improve his new home.
“I have gone round the constituency and noticed how people are suffering due to lack of health facilities. In Germany, there are mobile medical containers which can be drawn by bicycles or tuktuks. They cost only $400 (about Sh35,000) and I think they would contribute positively to the health of the people if applied in our own rural set-up,” he says.
Flanked by his wife, Caroline, sons Tonny Mwandiku, 19, and Jeremy Mwendwa, two and a half, and daughter Reana Mwikali, three and half, an excited Koehler said he was relieved to have finally realised his dream.
“I have been waiting for this for many years. This is my home and these are my people; I love them so much,” he said amid ululations from the women present.
On why all his children have Kamba names, he says: “The surnames just excite me. The names make me feel satisfied in many ways.”But settling down in a rural area in Kenya is not an expected move for someone of Wolfgang’s background.
Born in 1968 in Southern Germany near Munich city, Wolfgang is the only child of a German industrialist, Josef Koehler, and his wife, Walfraud.
At 19, he was enrolled at Kempten University in Germany where he took a four-and-a-half-year course in electrical engineering.
Upon graduation, his first job was with Keller Und Knappich Augsburg (KUKA), a leading producer of industrial robots for a variety of industries, from automotive and fabricated metals to food and plastics.
The KUKA Robotics Corporation has over 20 subsidiaries worldwide, including the United States, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, India and most European countries. In 1993, Wolfgang was transferred to the US.
After working for the robotics firm in America for about four years, Wolfgang decided to strike out on his own.
“In 1997, I started my own company specialising in engineering services. My clients have largely been Toyota and General motors’, he says.
He stayed in the US until 2007, when his father died.
“I went back to Germany to continue with the family business, which was mainly dealing with parts for Opel vehicles.”
Wolfgang also went back to school, this time taking a course in computer studies, which he finished in December 2011.
It was around this time that the urge to settle down in Kenya overwhelmed him.
Caroline admits that Wolfgang had always had a keen interest in Kenya. The two met in Hamburg, where she had gone to pursue a course in hotel management. Despite coming from very different backgrounds, Caroline having been brought up on a farm in Kibwezi, they hit it off immediately.
“He fell in love with Kenya on his first visit and was always in touch with what was happening in this country,” she says, “His love for Kenya is one of the reasons all our children have Kamba names. When he proposed that we settle in Kenya two years ago, I wasn’t shocked; I was very excited.”
Wolfgang didn’t just want to move to Kenya though; he wanted to be accepted by and absorbed into one of the local communities. He settled on the Kamba, the community his wife comes from, and to prove how serious he was about fitting in, he bought land in Ukambani and put up a house. After moving his family from Kempten, he enrolled his eldest son in a school in Nairobi.
“I am one of those parents who believe that I should raise my children in the way I feel is best and I don’t want a system which limits the type of discipline I should give my children,” Wolfgang says.
While admitting that Germany and in particular Europe has some of the best learning institutions any parent could dream off, he says the Kenyan education system is unique in many ways.
“It is this uniqueness that I want my children to benefit from.”