Tribulations of flamboyant Kenyan in Tanzanian prison

Saturday June 25 2016

Mr Graham Sagwe (left) and Don Bosco Gichana before a Nairobi court in 2010 on accusations of stealing money from Fina Bank . It is alleged that between November 2009 and August 2010 in Nairobi, Arusha and Dar es Salaam, Mr Gichana and Mr Mwale conspired with others to launder money. PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP


One chilly Tuesday morning last month, Coalition for Reforms and Democracy co-principal Kalonzo Musyoka took a long road drive to Arusha in neighbouring Tanzania.

It took the former Vice-President roughly three and a half hours to arrive in Arusha, and once there, he headed straight to the local law courts.

His business; to attend the hearing of a case in which flamboyant businessman and political activist Don Bosco Gichana is facing money laundering charges in Tanzania.

In the courtroom, Mr Musyoka was joined by former Assistant Minister Joseph Kiangoi and Peter Mathuki, both members of the Arusha-based East African Legislative Assembly (EALA).

It was one of the many court appearances the 39-year-old Gichana and his co-accused, Tanzanian lawyer Median Boastice Mwale, were attending in a long running legal battle that has attracted the interest of the country’s top political leadership.

For Mr Gichana and his co-accused, it has been three long years behind bars at the Arusha Central Prison awaiting the determination of a case in which they are charged with money laundering, an offence which is not bailable under Tanzania laws.


It is alleged that between November 2009 and August 2010 in Nairobi, Arusha and Dar es Salaam, Mr Gichana and Mr Mwale conspired with others to launder money.

It is further alleged that within the same period and places, Mr Gichana deposited to Arusha forged US Treasury cheques amounting to $4,940,363 (Sh494 million), charges they both deny.

The case has witnessed endless adjournments over claims that investigations are incomplete, frequent amendments of charge sheets by adding new counts, new persons enjoined every year and non-appearance without notice by prosecuting State attorneys on scheduled dates.

It is not for nothing that Mr Gichana’s case has drawn more than cursory interest from Kenya’s political and business elite.

Mr Gichana first hit headlines in the run-up to the 2007 General Election when he imported the famous Red Hummer and donated it to ODM leader Raila Odinga for his campaigns.

His dalliance with Mr Odinga and other ODM luminaries including Deputy President William Ruto did not end there; he set up the Orange party’s youth wing – Young Kenyans for Raila  – which traversed the country campaigning for the then ODM presidential candidate.

According to Mr Robert Wafula Buke who was a key member of Mr Odinga’s presidential campaign team, the donation of the Hummer gave immense visibility to the campaign, raising Mr Odinga’s opinion ratings significantly in the run-up to the elections.

“The Hummer donation was the turning point in that particular campaign. It was such a master stroke because it gave Raila a lot of visibility and for the first time, his opinion ratings soared above 20 per cent,” says Mr Buke.

Among Mr Gichana’s close associates included Mr Odinga’s first born son, the late Fidel Odinga, his sister Rosemary, Kisumu Central MP Ken Obura and his Kapseret counterpart Oscar Sudi.

Described as a suave political wheeler dealer who would stop at nothing to realise his goals, the father of two was also in the construction, real estate and entertainment industries.

He for instance owned the popular Capri 7 restaurant in Hurlingham among several others.

Mr Gichana was also a known philanthropist, donating generously to churches and community projects in his home county of Kisii.

At one point, he almost single handedly ran the Kisii-based national soccer league side Shabana. He plunged into elective politics during the last General Election, contesting the Kitutu Chache South seat on a People’s Democratic Party (PDP) ticket associated with former South Mugirango MP Omingo Magara. He, however, lost to Mr Richard Onyonka (ODM).

His bubble burst on the Easter weekend of 2013 when he travelled to Arusha to visit his friend Mr Mwale, who had been arrested for alleged money laundering.

Mr Gichana was held at Namanga Police Station for three days before being transferred to Arusha Central Police Station and flown to Dar es Salaam where he was eventually charged with fraud and money laundering.  

According to court records in Dar es Salaam, Mr Gichana was released and re-arrested to face fraud charges in Arusha after the court dropped money laundering charges.

Principal Resident Magistrate Ilvin Mugeta reached the decision after a request from the prosecution, but he was immediately re-arrested and sent to Arusha where he was expected to be enjoined with others on the same charges.

It was no surprise, therefore, that at his mother’s burial ceremony at Magonga village in Kisii county last month, Mr Gichana’s tribulations dominated the speeches with top politicians calling for his immediate release.

In his message of condolence read by Kitutu Masaba MP Timothy Bosire, Mr Odinga urged Kitutu Chache South residents to be patient as he negotiates with the Tanzanian government on Mr Gichana’s release.

“Mr Odinga said that he is at an advanced stage of negotiations with the Tanzanian authorities. Let us be patient while he works out the modalities of that process,” Mr Bosire told mourners.

Mr Sudi, who also attended the funeral, asked local MPs to join hands and lobby the Tanzanian government to free Mr Gichana.

He promised to mobilise a delegation of 50 legislators to travel to Tanzania to engage the country’s leadership on the issue.

“Mr Gichana has been in custody for three years without trial. Up to now, we are yet to be told what crime he committed to warrant his arrest and confinement. As his friends and associates, we need to come together and help him regain his freedom,” Mr Sudi said.

Kakamega Catholic Diocese Bishop Joseph Obanyi, who presided over the ceremony, urged Christians to “pray with the politician’s family for God’s intervention in his case”.

“There are things that seem impossible for human beings but nothing is impossible with God. Let us pray with the family for divine intervention in Don Bosco’s issue,” he said.

In 2010, Mr Gichana and five others were charged with stealing close to Sh200 million from Fina Bank and Eco Bank.

Mr Gichana, his two relatives Obadia Gichana and Moraa Gichana and Nairobi lawyer Albert Simiyu Kuloba, Graham Rioba Sagwe and Robert Moseti Onkwani were charged with stealing the amount from Fina Bank’s Ngong road branch and a similar amount from Eco Bank Towers, Nairobi.

Mr Rioba and Mr Gichana faced another count of conspiring to defraud Garden Real Estate Development of a similar amount of money. They were accused of committing the offence at an unknown place on November 12.

Mr Gichana faced a separate count of stealing Sh8 million belonging to Fina Bank at the Barclays Bank’s Westland branch, while Mr Simiyu was charged with stealing Sh10 million from Fina Bank on the same day at Commercial Bank of Africa’s Wabera Street branch.

In a touching letter read by his elder brother, Mr Maina Gichana, Mr Gichana wondered whether his incarceration had contributed to his mother’s death.

“I have to ask myself whether you worried so much about my detention that your heart condition worsened. That thought will forever haunt me.”