Monday, December 12, 2011

Mbo-I-Kamiti: Puzzle of murders in battle for multi-billion shilling estates


The “curse” of troubled Mbo-I-Kamiti Farmers Company continues after people believed to be hired thugs murdered chairman of the giant land buying firm.

It followed the killings of other directors linked to the company in a chain of murders stretching back to 2000, with the police having zero success in arresting those
Even after the murders, the police remain helpless, and no arrests or convictions have been made since the killings began in 2000.

The gangland-style murder of former company chairman, Stephen Waweru Njenga last month put him on a long and bloody list of former directors of Mbo-I-Kamiti who have been brutally killed in circumstances said to be linked to leadership rivalries, competition for control of assets and efforts to cover up fraud.

The list includes lawyers and accountants. On November 17, Njenga was shot in broad daylight at close range, while on his way from his Githunguri home to Nairobi at about 9.00am. A saloon car blocked his vehicle before a man walked to his window and shot him three times, killing him on the spot.

According to witnesses, people in the vehicle that blocked Njenga’s car yelled at him saying they had finally caught up with him before gunning him down. Police said nothing was stolen.

Ironically, Njenga was himself a suspect in the killing a former director and treasurer of Mbo-I-Kamiti, Mr James Ngamau Machua, in January this year. A day before his death, Njenga attended the mention of the case in Nairobi where he denied murdering Ngamau.
High Court judge Nicholas Ombija directed him to pay cash bail of Sh1 million to secure his release while awaiting trial. He was ordered to deposit a bond of Sh1 million and two sureties each of the same amount after he applied to be freed, which he did.

Njenga had been complaining his life was in danger and even sought the help of police in vain.

Even his wife, Jennifer Ngendo, said the murder did not come as a surprise since he had received death threats from unknown people. Njenga was among those who had filed a case at the High Court in Nairobi to block the sale of the firm’s property.
Machua was shot dead as he waited to board a vehicle at the company’s Kabazi estate on January 5, 2010, Kiambu.

Mbo-I-Kamiti, created by former Mau Mau freedom fighters and detainees, and now controlled by their children and grandchildren, has known neither peace not profit, since its birth.

Mistrust

Not even the intervention by the Minister for Cooperative Development, Joseph Nyagah, has helped resolve the problem, which has led to mistrust among shareholders.

Kiambu Officer Commanding Police Division (OCPD) Samuel Mukindia said investigations into the murder of Njenga are ongoing.
“A murder file has been opened and so far about ten people have been questioned over the same. We are still investigating the incident and the past ones,” he said.
He said the murder of other former directors at the firm remain unsolved.

Some now believe Mbo-I–Kamiti is a security threat, and the Government should intervene and compel the firm to subdivide its land and other assets among shareholders and their families, to end the bloodbath.

Insiders say police officers dread cases related to Mbo-I-Kamiti because of the chilling manner in which the murderers kill their victims.

Two victims, a man and woman were killed in front of their families by thugs who drove nails into their heads in their Kahawa Sukari and Juja residencies respectively in 2001.

Police say the killings were linked to their stand in the sale of the company’s property. There are shareholders who want the property sold while another group is opposed.

“Shareholder rights should be respected, but the endless fraud and bloodbath are hard to ignore, and call for an extraordinary intervention to end the misery visited on the ordinary shareholders. It is not without precedent. Retired President Moi intervened to end the management and leadership wrangles in former giant land buying companies like Gema Holdings and Ngwataniro Mutukanio,” said Kikuyu Council of Elders Chairman, Mr Wachira Kiago.

Mr Ibrahim Mwathane, a Kenya Private Sector Alliance (Kepsa) expert on land matters and former chairman of the Institution of Surveyors of Kenya, says Mbo-I-Kamiti’s problems have overgrown the capacity of elected directors to contain, and the Government should intervene.

“Mbo-I-Kamiti has grown into a hydra-headed monster whose internal leadership cannot control any more” he said. He cited a farm called Thika, off the Thika-Garissa Highway, just after 12thEngineers Battalion in Thika town that had similar challenges in the 1990s.
At the time, the Government stepped in with a task force to oversee its subdivision and allocation of properties to members. It was chaired by the local provincial administration with the Co-operatives ministry as the secretariat. The task force also included members of the local leadership and respective technical officers at the district level.

“The task force was able to keep off internal wrangles, review member registers, and take stock of assets which was land. A subdivision was proposed, approved, and implemented and members issued with individual plots that marked the end of bloody wars,” said Mwathane.

A regular commentator on land policy matters, Mwathane thinks the knotted Mbo-I-Kamiti problems can only be resolved with outside intervention.

“I think Mbo-I-Kamiti is beyond handling by elected directors. The Government must step in and appoint a task force under the relevant Ministry,” he said.

Changing fortunes

The expansion of the ultra-modern road network passing through Central Kenya, including the Thika superhighway, and repossession and development of the Northern by-pass has changed the fortunes of landowners in the area.

Indeed Mbo-I-Kamiti shareholders should ideally be celebrating as the Thika superhighway has converted its properties into some the most coveted prime real estate in the country:

Its farms include Anmer and Kabazi on the outskirts of Kiambu town just on the border of the proposed the exclusive Tatu City housing development.

Another controversial estate called Twiga Farm, located 5km from Ruiru town on the Thika superhighway is over1,100 acres, but is also tied up by a court case. Company officials put the value of the farm at Sh2.5 billion, according to court records in the case.

But shareholders and leaders of the firm have known nothing but bloodshed and intimidation since the company’s founding.

Last September, the chairman of the company, Dr Thuo Mathenge, was shot as he entered his compound in Tigoni, Limuru district in Kiambu County. Police said 16 spent cartridges were collected on the scene of the shooting in which Dr Mathenge was injured on the hip and on the legs.

In the case of Njenga, he claimed his life was in danger and that people he believed were thugs raided his Kiambu home. Early last week, Gladys Waithera Kamau, another former chairman of controversial farming group claimed she had gone into hiding from her home in Lari district, also in Kiambu County, after “suspicious” people began asking for her whereabouts.

The company, which controls a spread of multibillion shillings worth of prime land in the county is riddled with controversies as a large swathe of its former farmland in Kiambu comes under intense interest from high-end property developers.
Njenga had said in a letter to the police that was attacked five times in the two months to November, claiming his assailants were people unhappy with his move to stop the sale of the company’s land.

As for the late Machua, his is said to have been involved in a shares certificate verification exercise, which from time to time had been interrupted by confrontations between supporters of the current management and those of their predecessors.
“A lot of people out there are unhappy with my various attempts to protect our company’s assets, but I won’t be cowed. I will soldier on and see to it that shareholders get a chance to enjoy fruits of their assets,” Dr Mathenge said from his Nyeri home

Rarely earned dividends

From a squabbling company in which shareholders rarely earned dividends going back to the 1990s, the recent expansion of Nairobi city driven by superhighways catapulted the company’s farms to some of the most prime real estate on the outskirts of Kenya’s capital city.

But things might yet change for the better for the company. Last month, the company’s management led by Dr Mathenge, announced they had sold their Kiura estate to pay 1,000 workers’ two decades worth of salary arrears, and an Sh540 million National Bank of Kenya debt.

According to the chairman, the clearance of the arrears and the bank loan had opened the way for the company to subdivide its land amongst its long-suffering shareholders. But it is noteworthy that the plan to dispose off some of the firm’s assets was the genesis of the bloodshed with some of the older directors strongly opposed to it.

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