Editor’s Choice

Mama Ngina Kenyatta: How house wife became Kenya’s richest woman!

#Pandora Papers: ‘Ventures’ magazine named her one of the over 50 people in Africa who were dollar billionaires

Sons of fortune: Mama Ngina Kenyatta flanked by her sons and hubby. She once confessed that when Mzee Kenyatta died in 1978 she struggled to pay school fees for Muhoho and Uhuru at St Mary’s School, Nairobi.
But today mother and sons hold offshore accounts holding billions of shillings in the tax havens of Panama and British Virgin Islands. Nothing wrong with that, and in reality such offshore accounts are not illegal. But people who salt money via Trusts and Foundations in tax havens, are mostly escaping taxation-and Kenya is one of the most taxed countries in the world- besides using the said accounts as fronts for ‘all manner of dealings.’

By GW Ngari

Editor-at-Large

@Undercover KE

By now you must have heard that former First Lady Mama Ngina Kenyatta is among the few Kenyans operating offshore accounts holding billions of shillings. Also in this league are her sons, President Uhuru Kenyatta and younger brother Muhoho Kenyatta and their sisters.

Never mind Mama Ngina Kenyatta also draws a monthly government stipend in excess of Sh500, 000. Her dough is 40 percent of what her son currently trousers home a month. Mama Ngina is paid for being the spouse of founding President, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta-who died in August 1978 when Uhuru was still a wiry student at St Mary’s School, Nairobi.

The National Treasury explained that the pay is pegged on the law which stipulates that a spouse of a retired or dead president be provided for with pay calculated at 40 percent the salary of a sitting president.

Despite no records of any basic education, Mama Ngina Kenyatta is easily Kenya’s richest woman

First among equals: Founding President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta wanted to badly buy a prime beach plot not knowing the reluctant seller was his wife, First Lady Mama Ngina Kenyatta. Though Kenyatta had two other breathing wives (Grace Wanjiku had died giving birth) it was the fourth wife, Mama Ngina who became First Lady-and the richest of all the other wives including first wife Grace Wahu and Edna Clarke, mother of Magana Kenyatta, a British national.
Mama Ngina’s wealth is a classic case of employing state power and resources coupled with crony capitalism, nepotism and unbridled avarice to feather one’s nest.

Mama Ngina who is bending her 80s began receiving the pay way before her son became President. But there has been legal debate whether her pay is consistent with the Presidential Retirement Benefit Act which took effect in 2003. But her pay of Sh577, 500 is pocket change for Mama Ngina, easily Kenya’s richest woman, a multi-billionaire in real coin.

Her journey to stupendous fortunes began when at 18, she was married off to Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, over 50 years her senior in 1951.

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Despite no records of any basic education, professional training or any stints of formal employment , the secured investments of Mama Ngina Kenyatta sweep across hospitality, banking, mining, large-scale agriculture, equities, property, real estate and ranching.

Kenyatta left his family inter-generational wealth which can only be squandered in 100 lifetimes

The grave is a private place: Mama Ngina Kenyatta receiving the Presidential Standard during the burial of her hubby, founding President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta on August 31, 1978. Besides the Pandora Papers, the lid on her personal fortune was lifted when Commercial Bank of Africa, where the Kenyatta’s have a controlling stake, acquired NIC Bank largely owned by the Philip Ndegwa family.
Kenyans learnt that Mama Ngina and her brood are the largest shareholders of what later became NCBA with their combined worth pegged at over Sh15 billion. Of that bonanza, Mama Ngina Kenya owned at the time, Sh8.8 billion of Kenya’s third largest bank by assets!

It is instructive that when her husband left Kapenguria Prison in 1959, Jomo Kenyatta had nothing to bank on. When he died in 1978 after 15 years as president, he left his family inter-generational wealth which can only be squandered in 100 lifetimes of utter idiocy. 

Curiously, she once confessed in a local vernacular radio station some years back that she struggled with school fees as Kenyatta left her with little to go on!

Yet, Mama Ngina’s combined stake together with sons, President Uhuru and Muhoho Kenyatta was 13.21 percent of the merged NCBA bank worth Sh6.6 billion and held through Enke Investments. Mama Ngina holds another 11.93 percent through Ropat Nominees Ltd worth Sh5.9 billlion and another 5.7 percent through Ropat Trust Company valued at over Sh2.9 billion.

Besides farms and businesses in Brazil, the Kenyattas have a fortune running into billions of shillings

Heads you win: CBA merged with NIC to create NCBA, Kenya’s third largest bank by assets and where Mama Ngina and sons Muhoho and Uhuru Kenyatta are listed among the largest shareholders with equity worth over Sh6 billion.
Ventures, a Nigerian-based financial magazine named her one of the over 50 people in Africa who were dollar billionaires, basically those with assets in excess of Sh100 billion. The other Kenyans on the list were the late politician Nicholas Biwott, businessman Naushad Merali and industrialist Manu Chandaria

 Indeed, Mama Ngina was one of only three women dollar billionaires in Africa. The other two being Isabel Dos Santos, the daughter of Angola’s president and Nigerian oil tycoon, Folorunsho Alakija.  The family wealth of which she was a beneficiary was built over time, actually, in the first 15 years of Kenyatta becoming President.

British historian Charles Hornsby notes in his 2013 effort, Kenya: A History since Independence that “The Kenyattas were probably the wealthiest African family in Kenya. They owned the Heritage Hotels chain, the Hilton Hotel, and hotels in most of the main parks.

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The family owned Brookside Dairies, which had taken over much of the urban market for milk. They still had vast tracts of land in the Rift Valley, on the coast and along the Nairobi–Thika road,” besides farms and businesses in Brazil and a fortune running into billions of shillings.

Besides prime beach land, Mama Ngina also engaged in sale of game trophies including lucrative export of baby elephant ivories

Mama knows best: One of Mama Ngina’s early forays was in acquisition of prime beach plots in Mombasa when Eliud Mahihu was Coast Provincial Commissioner. To be allocated a beach plot, two signatures were crucial- Mzee Kenyatta and Mama Ngina’s.
Duncan Ndegwa in his 2009 memoirs, Walking in Kenyatta Struggles: My Story, recalls an incident when Kenyatta desired a particular beach plot only to be told the owner was not selling. Upon insisting, the patriarchal Kenyatta was informed the owner was actually a woman. he wanted her brought to him forthwith for negotiations only for his handlers to inform him “she is seated next to you!”
It was on these beach plots that the family erected Leopard Beach Hotel, one in a chain that form their Heritage Hotels & Resorts.

Besides prime beach land, Mama Ngina also got licenses from the Ministry of Wildlife and Natural Resources to engage in the sale of game trophies including the lucrative export of baby elephant ivories before a ban was imposed in 1977.

Using her position and that of her husband, Hornsby notes that Mama Ngina was allocated or bought on the cheap large farms through Mzee Kenyatta’s personal approval, but which exempted her property from review by land control boards.

In 1975, Britain’s Sunday Times in an expose on the Kenyatta’s listed her vast farms including Mama Ngina’s own 26,000-acre farm in Kiambu, and another in Rongai, Nakuru, next to Kenyatta’s own. The Sunday Times also included Kenyatta and Mama Ngina’s beach plots, 11 prime properties by 1972, but which the Mombasa Municipal Council waived all rates.

Mama Ngina was allocated or bought on the cheap large farms through Mzee Kenyatta’s personal approval

Mama Ngina’s other ventures were in gemstones, deals she entered through fronts including Asian lawyers and accountants and mzungus, the biggest being George Criticos, the father of Basil Criticos (above), the former Taveta MP.
Through Criticos Sr, Mama Ngina and Uhuru’s cousin, now Nominated Senator Beth Mugo, wrestled a ruby mine valued at $5 million (Sh500 million today) but which was the largest in the world at the time it was discovered by American prospectors, geologist John Saul and business partner Elliot Miller in 1974.
The two Americans were later deported on June 18, 1974, the same day, the mining claims register was mysteriously lost and later resurfaced bearing the names of George Criticos-the man who had who had minted his dough selling guns and scrap metal in Egypt.
Criticos, with whom Mzee Kenyatta had split the whole of Taita Taveta District according to Ndegwa memoirs,  laid claim to the most lucrative of the three mines as the president castigated some “foreign geologist out to swindle  Kenyans.”

 The American Embassy through protests of Ambassador Anthony Marshall were followed by hostile press coverage in the US and the UK. In fact, copies of Time magazine carrying the story were impounded at the airport and destroyed. It was only after America threatened to cut foreign aid that Kenya backed down.

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“The Criticos license was revoked in December, and Mama Ngina returned one of the mines, though the other remained in family hands. Compensation was only paid to the Americans when Kenya needed US military assistance in 1976,” notes Hornsby.

Mama Ngina returned one of the mines, though the other remained in family hands

Best kept secret: President Uhuru and former First Lady Mama Ngina Kenyatta. She is said to be among his advisers but that is not why she draws a monthly pay of over Sh500, 000. Mama Ngina Kenyatta had for years been a beneficiary of political and state largesse in which legitimate and illegitimate means were the sure routes to untold wealth. She used the connections her position conferred to acquire businesses, extract commissions and win contracts.

  Mama Ngina is still in mining, Beth Mugo still operates Beth International, a gemstone concern. Saul and Miller returned to Kenya after Mzee Kenyatta’s death in August 1978 and continued profiting from Nga’ang’a Mine until the 1990s when they fell out with each other and is now owned by politician Johnston Muthama.

Business links gave President Moi another reason to favour Uhuru Kenyatta as his replacement

Shall we tell the president? Former strongman Daniel arap Moi harassed the Kikuyu community when he took over power in 1978. But he left the Kenyattas alone. British historian Charles Hornsby notes in his 2013 effort, Kenya: A History since Independence that “Moi had remained friendly with Mama Ngina, and the Moi and Kenyatta families were in business together. The Commercial Bank of Africa and Euro Bank were believed to be part-owned by the two families. They also had joint interests in transport, shipping, hotels, the media and land.”
Hornsby continues to note that “these links gave Moi another reason to favour a Kenyatta as his replacement. Without clear institutional mechanisms or any precedent to protect him, Moi had reason to be fearful of his future under another president.”

Following Kenyatta’s death, the CIA Report the Economic Intelligence Weekly Review dated August 31, 1978 on Mama Ngina stated that she “owns at least 115,000 hectares including a 13,000 hectare ranch in the Kiambu district, two tea plantations at Matu and Mangu, and three sisal farms near the Tanzanian border. She also has considerable holdings in the resort areas around Mombasa and is involved in coffee plantations and in the Kenyan ruby mines”.

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