6 Family Wrangles Locking Billions in Court

  • The late James Kanyotu's palatial home located in Tigoni, Kiambu county.
    The late James Kanyotu's palatial home located in Tigoni, Kiambu county.
  • When Nginyo Kariuki died on February 24, 2020, leaving behind a vast estate; including real estate, farms, bank deposits and government bonds, the will contest that came soon after matched a disturbing trend common among Kenya's wealthiest. 

    According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, 26.2% of all households in Kenya have experienced conflicts due to succession.

    A 2019 study by pensions administrator Enwealth Financial Services, found that six out of every 10 people in Kenya do not have a will, exposing their spouses and children to conflicts upon their death.

    The study also found that a majority of the assets are held in land and real estate, closely followed by pension funds, savings in saccos and cash.

    The late John Michuki during a press conference of African finance ministers in Washington on October 11, 2008.
    The late John Michuki during a press conference of African finance ministers in Washington on October 11, 2008.

    6 wealthy Kenyan families, whose combined wealth could build several Arror dams, are currently embroiled in legal battles over their late parent's estates. 

    This has resulted in billions being frozen by the courts as siblings try to find common ground on how to share the wealth among themselves.

    John Michuki

    In November 2018, Yvonne Wanja (the daughter of a former Internal Security Minister), made the headlines when she went to court seeking a share of the multi-billion shilling estate.

    The last born child of the former Minister ordered that Michuki's vast estate be valued, and demanded a sixth of the property.

    Michuki’s will, witnessed by his wife Josephine and long-time friend Kenneth Matiba, did not disclose the value of his investments, but a 2004 report by a British organisation put his wealth at between Ksh3 billion and Ksh10 billion.

    Wanja blamed her siblings for an alarming rise in debts owed by Nairobi Hotels Limited that owns a bigger share of the plush Windsor Golf Hotels and Country Club.

    This was why she wanted the matter to be addressed urgently before it was too late and there was nothing left to divide.

    John Kagema

    The reclusive billionaire who died in December 2019, was the first Chief Executive Officer of Equity Bank and owned properties across the country, including Enashipai Resort and Spa in Naivasha.

    Drama ensued soon after his death. A woman (Esther Njeri) emerged and presented an affidavit before the courts seeking to be included in the succession case.

    Njeri and her 29-year-old son Abraham James Gitangu Mwangi wanted the Family division of the High Court to include them in the case seeking the transfer of the administrative rights of the Kagema estate.

    She went on to claim to have married under Kikuyu customary laws and even had twins.

    Ken Matiba

    The late opposition politician's family has also had a stint in the courts.

    Kenneth Stanley Njindo Matiba (Left) and President Uhuru Kenyatta.
    Kenneth Stanley Njindo Matiba (Left) and President Uhuru Kenyatta.

    According to court documents, Matiba, a father of five who died aged 85, left property valued at Ksh732 million without a written will.

    His widow, Edith Wanjiru Matiba, daughter Susan Wanjiku and son Raymond Matiba are now seeking authority to assume control of the estate.

    The three argue that they had the consent of Matiba's other children to take care of the properties.

    Njenga Karume

    The story of the late Karume's family fighting over his empire is one of the most documented, especially after one of his granddaughters died as she couldn't afford medical fees when she desperately needed it.

    In August 2018, the family of the late former Cabinet Minister reached common ground on the way forward of managing his multi-billion estate.

    Speaking at a joint press conference in Nairobi, the estate trustees and the children’s representatives said they had agreed to sell some of the estate’s properties to offset a Ksh2.5 billion debt.

    Breakthrough, according to one of Karume’s children, came after the family and the trustees decided to freeze the court process and engage in mediation.

    Gerishon Kirima

    The tycoon made billions in real estate, auctioneering and butchery businesses, but died miserably as his family fought over his vast financial empire.

    Kirima's financial empire is estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of shillings, and remains subject of the protracted family feud.

    Teresia Wairimu, Kirima’s third wife, and her daughters are on one side of the bitter contest over control of property owned by the former Kanu stalwart. Her stepchildren are on the other side.

    The two sides can’t agree on anything. They argued over the health condition of the city tycoon in the months preceding his demise.

     A lot of dirty laundry washed in public by both parties and numerous court appearances have characterised the family feud, mirroring some Mexican soap operas.

    Along the way, the attacks grew increasingly personal. A daughter of the city tycoon accused her stepmother of witchcraft. 

    Thereafter, the stepchildren threw her out of the Kitisuru home and had her household items dumped at her rural home in Nyeri, as a sign of forced divorce.

    James Kanyotu

    The scramble for former spy chief James Kanyotu’s multi-billion-shillings estate took an interesting turn back in March 2015.

    This was after doubts arose over the parentage of some alleged family members, leading to an application to exhume his body for DNA testing.

    The scramble for Kanyotu’s wealth started after his death in 2008, with some women claiming he had children with them and others saying they were his children borne out of wedlock and sought to be considered as beneficiaries.

    Kanyotu’s wealth, estimated to be over Ksh20 billion, is invested in several properties spread across the country including three investment companies.

    James Kanyotu's hotel in Tigoni.
    James Kanyotu's hotel in Tigoni.

    Kanyotu died in 2008 without leaving a will, triggering a family court fight for control of his estate estimated to be worth Khh20 billion.

    Notably, not all of Kenya's wealthy families engage in public feuds once the family patron dies.

    One such family is that of the late Central Bank governor Philip Ndegwa.

    The wealth has evidently grown under the watch of sons James and Andrew Ndegwa, after the patriarch died in 1996.

    There has been no record of fights over the administration of their multi-billion shilling empire comprising ICEA Lion Insurance, NIC Bank,  Ambank, three tea estates and tea processing factories, milling and beverage manufacturing.

    In addition to a property management portfolio, which includes the upmarket Riverside Park, is managed by Knight Frank Kenya, with The Ndegwas as partners, through First Chartered Securities.

    According to top financial consulatants, the biggest mistake the wealthy make is that they never involve their children or spouses in their businesses.

    This leads to surprises and opportunities once they die, as uknown wives and kids emerge from the woodworks to stake a claim to the billions.

    The Milimani Law Courts in Nairobi as pictured on November 18, 2019
    The Milimani Law Courts in Nairobi as pictured on November 18, 2019
    Simon Kiragu
    died death fight