I planned for job exit at my 30s

By Harriet James
Wednesday, July 29th, 2020
Ambassador Max Kahendi found a new sense of meaning in writing after his retirement. Photo/PD/HARRIET JAMES

Ambassador MAX KAHENDI  fall back plan was farming, writing a book and creating social networks, such that he didn’t have a lot of adjustments to make when his time came to go home.

Harriet James @harriet86jim

At the age of 55 years, Amb Max Kahendi, retired as a diplomat in 2002. He was lucky to be posted to the national defense college as deputy commandant where he served for three and a half years.

After this role, he completely retired and went home to farm strawberries.

He also found time to complete his book. “I had wanted to write and I thought after retirement, I would be a journalist and write on world issues.

I love anything well written and in my career as a diplomat, I wrote many speeches for my delegation and I.

Writing is both special and easy to me and in my secondary school days, I won several essay competitions,” he recalls. 

In his book titled, David Livingstone: The Wayward Vagabond, Amb. Kahendi questions the reasons the 19th century explorers and missionaries came to Africa.

While it’s often said they came to civilise “backward” Africans, the author, from the evidences he collected while on a mission in Zimbabwe, creatively re-imagines, arguing that that was far from the truth. 

Loss of status, freebies

“While I was working as a diplomat in Zimbabwe, I discovered something about the missionaries and I thought this was something I could write in a book. 

I spent most of my time gathering files on David Livingstone until I was ready to write the book. 

I held it back from 1986 to when I retired,” narrates Amb Kahendi In 1997, while on assignment in France, Amb Kahendi had also embarked to write a book, The Centre is Black, which talks about corruption. 

The book was published in Britain and since he was a civil servant, he requested that no copies be sold here in Kenya.

David Mwakitele. Photo/PD/HARRIET JAMES

Now that he has retired, he plans to have some published, and contribute to the corruption discourse in the country. 

He recalls how as a diplomat one is accorded respect due to the fact that you speak on behalf of the president.

“People give respect to diplomats because you are referred to as an excellency and it’s not for nothing.

You are supposed to know things which people do not know, you sometimes become a consultant to the extent that the president can call you and ask you questions on certain issues depending on where you are working. 

This can get into your head and can become a big mistake when you retire. Nobody gives you a free ticket to fly all over the world.

There’s no podium to address the world at the UN and other venues, you are not negotiating and showing people and the country the way forward. You are now alone, all by yourself,” he says 

Psychological challenges

According to Dr Anthony Ireri, a psychologist and personal assessment expert, most retirees have a feeling of relaxation and freedom from the rigid structures of employment.

However, ironically, that feeling is always short lived as the same freedom occasions boredom, and inactivity among many retirees.

“In Kenya, we overrate formal employment, therefore, employed people are highly esteemed.

Unemployment leads to loss of that identity and status. This may make some to feel worthless,” he notes.

Other psychological challenges include adjusting to new life and new social networks. Many people retire to their rural homes having spent most of their working years in cities and towns. 

Ireri argues that adjusting to having so much time, so little (or so much) to do, with little money, in a home deserted by children, with an elderly spouse, is hard for some retirees.

“It is even harder having to work out new budgets and lifestyles. Learning to reconnect with people one had lived away from for so many years may also bring disillusionment.

Depending on how you related with neighbours while working, some may actually mock and laugh at your new status adding to your mental torture, stress, and depression,” says Ireri. 

For Amb Kahendi, his book has given him a new sense of meaning and a platform.

Though not as prestigious as his former job, he now talks to a younger generation of authors and writers who look up to him for wisdom and guidance. 

Also, though now he doesn’t hang out with high profile people such as presidents, ministers and his fellow ambassadors, he has found new friends in the academic as well as publishing world. 

In addition, he is a part of a private members club where he interacts and catches up with the echelons in the society. 

Now he is earning a third of what he used to thanks to his little farm, which he had bought during his days as an ambassador.

He also needed to reconnect with his family and old friends when he came back.

Belonging to an old Nairobi boys school association assisted him reconnect with his friends. 

“We have a close-knit group, where before Covid-19, we would meet once a month share a meal, joke and all those things.

It was refreshing to see peopleI had not seen for decades,” he says  His five children live in different continents thank to his travelling job.

His eldest daughter is in the UK, his son in America and the last three live with him in the country. 

Preparing for retirement

When it comes to investments, Amb Kahendi already had prepared himself for retirement.

Together with his friends, while at the age of 30 years, they saved some money and adapted something called divine economics, which meant that they eat less and saved more. 

“After saving, we would buy land. Some of us who were lucky enough to have plots in the suburbs, built rental houses and also it was easy to get a mortgage.

One had to put a deposit maybe 10 to 20 per cent and qualified to get a house. 

I had to have something to fall back on once I came back from abroad,” he says.

Research indicates that one will require about 70 per cent of what you make at the peak of your career to maintain that standard of living in retirement. 

According to David Mwakitele, a retirement expert and Head of Pensions, Cytonn Asset Managers LTD, saving at least 10 per cent of your salary, from as early as your 20s, reduces the risk of you running out of money at retirement by about 30 per cent.

“For one to enjoy their retirement, it is imperative that they start saving early and for the more financially literate, to save with a target pension in mind. Retirement can be a miserable part of one’s life should this not be done,” he notes 

David advises those still in employment to start saving early for retirement through a registered retirement benefits scheme.

“Employees should be psychologically prepared for retirement from the day they sign the letter of accepting the offer employment.

It may help if employers stated the expected retirement date on such letters of employment,” he advises.

“Retirees need to be empowered to engage in income generating activities, to restructure their goals, structure their working lives, make new friends, if possible, get part time jobs that require their expertise and to reconfigure their budgets.

They should also be given psychosocial support through peer groups, and helped to feel appreciated by their immediate families and society,” he says.