How I managed to retire comfortably at 45

Magdalene Nzisa Musau with writer Tony Monchama at Victoria Sands and Takawiri Resorts in Mbita. Photo | Pool


 

What you need to know:

Magdalene Nzisa Musau, 46, popularly known as Keletu Kaseo, has found her passion in hoteliering. She is the founder and proprietor of Victoria Sands and Takawiri Resorts in Mbita

When we were in University at the turnpike of this millennium, there was this shy, quietly funny, fiercely ambitious, and doggedly determined young woman from the drylands of Ukambani.

Her name was (still is) Magdalene Nzisa Musau.

And she was determined to retire by the age of 45, when most other people think of 55 (or even 60, and a few want to hang on until 70) as the age of retirement.

“From when I was twenty years old,” Nzisa says, “I had this dream of working for a quarter-century at most, then retiring to a life of leisure by 45, when I still have the energy to do the things I’ve always wanted to do. You see so many folks who retire at 60, then they either sit around waiting for death, or else they just meddle with their children and live only for their grand-kids.’

They say if a wo(man) pictures their perfect dream, and works relentlessly towards their goal, in the end that dream becomes a reality.

In Nzisa’s case, that dream has become a concrete reality. 

She has built a house on the sand called the Victoria Sands Lodge, that is situated right on the beach of Lake Victoria on mainland Mbita Constituency.

A second hotel, the Takawiri Victoria Sands is almost complete, and is situated 10 kms west of her mainland resort, on the Lake Victoria island of Takawiri (a very scenic boat ride, by the way, that by-passes a beautiful bird island).

But we are jumping the gun here. Let us go back right to the Year 2000, when as the Blur song ‘Disco 2000’ says, ‘we were finally fully grown/ on that damp and lonely, Thursday years ago ...’

Nzisa had just graduated with a Law Degree from the University of Nairobi.

“I worked for 20 years from the start of this century in my chosen field of study,” she tells the Saturday Magazine. “For six years, I worked as a young lawyer. Then for five years at a government agency. Then for nine years, I worked for an international firm.”

That firm was Diageo, the British multi-national alcohol and beer corporation based in Britain – but that operates in 180 countries in the world (and is the world’s second largest distiller after China’s giant Kweichow Moutai company). 

How did she manage to retire early?  “Savings, savings, savings,” Nzisa says. 

“When I was a young lawyer, those first six years, I really couldn’t save much, especially with two young children. But I honed my entrepreneurship skills at the time. I tried everything – farming in Sinya, got a certificate for flower export, tried my hands at charcoal trading, and even ran a boutique as a hobby, as I always felt under pressure to make my own money, in-spite of being married (at the time) to an academician who is now in the Judiciary.”

She tells women to try their hand in anything, and everything, that they have a passion for, especially when younger and full of energy, but even when older but still full of that fire.

“Do not be afraid of failure in any venture,” Nzisa says. “Next time, you’ll do it better.”

Once she started working in the Government as the first Deputy Director of the Anti-Counterfeit Agency, charged with protecting intellectual property, and original goods and brands across the country, Nzisa began “saving every penny I could, with an early retirement plan in mind.”

As her life savings piled up, she actually had no idea of what she wanted to do in her retirement

“I got a high-flying job at Diageo in 2011, and began to travel a lot all over the region – Ethiopia, Egypt, South Africa, West Africa, with the odd foray to company HQ in London. I was spending a week, then a fortnight, then three weeks every month away at work in foreign countries, which means sleeping in hotels of very high standards ...” she says.

Slowly, the idea began to form in Nzisa mind that what she really wanted to do with her hard-earned savings (all that time way may have loosened the bonds of a marriage that ended) was to ‘retire to the business of being a local Kenyan hotelier.’

“I started carrying notebooks and doing sketches of beds in South Africa, room designs in Ethiopia, the hotel architecture in Egypt, and the idea of what my hotel would look like formed.”

By the end of her first decade at Diageo in 2019, Nzisa was ready to make a foray into the hotel industry. “I first went to Diani in Mombasa that December, but the asking price for beachfront properties were out of this world.’

A friend told her: ‘Keletu (Keletu Kaseo is her popular name as a founder member of ‘Kilimani Mums’), the Indian Ocean isn’t the only place in Kenya with a large water body and a beach.’

And that is how she ended up buying property in Mbita Constituency ...

“I started building in January 2020, but then Covid-19 struck in March, and I was stranded both workwise (as airlines stopped all travel) and with an incomplete hotel, which I was terrified would ruin my retirement, as it would have no visitors as no-one was moving.”

In for the penny, in for the pound, Nzisa figured, and burned up her savings to complete Victoria Sands Lodge in record time in 2020, providing employment to lots of locals in the area.

“I’m proud that I took that risk, staring down all discouragement and taking on all opposition ...” she shares.

She also left her job, though she can still do consultancy, to go full time into her hoteling work.

In a country full of white owners of such seaside/ lakeside establishments, Nzisa is a refreshing local face on the hoteling scene; and has done so well with her daring venture that a second one, Takawiri Victoria Sands resort, is soon opening on the island.

Blessed with a third child in early April (at 45), it vexes Nzisa that there are detractors out there who still believe a woman like her must have a ‘sponsor’, like a powerful politician, behind her. 

“It is the tragedy of our small-brained and corrupt local politics,” she says, “that people only think of get-rich-quick ‘hustles’ in this country. At 25, I had a vision – to retire by age 45! By 35 when I got means, I had a mission – to save towards my vision of the exact hotel to retire in ...”

And now Nzisa has ‘retired’ to hospitality business, which is where her passion lies.



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