The Godfather, a blockbuster movie about the Mafia settling scores, cannot be bloodier than the history of the Mbo-i-Kamiti land-buying company.
Since its inception, six directors have been killed in cold blood, not to mention other officials like accountants and lawyers. Now elders think the venture was cursed right from the beginning.
Founded in 1971, Mbo-i-Kamiti Farmers’ Company in Kiambu, was worth over Sh4 billion in the 1980s and 1990s before greed set in.
The company was set up to settle farmhands who had worked on white settler farms and widows of Mau Mau freedom fighters. Each member contributed Sh500.
But money, power, and greed hit the company. Directors looted the company’s assets, dashing the hopes of its more than 8,000 shareholders.
Then there followed the killing of directors in circumstances said to be linked to leadership rivalries, competition for control of assets, and efforts to cover up fraud.
The gangland-style murder of former company chairman, Stephen Waweru Njenga, last November was the latest in a list of former Mbo-i-Kamiti directors.
On the morning of November 17, 2011, Njenga was shot in broad daylight along the Kwamaiko-Kiambu road as he travelled from his Githunguri home to Nairobi.
A small car blocked his vehicle at about 9am, then a man walked over to his window and shot him three times. Nothing was taken from him.
His wife, Jennifer Ng’endo, said the murder did not come as a surprise because he had received death threats in connection with Mbo-i-Kamiti.
Njenga was among a group of people who had filed a case at the High Court in Nairobi to block the sale of the firm’s property. This did not go down well with a rival group.
Ironically, Njenga was a suspect in the killing of a former treasurer, James Ngamau Machua, who was gunned down as he waited to board a matatu near one of Mbo-i-Kamiti’s properties on January 5 last year.
Police say the murders are not ordinary crime. “They are well planned by rival groups,” Samuel Mukindia, the Kiambu police boss said.
In February, lawyer Rose Waruingi was shot dead at her home in Kilimani, Nairobi. Police linked her killing to Mbo-i-Kamiti after it emerged that she was involved in a Sh20 million legal dispute with some people at the company.
At least six other former directors have been killed and shareholders routinely injured when rival groups clash. In 2000, Mbugua Karanja was attacked by panga-wielding people on his way home.
A year later in 2001, a man and a woman were killed, then had nails driven into their heads in their Kahawa Sukari and Juja homes respectively.
The two murders, police said, were Mbo-i-Kamiti-related. In 1996, accountant Moses Kamau was attacked and beaten to death.
A former employee who requested anonymity said Kamau and the financial manager had evidence about the theft of company funds and were to be witnesses in a court case.
“It has been a case of hunting each other down. Everyone wanted to keep secrets hidden. Those who held damning evidence had to be bumped off,” the former employee added.
In the early 1990s, at the height of a feud with fellow directors, company director Wagicio Ngatha was poisoned.
No arrests or convictions have been made since the killings began in 2000. But James Ndung’u, the only surviving founder of the company, claims that the deaths and wrangles were brought about by a secret curse pronounced by the founding directors on anyone who stole the company’s property.
The administering of the Mbo-i-Kamiti curse, Ndung’u says, took place at a place called Mbo, the origin of the name Mbo-i-Kamiti. The name incorporates Kamiti River, which cuts through the Anmer Farm.
With the passing of time, the new directors forgot the purpose of the company and misappropriated finances, sold land, and pocketed the money, dashing the hopes of the poor shareholders.
This, Ndung’u says, explains why problems have plagued the company. “We slaughtered a goat and poured its blood and dung in the river and swore that we shall never take anything belonging to the shareholders, but what happened? The company was turned into a cash cow for selfish directors,” Ndung’u says.
The company was founded by Ndung’u, Gachanja Nduga, and Bernard Kimani with the assistance of then President Jomo Kenyatta. Ndung’u says that when the founders left the company in 1982 after being shown the door by the provincial administration, it had a healthy bank balance.
Mbo-i-Kamiti once had the best tea, dairy, and coffee farms in Kiambu and Naivasha, making Sh300 million a year. Some of its assets are now the subjects of court battles.
The company owned Kilooma (284 acres), Matropi (298 acres), Anmer (218 acres), Kiora (365 acres), Kabaazi (218 acres), Twiga, 1,200 acres, Olmorogi and Drimo ranches in Naivasha, both measuring 4,521 acres, Bradgate in Ruiru, Summer in Murang’a, and Loresho farms.
Summer, Drimo, Olmorogi, Loresho, and Bradgate are reported to have been sold at a throwaway price and the money pocketed by the directors.
They would use the company’s title deeds to secure loans from banks, ostensibly to revive the company, then they would pocket he money.
The loans would remain unserviced and the company’s land would be auctioned to recover the money or end up in the hands of a creditor, as was in the case of Bladgate, which was snatched from the shareholders for a paltry Sh100 million, less than a sixth of its value.
Succeeding boards would follow suit. In 2010, the current directors led by the chairman, Thuo Mathenge, and Ndung’u conducted a cleansing ceremony at the place of the first oath and swore again to protect the company’s assets.
However, the ritual did not save Mr Ngamau, who was killed shortly afterwards. But Mathenge insists that the killings would now be history.
The shareholders are waiting to see if he is the Joshua who will deliver Mbo-i-Kamiti to the promised land of Canaan.
“The murders are caused by greed, but now we have subdivided the land among the shareholders and there is nothing left to loot,” says Mathenge.
Last year, he stayed in hospital for week after he was shot and injured as he drove through the gates of his home at Tigoni in Limuru.
“I was attacked by people who had heard that we were subdividing the land to shareholders because they knew that I would deny then the chance to continue looting,” he says, adding that about 7,000 shareholders have been allocated plots and that more are coming.
Shareholders are getting a 50x100ft plots each irrespective of the number of shares one holds.
According to Mathenge, the company has spent close to Sh1 billion to pay debts that ranged from unpaid loans, salary arrears dating from 1997, and legal fees.