"CEOs can't wait to read Sunny Bindra's articles every week."

Why this cheap obsession with showing off?

It seems wherever we turn in Kenya these days, we find someone discussing their net worth. On frothy television shows, in newspaper spreads, in glossy magazines: invariably someone is on about their material achievements.

Said person will be posing for the camera, expensive watch carefully placed to catch the best angle. And the discussion, usually with some fawning interviewer, will be about the first million, the “palatial” home, the “sleek” car, the “exclusive” schools for the children.

What is it for, this self-conscious display of possessions? When did we start thinking it is a good thing to brag about what you have bought in a shop, as though that’s an achievement?

It’s starting young, too. We now seem obsessed with who’s become rich at a tender age, and who became wealthy and bought their first BMW before they turned thirty. While the crowd looks on with naked envy.

As I have written on this page many times before, I don’t really have a problem with people being wealthy. There’s nothing wrong with wealth in itself. Mansions and limos and designer jeans, however, are boring in the extreme. What is of interest is how wealth is generated, and what is done with it.

It is not a good sign in society when people want to line up to parade their possessions. It is cheap and and betrays a basic insecurity about riches: that we must display them to others for them to have any meaning. The joy such people get from wealth is not intrinsic; it only has value when others know they have it. So they must show off the wealth, and lie about how much they have if necessary.

Too many youngsters are now obsessed not with doing the things that generate wealth, but with the desired end-result: to be noticeably wealthy. Wealth created in the right way comes from many things: hard work, dedication, innovation, meeting the needs of others. But is that what we are studying, discussing, analyzing? Nope. Just the baubles and trinkets that result.

My advice to anyone young and ambitious would be this: focus wholeheartedly on the process that leads to wealth, not the result. If your only aim in life is to join the list of cheap braggarts who want you to count their possessions with them, then go ahead and join the assorted pimps and drug-dealers and poachers who are also on stage with you. You’ll win the rat race, but still die a rat (to paraphrase Lily Tomlin). And it doesn’t ever end: the more you show off, the more you need to show off even more.

On the other hand, you could try to lead a life that actually matters: a life that solves problems, that grows other people, that generates deep thinking, that makes other lives more fulfilling. People who lead lives like those also have riches, interestingly enough, but they have them as a by-product, a happenstance of success. Their aim is have meaning, not to have mammon.

When did you ever hear about Steve Jobs’ car, or Bill Gates’ shoes? Both those gentlemen made enough money to outshine any of our local contenders for generations, but they worked on a far bigger deal than mere ornaments and chattels. They will be remembered not for their show-off lifestyles, but for their achievements in inventing and delivering things that improve lives.

What defines us is what is inside us, not what is procured. What we are truly measured by is what we do for the world, not what sits in our safes. We will mature as a society when we learn to look for quiet role models, those who have no wish to be envied, and who are judged by what is in their hearts and minds, not their wallets.

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  • Quite a good ready in preparation for the week ahead. Well in Sir!

  • Mark

    Yeah, people who are really rich dont even floss around. Warren Buffet, Michael Bloomberg, Rupert Murdoch, Bill Gates. Or its because they are old? I like their humility.

    • Mark:

      No, not about age. There are plenty of young entrepreneurs who have made huge money, who don’t feel the need to display their purchases for all and sundry. It’s a state of mind, not an age.

  • Mike Muchiri

    Fantastic article as usual Sunny.

    The only thing I can say for this article is this, lions don’t need to roar and scream to alert one of there presence in the jungle the sight of a pride of lions is enough to make one understand why the lion is the King of the jungle.

    Hyenas on the other hand are a funny spectacle to behold, they are weak, cowardly creatures who prefer to prey on the dying or dead creatures and do so with such bravado one would think they are the mightiest of hunters in the forest.

    Given the above analogy, I’m sure one can clearly tell where our show-off “millionaires” rank in the food chain and why they act the way they do :-).

    Godspeed Sunny.

    • Mike:

      Good analogy. Says it all. ‘Hyena’ is often appropriate, as much of that money is made through inheritance or tenderpreneurship…

  • Kodia

    I read this article and it i felt it mirrored the kenyan society as it is …which is unfortunate ..even as it tragic

    ..great write

  • Gabriel Kioko Nzioki

    Can’t put it better than Mike Muchiri

  • Francis Chege

    this is a good one Sunny,! look at politicians ‘fighting’ over flying flags on their vehicles as if that adds any value to any of us, church leaders showing off designer suits, fuel guzzlers, preaching prosperity etc,our universities only tell us of how many courses the offer and how good campuses look, but we don’t see meaningful research work from this institutions !, we have totally lost direction,,!

  • cyrus Mwai

    ”In a world full of flashy dilettantes seeking quick success, the German model shows a more robust way. Build deep competitive advantage, think long-term, analyze systematically. Be boring, in other words, but be resilient and dogged. There is much wisdom in that approach. Congratulations, Germany, for winning last night’s game.”

    Dear Sir,

    Its in order to echo these words of profound insight as you penned them down on May 26, 2013.

    Thank you.

    We look forward for more of your insightful articles.


    Cyrus Mwai

  • Ami

    Mr Bindra, I usually enjoy your balanced and insightful articles but must take umbrage with this particular one. I have found the new television shows showcasing young entrepreneurs to be positive and encouraging especially for the millennials.

    My generation was raised to acquire degrees and settle for white collar jobs and hopefully climb up the ladder to success. The new kids are finding market opportunities and making things happen legitimately and often surmounting great challenges. My take away from these shows is innovation, hard work and risk taking can lead to success, the material things are a bonus.

    • Ami:

      I don’t have a single problem with showcasing innovation, initiative, hard work – all good things.

      But can you tell me why net worth, bank accounts, lifestyle need be mentioned – at all? Is the attraction the lucre, or the process of generating success?

      In KE we seem to have gone wholeheartedly the way of highlighting affluence, not the good things that create it.

      I rejoice in the fact that we have more entrepreneurs and risk-takers, and I try to figure out ways of helping them. But talking publicly about how rich you are, and how quick it was – sorry, that’s just vulgar.

      • Ami

        Thank you for your response. I agree on your point regarding vulgarity. My question is, what fora are available or would you suggest for these young entrepreneurs to speak about their lives and their successes and to inspire others? What format would you propose for such shows?

        If we are applauding hard work on one hand, how can we vilify the legitimate results as a consequence? I would like to understand where you are coming from.

        • Ami:

          Not the fora that are the problem – it’s the emphasis. It seems we can’t get an audience or readership unless we headline something as “millionaires” or “rich beyond dreams.” That’s a reflection of the society we are.

          For me, it’s a simple matter: anyone willing to be on TV or in a magazine, ready to talk about how much money they have or which cars they drive – I look away immediately.

          The people who really matter never flaunt the result of endeavour, but emphasise the process instead. They feel embarrassed talking about material wealth.

          There are no lessons worth learning in studying rich people. Riches come for a variety of reasons, not all of which are salubrious. We have to be bigger in how we measure achievement.

  • Tim Riungu

    Insightful perspective expressed excellently.

    Chika Onyeani addresses something similar in his book “Capitalist Nigger”. He lambasts the Black race worldwide for being more of consumers than producers of outstanding goods & services, unlike Germans or Koreans, for example. Ouch!

    Keep on challenging us thus, Sunny. Our value system needs it.

  • Meshack
    • Mungai Kihanya

      I like the way farmers will always tell how much crop they harvest but not how much money they make….always complaining about losses but still continue farming!

      The product of hard work is not money; it is something useful to humanity. As Simon Polk writes in the article “I was a derivatives trader, and it occurred to me the world would hardly change at all if credit derivatives ceased to exist. Not so nurse practitioners.”

  • James


    What is this obsession about ‘multimillionaires under 35’, ‘the youngest and richest kenyans’ ‘top 40 under 40 rich lists’ and such highlights. They imply that if you are over a certain age and are not ‘rich’ by this defination, then you are a failure.

    We forget that money is a means to an end and not an end in itself.My take is this, People should focus on their purpose in life, money is only for helping one focus on the purpose.

    You never fail to inspire.Thank you.

    • James:

      True enough. We are confusing a single metric for the achievement.

  • Bridget

    You are preaching to me this morning.

  • James


    Please allow me to humbly chip in because I had commented about the shows.

    I totally agree with your sentiments.

    The shows’ intentions are good. I am sure many are inspired and encouraged by the young and ambitious entrepreneurs, we all agree on that.

    The point of difference is this; The shows ought to highlight the PROCESS of building great businesses.How they market,how they motivate staff,how they compete,how they reduce costs, . .NOT which car they drive,which estate they stay,where do they shop,which school do their children go to,which holiday locations,their latest smartphones, . .

    Unfortunately, most of the shows focus on how the latter. In my view, this is how I understood Mr.Sunny’s article to mean.

    Thank you.

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  • Naanjie

    Your right on target brother. Kenyans are obsessed with making money and getting rich. I have seen this weird behavior with people I know on Facebook. The moment new money is made- they are quick to publish their new status; displaying the new asserts they own. If one looks into how the money was made- it’s always questionable . I live in the US and have to say that pressure to show off is much less than it is in kenya. Here, you live your life and choose to pursue what your passionate about. If you choose to hang out with Kenyans who are all about material things; you miss out on enjoying the simple things in life. My family and I have friends from all walks of life with different socio economic statuses. I have been fortunate to know “successful ” people here. The one differentiating factor from the rich at home is what they do with their money and how they choose to live . They live very simple lives. They are very active in bettering the community they live in. They work in food and homeless shelters on weekends, mentor youth from lower income families through the creative arts and spend time with their spouses and children. I once worked for a clinical research firm where the owner was often mistaken for the cleaner. He came in early in the morning, started the coffee pots, cleaned the kitchen counters and fixed up breakfast for all employees. He did this as a matter of habit. A new employee once asked me where the CEO was in a meeting. I was like he’s the guy behind you cleaning up the meeting room. She was so shocked! She thought he was the cleaner assigned to the office. The guy later sold the company for millions of dollars and was already a multi millionaire by then. He knew each employee by name and had an open door policy. He is another individual who channeled back his wealth into philanthropic projects that he was passionate about. He never talked about his money. He treated employees extremely well. Whenever he went abroad or to Europe he brought back goodies for the whole office. He was humble and didn’t have to try and prove his humility . Kenyans who try to show people their success have a false sense of humility. Why do you have to tell the world you paid fees for 100 kids, etc If your heart is in the right place you will help people without blasting pictures on Facebook about your generosity and benevolence. Life is not a competition . As you stated, we are all uniquely different. People should pursue what they are passionate about without trying to be like anyone else. God never created you to be anyone else but you!!

  • Sunny,
    I have THE word for all this: But first a little background:
    In ancient Greek mythology, a famous hunter lived in Greece and was reportedly quite good looking. He was too fixated on himself and therefore on learning this, Nemesis (the god of revenge) lured him to a pool where he saw his own reflection. He immediately fell in love with his own reflection and of course never wanting to leave the place, died there!
    And the word is: Narcissism!

  • Nice article. And when you ask a Kenyan which book he is reading?
    The answer….. ‘Get Rich in 40 days’ kind of books…..