Hundreds of mourners today gathered for a memorial service for six selfless Cellulant IT professionals who were among 21 people killed by terrorists seven days ago at Dusit 2 Hotel and Office Complex off 14 Riverside Drive in Westlands, Nairobi.
While paying tribute to six staff members; Messrs Ashford Kuria, Denis Mwaniki, Kelvin Gitonga, Jeremiah Mbaria, John Ndiritu and Wilfred Kareithi, Cellulant renowned as one of Africa’s most innovative Fintech powerhouse, hailed its six employees as brave, kind and selfless. This followed the staff demonstrated acts of saving their colleagues while putting their lives at risk at their office headquartered at Dusit 2.
Congregants at the memorial service led by Pastor Nick Korir at Christ is the Answer Ministries, Valley Road learnt that when the attackers set off the first explosion in the open air compound at 15:00 Hrs local time.
Sensing trouble both Mbaria and Kuria who were leading a team meeting embarked on the swift mission of helping their colleagues to evacuate the office occupied by an average 150 on the fifth and sixth floor of Dusit. They were joined by Mwaniki as they guided staff out of the complex to a neighbouring compound in a bid scamper for safety.
Following the team’s joint effort, 83 colleagues safely sneaked through an emergency door that led to the rear side of the building. However, the militants noticed them and the remaining employees scattered in different directions owing to escalated shooting in their direction.
While narrating the bravery act of Cellulant staff, Ken Njoroge – CEO and Co-founder of Cellulant said six of the staff members sought refuge in a small room underneath a staircase on the first floor while 11 others hid in two washrooms on the fifth floor. It was from one of the washrooms that Kuria spotted, pulled out and shot after a brief commotion. The militants, who did not see the others hidden there made their way downstairs where six employees were hiding under the stairs and opened fire, shooting five of them dead after introducing themselves as al-Shabab.
“One of our colleagues was miraculously unharmed. Jeremiah, Mike, John, Kelvin and Denis had shielded her into the back corner behind them, effectively removing her from sight,” said Njoroge.
The requiem service attended by Joe Mucheru, Kenya’s ICT Cabinet Secretary who read a condolence message from Uhuru Kenyatta, Kenya’s President.
Mucheru said that while at a Government’s Situation Room, he noticed a number of things pointed towards God’s love and protection of Kenya. “One can’t explain how a suicide bomber ended up blowing himself in the open field if this is not God’s protection to his people,” adding that even those who hide in the washrooms and eventually heard the terrorist walk away from them was a powerful testimony that only God knows why he saved the staff.
Elite police officers, popularly known as Recce Squad ended a 19-hour siege after killing all five armed attackers who had stormed Dusit Complex alongside a suicide bomber.
Mucheru noted that in an effort to enhance security in the country the President had signed into law a biometrics registration for all the citizens. He took swipe to some people in the tech community opposed to the move.
In his condolence message Bolaji Akinboro, Cellulant Group Co-CEOs, paid tribute to the staff as he condoled the bereaved families and friends “While some of our staff have as well been physically injured, we have all as Cellulant family been emotionally affected,” he said adding: “Cellulant would like to express our deepest condolences to the families who have lost their loved ones.”
…And who were the Cellulant Six?
Ashford Kuria | Head of Product Development Department
Fondly remembered by Cellutant colleagues as “the ultimate geek”, Mr Kuria had worked on all the company’s major products, and was part of the team that built the technology that supports Cellutant services.
The 36-year-old who was engaged to the love of his life and were planning their wedding this year was noted as an effective team leader. “Ashford led his team like a champion. He was kind, funny, generous and a gentle spirit; he was the custodian of Cellulant technology,” said his colleague.
He was also described as the company’s “unofficial documentarian”. “If you wanted a photo from any event in the past 10 years – Ash would have had it,” Cellutant’s tribute said.
“His knowledge of everything about everything was hilarious,” it added.
“[Ashford] will be remembered best for his big smile, warm personality, his kindness [and] love to everyone – and most importantly his tenacity.”
Dennis Mwaniki | Head of Information Security
The information security expert was described by his employer as a “curious explorer, strategic thinker, a gentleman and exemplary leader”.
He was also one of the best IT security experts in Africa, the company said.
Cellulant secured coveted information security certification thanks to Mr Mwaniki’s “intellect”, the firm said, adding that he would be remembered as “a calm and humble spirit”.
His work enabled the company to get certified to operate in almost any market in the world.
John Wanyaga Ndiritu | Quality Assurance Tester
Having left a five-month old baby and a wife John’s eulogy drenched many eyes with tears. The Cellulant team eulogized his personality noting it as jovial, calm and humorous besides being extremely good as an engineer.
“Just because it is not my job, does not mean I cannot do it”, he would say.
“My brother was like a best friend to me, he would literally share almost everything with me; he made every situation turn into a party whenever he could; my prayer is that if there are parties and events in heaven, I wish he could be made the chairman ,” his sister said amid laughter from the congregation
“Just because it is not my job, doesn’t mean I can’t do it,” Mr Nderitu was known to tell colleagues at Cellulant in need of help.
As a quality assurance tester “he was always willing to go the extra mile to help when called upon”, the company said in a statement on Twitter.
He was part of the team members that worked on a mobile banking app for Ecobank, one of the leading banks in Africa.K
The team “delivered the app in 86 days, four platforms, four languages in 33 countries in Africa”, Cellulant said.
Jeremiah Mbaria | Head of Cellulant’s Hub
Cellulant described him as a leader, a brother and a mentor to many.
“He guided his team with humility and corrected with humour. He loved God and everyone he came across, and always challenged his team to grow.”
He had just taken up a leadership role after his manager left the company late last year.
“He took on the responsibilities of leadership very gracefully and lead by example, working late to help his team meet their deadlines,” Cellulant said.
Kelvin Gitonga | Hub Developer, Cellulant Implementation
So passionate about his job, Gitonga believed “technology would change the world”, the firm said.
It described him as “an intelligent and versatile engineer” with a thirst for knowledge and learning.
He single-handedly overhauled the product’s user interface making it easier and more friendly to use, the company said.
Wilfred Kareithi | Implementation Engineer and Leader of Cellulant’s Global Delivery Team
“Energetic” and “happy” was how Cellulant described Kareithi, who started as an intern at the company but proved himself to be one of the best engineers.
He “never shied away” from taking on the most challenging tasks, the firm said.
“He helped unconditionally, and always sought to mentor new staff members and share knowledge.”
He was managing projects in Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda and Nigeria.
May the souls of “The Brave Six” men rest in eternal peace.