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AnnePeace Alwala during an interview at Serena Hotel in Nairobi on February 28, 2024. PHOTO | BONFACE BOGITA | NMG


Annepeace Alwala: From Githurai to the top of global corporate ladder

Annepeace Alwala, vice president of global service delivery at SamaSource, knows something about roughing it. She grew up in the gruffier part of town where crime reigned high, and mothers are often called to stand over the bodies of their dead sons.

She also knows about leaving that desperate environment and working her way into the corporate world as a customer care experience professional. (Last post as head of customer care, Multichoice Group).

She also knows about raising three bruising boys —as only boys can be and about being a wife and about Jesus Christ because she, as improbable as it may sound, was born-again at the age of eight. We met a day after the President and his Ethiopian counterpart opened the Sama Kenya EPZ Delivery Centre to accelerate the entrenchment of a skill-based economy. T

he company she works for is a data annotation solution for computer vision that powers artificial intelligence and machine learning models.

Where did you grow up?

Born and bred in Githurai 45, [Nairobi]. When Githurai was Githurai.

I don’t know when Githurai was Githurai, what was that like?

I mean, it was ghetto. You have to be very clever growing up in Githurai because you were either in crime, the one on whom crime is being committed, or you were clever and remained somewhere in the middle of these two.

Navigating Githurai was an experience. Crime was very high. Think informal settlement and what else that doesn’t sound good. But at the same time, there was a sense of community—people took care of one another.

Your neighbour didn’t sleep hungry when you had food. I have classmates who were shot dead. Others were thrown in prison. You had to be very intentional to get out of the ghetto and not fall into crime, credit to my mom who was mafia. 

How did you get out?

Getting out of the ghetto is probably not the right word because there are few people still living there, having an impact on the community. My parents still live there. However, making out of that slum life without getting into crime, needed a lot of good parenting but also just really knowing what it is that you want. But it has its usefulness, there are a lot of things that I learned from Githurai that have helped me today. Persistence is one of them. You cannot give up, you cannot fail. You just couldn’t. Both my parents were civil servants—we had food at home and never lacked school fees. My parents were very intentional. You learned independence early.

My dad didn’t care whether you were a girl or a boy; whatever my brother did, I needed to know. My father hasn’t stopped pushing me even today. My mom, on the other hand, was among the first generation of corporate women, I think, in Kenya. So I grew up knowing a woman is beyond just staying at home. A woman needs to earn her own money. You can’t sit and wait for the man to do things for you. My dad travelled a lot for work so for the longest time it was my mom changing bulbs, and fixing things around the house. I ‘got out’ because she demonstrated that you can eventually do better.

What was the downside of growing up in the ghetto, apart from the obvious hardship?

Because you are a go-getter, because you want to get ahead you will tend to step on a lot of people. Midway through my career, I had a boss, Catherine Bomet, who mentored me through this flaw because in the need to get ahead, you tend to forget that you’re not alone. You need to bring people along with you. So it has been a journey of realising that people need to be your superpower. You’re not getting much done if you’re not walking along with people.

What's been your most challenging journey season so far?

Parenting. I have three amazing boys aged seven, five, and two- but they push all my buttons. Suffice it to say, the house is very hectic but even beyond that there is that sense that you’re a steward shaping somebody’s future. You don't know who this person is going to become. You don’t want to impose what you think they need to do. The other day one of my boys was hit by another boy. His brothers came and roughed up the boy. My husband grew up in Mathare [a slum in Nairobi], he was proud the brothers stood up for their brother. I’m the only one who saw this as a problem.

What template are you using for raising boys? Did you borrow it from your father?

No, I’m not using my dad’s template. [Pause] Maybe I am…No, I’m not…I know because my dad’s theory was that if you are a man, you man up.

Before he left for his travels he’d tell my brother, that if he ever came back home and found that thieves had come to our house and attacked me, my sister, or my mom, he would answer why he did not defend us.

How did you meet your husband?

Oh, I met him much later in university. I was studying Literature and Linguistics. I was hanging around a group of guys who he was part of and we just clicked. Look, it was a good thing he was from the ghetto too because there was no way I was going to end up marrying a guy from uptown. No way. Because that would have been tough. He couldn’t relate. My husband and I dated for nine years before we got married. I worked out of Kenya for three years, came back and we got married. We got married on my birthday.


Are you surprised that you are here today, doing what you are doing?

Yes! Yes, I am. And I would like to think I’m here because I do it well. I think I’m surprised in the sense that the universe has a way, and the Lord has a way of rewarding. The Bible says God will bless the works of your hands. I can’t say being a VP was in my 10-year career plan but somehow it’s been one job after the other being built for the next thing.

My previous experiences have prepared me for this moment. I’m glad to be able to touch people’s lives and work with people who come from desperate backgrounds like I did. I have learned that God gave all of us a talent but not all of us have the opportunity to use these talents. Opportunity is not equally distributed. So how about we give that opportunity to the most underserved person? That person from the slum, who probably does not have a degree, couldn’t get to university, has zero work experience, earning less than a dollar a day. My learning is you need a community around you.

What have you learned about motherhood?

Motherhood for me is a prayer item. I surround myself with people, friends, of different age groups who help me navigate motherhood. I am afraid of screwing up or imposing my ideas on the children. I am very afraid of these children getting to teenagehood, and they don’t have the right foundation.

What’s the right foundation?

Christ is one. Secondly, being able to be your person, and make your own decision. I think my parents did that very well. I can’t remember having peer pressure. I mean, I grew up in a society where you needed to be light-skinned and I have been profiled for my skin and it has never, for one day, made me doubt my capabilities. I hope I will build my sons not to be swayed.

How has Christ been influential in your life?

I am a born-again Christian and I shout out for the topic. Yeah, I was born again at eight years old. It was out of fear because, in 1992, that is when they said Jesus was coming back.

There’s just something about you knowing you’re born-again and that grace is sufficient. My granddad taught me how to pray, he was a bishop and taught me how to rely on Christ for literally everything. The fear of God has guided me.

How has how you see Christ changed over time?

He has changed from being an ATM that I go to when I need something to have a more meaningful relationship. My husband and I serve. We both serve in the church. He serves with the children because he’s good with children and he has all the patience in the world. I serve on the operational side of the church because I'm good at that. I’m good at getting things done. We also serve with life ministries and there’s a ministry that is focused on young adults, young born-again adults, whether born again or not, who’ve just come from university.

You are 39, what are you looking forward to in your 40s?

They say life starts at 40 so I’m looking forward to growth. I’m told there’s a lot of growth in 40. Well, not weight-wise.

In terms of family, I’m looking to be more intentional, being super available for them, but also building lasting memories and lasting relationships.

I’ve just entered the tech space, the fascinating artificial intelligence [AI] space. I’m looking to learn a lot right now and leverage AI for good. AI is the Fourth Industrial Revolution—how can I use that to impact the communities around me and impact the African continent? Very few of us right now in Africa know what AI is, to be honest, because we don’t have a single African client.

We are the first generation of AI. I look forward to being at the centre of bringing Africa, bringing AI to Africa, whatever that means for my career, I honestly don’t know, but I know that’s the purpose.