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Chini ya maji: President Kibaki the silent billionaire

He was not in the super-rich league because he lacked the ‘killer instinct’ or an appetite for gross corruption

Significant other: The late President Mwai Kibaki and the late wife Lucy Kibaki invested in real estate, textiles, fashion retail, property, equities, insurance, art and curios, hospitality, agriculture and agro-processing. But he was certainly not in the same financial Diamond League as the Kenyattas, the Mois, the Ndegwas.

By GW Ngari


Money, it has been said, does not change you, it reveals you. What wealth reveals about the late former President Mwai Kibaki, is that he is a modest, front-pew Catholic.

Today, few can pinpoint what Kenya’s third president owns besides his grey suits, blue ties, black laced Oxford shoes, the S600 Mercedes and his home in Old Muthaiga. Yet, he was in politics for over 50 years.

But despite their modesty by the standards of his time, his investments cannot be sneezed at. The bulk of them are under proxies, investment vehicles and holding companies, a streak of Kibaki’s private nature and training as an economist who knows the art of financial discretion.

The broom of Kibaki’s investments sweeps across real estate, textiles, fashion retail, property, equities, insurance, art and curios, hospitality, large-scale agriculture and agro-processing.

Kibaki acquired from McKenzie the family’s crown jewel, the 1, 200-acre Gingalili Farm

I am not boarding: Kibaki did not retire at his Sh400 million Mweiga home after Lucy’s Kibaki died in 2016. He chose his Muthaiga home in Nairobi where his old friends are. Kibaki’s annual salary kissed the Sh34 million ceiling annually including perks like house, fuel and entertainment allowances, making him the highest paid retired civil servant.

Majority of them were made when he was Finance Minister in the 1970s to mid-1980s and include large-scale land holdings acquired from one-time Cabinet Minister and spy Bruce McKenzie, who died in a plane crash in 1978.  

McKenzie sold Kibaki the 1, 000 acres in Bahati Nakuru County, the 10,000 acres at Igwamiti in Laikipia County and another 10,000 acres in Rumuruti also in Laikipia. And were it for a fire in 2002, Kenyans would never have known that the 1, 600 acre Rware wheat ranch in Naro Moru belonged to Kibaki.

Kibaki also acquired from McKenzie the family’s crown jewel: the 1, 200-acre Gingalili Farm nestled along the Nakuru-Nyahururu road, Nakuru County-where the Kibakis are developing a gated community worth Sh8 billion under Gingalili Farm (1968) Ltd.

The project, located 15 kilometres from Nakuru town, has witnessed subdivision of 800 acres into residential plots measuring one eighth, half and one acre for sale to individuals and institutions. High-end homes would also be for leasing and sale within a gated community that will host the luxurious hotel.

The Kibakis sold Union Towers on Mama Ngina street to Mt Kenya University for Sh800 million

Fashion cents: Kibaki was the second largest shareholder of the troubled retailer Deacons, founded by his friend and business partner, the late Charles Gathuri Mwangi. The Kibakis invested heavily in Deacons to take advantage of America’s Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) which allowed locally manufactured clothes to be exported to the USA. When we last checked, the shares which have since been delisted had nosed south to 45cts!

Gingalili is part of Lucia & Company, Kibaki’s holding company which manages interests in hospitality comprising Nairobi’s Silver Springs Hotel where daughter Judy Kibaki is a director. There is also Green Hills Hotel which Kibaki opened in Nyeri in 1979 and Kentrout Grill and Campsite in Timau.

Kibaki’s foray into property include a minority stake in Chris Kirubi’s International House along Mama Ngina street and Finance House on Loita street in Nairobi where he had a private office. Lucia & Company also operated from Finance House before relocating to Bishop’s Gardens in Kilimani where it oversees assorted divestures.
In 2014 for instance, the Kibakis sold Union Towers on Mama Ngina street to Mt Kenya University for Sh800 million. Kibaki had invested in the 14-floor building in central Nairobi via Parkway Investment Ltd, which he co-owned with the late Dr Njoroge Mungai, one time Minister for Foreign Affairs and the personal physician for founding President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta.

Kibaki has also invested in companies listed at the Nairobi Securities Exchange through PBM Nominees Ltd

Daddy’s only girl: Judy Kibaki represents her Old Guy on the boards of Silver Springs Hotel, Deacons and other ventures in real estate.

The business partnership with Dr Mungai was common for nationalist politicians who ascended to positions of influence after Kenya’s independence in 1963.

But Kibaki’s early entry into  property was in Nyeri town where he and seven partners including his brother, Githinji, bought a quarter acre parcel in 1976 from a Sh220, 000 loan.
They then incorporated Mathingira Wholesalers Ltd in 1983 and erected a rental building. The business is now part of a dispute which saw Kibaki appear in court since all the original shareholders are dead save for Kibaki and Kamwatu Kanyungu, a former councillor. The wholesaling business dwindled but the building is now valued at Sh20 million, but whose rental income has nosed south from Sh900, 000 a month to Sh500, 000.
Kibaki has also invested in companies listed at the Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE) through PBM Nominees Ltd with stakes in Housing Finance, Barclays (now Absa), Centum and Standard Chartered.

Through Pinpoint Investments, Kibaki owns 8.7 percent in the troubled Deacons East Africa where Judy Kibaki was a board member. Kibaki was the second largest shareholder after Swedfund International AB with a 14.03 per cent stake. The third largest shareholder was Deacons founder, the late Charles Gathuri Mwangi, who was Kibaki’s proxy in many ventures in real estate and agriculture. It was Gathuri who sold what is today Sasini Mweiga Estate to businessman Naushad Merali.

Charles Gathuri Mwangi was Kibaki’s proxy in many ventures in real estate and agriculture

Concrete fortune: Kibaki has a minority stake in Chris Kirubi’s International House, Nairobi.

Since its listing in the Alternative Investment Market at the NSE in 2016, the top 10 shareholders of Deacons came to grief after collectively losing Sh1.9 billion of paper wealth in two years. The fading fortunes were blamed on the collapse of Nakumatt and Uchumi supermarkets which reduced foot traffic to its stores in major malls, stiff competition and losing the Mr Price franchise. 

Having been a one-time Finance Minister, it was with a natural transition that he invested in that direction. Again through Pinpoint Investments, Kibaki had interests in General Credit Savings Ltd which morphed into the now defunct Nationwide Finance, a bank whose other shareholders included Finance Under-Secretary, the late Mwaura Gachui, land economist JK Mbuu and lawyer Kiragu Mwangi.

Kibaki held 14 shares in Nationwide but owing to conflict of interest, his cousin, the late Alex Muriithi sat on the board on his behalf. 

  The financial honeymoon at Nationwide Finance was short-lived after the banking crisis of 1986 saw the government collapsing and merging it with others to form what is today the Consolidated Bank.
The tanking of his venture in finance went hand in hand with his dwindling political fortunes as two years later, the late President Moi sacked him as Vice President with a demotion to the Health docket in 1988.

Kibaki, as Minister for Finance, dubiously feathered the nest of Alico where he was a shareholder

Old money never sleeps: Kibaki did see eye to eye with former Attorney General, the late Charles Njonjo despite being neighbours in Muthaiga, Nairobi. But both combined working for and doing business with government via significant stakes in Alico and Heri Ltd.

Kibaki’s other interests were in finance, insurance and public equities held through African Liaison and Consulting Services Ltd (Alico), an investment vehicle comprising civil servants and security chiefs and formed to take advantage of the ‘Africanization Program’ in 1977 when Kenyans were encouraged to buy into businesses, buildings and farms owned by foreigners.

Kibaki took advantage of his position as Minister for Finance and Planning to dubiously award Alico, a local motor assembly franchise, as historian Daniel Branch notes in Kenya: Between Hope and Despair 1963-2011.
The directors of Alico included Police Commissioner Ben Gethi, Spy chief James Kanyotu, former Minister for Agriculture and Animal Husbandry Bruce McKenzie and Kenya Power and Lighting MD, Julius Gecau. When McKenzie died in a plane accident in 1978, his slot was taken by PK Jani who nosed north its interests to include substantial shareholding in Stanbic bank and Heritage Insurance.

Also brought on board was Head of Civil Service Jeremiah Kiereini and Moi on the wings as silent shareholders.
British historian Charles Hornsby in Kenya: A history since Independence notes that Alico marked “the pinnacle of Kenya’s small security–political–executive complex, and it took a leading role in acquisitions and investments during the late 1970s and early 1980s.”

Heri Ltd, where Kibaki held 19, 000 shares, was purposely formed on the back of a bank loan, to buy into DT Dobie

Creature comforts: Interests in hospitality are evident through Silver Springs Hotel in Nairobi where daughter Judy Kibaki is a board member. Not all of Kibaki’s businesses succeeded though. Besides the recent collapse of Deacons, there was also United Touring Company (UTC), his entry into tourism with the late Njenga Karume as a partner. Before its collapse, UTC, was one of the largest and most successful tour operators in 1980s Kenya.

It was not hard for Alico to get business through networks: McKenzie sat on the boards of Kenya Airways, CMC Holdings and a dozen other companies. Kanyotu was involved in Firestone, Sheraton Holdings and Sameer Investments of Asian tycoon Naushad Merali-the business partner of all Kenyan presidents and their families.
Kibaki was also a shareholder in another outfit called Heri Ltd whose other shareholders included; then AG Charles Njonjo and former Central Bank Governor Philip Ndegwa, Foreign Affairs Minister Dr Njoroge Mungai and Jeremiah Kiereini.
Heri Ltd was purposely formed on the back of a bank loan, to buy into DT Dobie, with an eye on supplying the government with Mercedes Benzes but which extended to Mercedes trucks for military use which was easy with Kiereini as PS at Defense.
Heri later branched into property and substantial stakes in blue chips. But it first began by mopping up Dobie family’s five percent stake on the market, before increasing it to 45 percent. Kibaki held 19,000 shares in Heri Ltd.

Kibaki rarely engaged in conspicuous consumption despite apparent aloofness

Riding money: Kibaki was an investor in Heri Ltd which owned 45 percent of DT Dobie, the biggest supplier of Mercedes limos and military trucks to government where Kibaki was Finance Minister and later President.

Does this explain why Kibaki was rarely a show off?

While those born in blighting poverty recover by showing off, Kibaki, the last born of eight in a family of peasant farmers, rarely engaged in conspicuous consumption despite apparent aloofness.
Hornsby adds that though Kibaki was successful and wealthy from shareholdings in many companies, he was “not in the super-rich league because he lacked the ‘killer instinct’ or an appetite for gross corruption.”
Give or take, Mwai Kibaki’s billions are not a bad showing for someone who grew up in rural Gatuyaini village in Nyeri County, where he tended livestock enroute to Nyeri and Mang’u High schools and eventually Uganda’s Makerere University where he graduated with a Finance Class Honours in economics, political science and history. He was Makerere’s best student of 1955. He then proceeded to London School of Economics (economics and public finance, 1958) was thrust into politics courtesy of the late Jaramogi Oginga Odinga.
Due to racial segregation in housing before independence, the Kibakis lived in the Eastlands but fortunes changed when he was elected Donholm MP. They moved to Old Muthaiga, not far from Muthaiga Golf Club where he was a golfer and member.

World Bank president Robert MacNamara once described him as “one of the greatest economic brains to have emerged from Africa”, and in 1974, Time magazine nominated him among the top 100 people in the world who had the potential to lead.

This is the man who became Kenya’s third President in 2002 and whose sense of detachment to being immortalized is such that besides The Mwai Kibaki Library at the University of Nairobi’s Chiromo Campus, there are no roads or monuments named after him. 

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