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Esther Wakaba: I was a multi-millionaire, but today I live in a slum

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Land Disputes in Kenya: Falling from the grace to grass is one of the most humiliating experiences that one can suffer in life. In today’s world, it is even more depressing if you were once a multimillionaire but now live in the slums. But this is the situation that has befallen Esther Wanjiku Wakaba, according to a heartrending story that was published by The Standard newspaper. The story that was written by the Standard’s Amos Karithi reads as follows:

Back in 1968, Wakaba Njoroge and his wife Esther Wanjiku acquired some 1.4 acres after buying Sh. 5 shares from a ranching company.

“Waira Kamau was the MP for Ruiru, he implored us to buy shares in a company called Githunguri Ranch, which he was leading. My husband, who was a driver, invested Sh. 5. We were shown our land, which comprised of one acre, another eighth of an acre as well as another quarter acre,” recounts Wanjiku. Back then, the couple did not know that the land’s value would grow to be worth millions of shillings.

Wanjiku had no inkling that 52 years after her husband invested the Sh. 5 on what seemed like a useless patch of bush, the investment would break up her family and send her living in the poorest slum in Kiambu County.

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The story begins somewhere at Kamakis along what is today’s Eastern Bypass. Here Wanjiku’s husband, Wakaba, lies inside a nondescript grave with no cross or tombstone besides an overgrown thicket and a bag of charcoal lying nearby.

When he lived, the patriarch loved his tipple. With his bread delivery van driver’s salary, he could afford it. Whenever he was not drinking, Wakaba was always behind the driving wheel.He lived on the fast lane. But even the fastest lane soon comes to a dead end, and the heavy drinking began to take its toll on the ageing patriarch’s body.

Just before he succumbed to cardio pulmonary arrest and stomach problems, which his family attributed to excessive consumption of hot drinks, Wakaba told his wife that he foresaw a tough life ahead for her.

It was an eerie prophecy, one that would unfold in more dramatic ways than Wanjiku would have ever imagined.  That was in 1997. Shortly after, Wakaba died and as per his wishes, was interred at his farm next to a semi-permanent timber shack that he had called home for years.

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For a time, the remains of the bread delivery van driver rested in peace and Wanjiku resigned to her fate as a poor widow.Her only consolation was her five children, now adults – her first born, Nancy Njoki, Patrick Kamande, Dominic Njane, Jane Wanjiru and her last born, Hanna Njambi.

Ten years after Wakaba’s death, engineers designing the Eastern Bypass turned up next to Wakaba’s farm and placed some beacons on the land.The road would pass through the bread delivery van driver’s land.

By the time the earthmovers stopped roaring, part of his grave had been desecrated, the termite eaten cross with his name and date of birth and death on it tossed aside.Although traumatised by these developments, Wakaba’s widow was consoled by one thing: suddenly, the property that she and her husband acquired for Sh. 5 was now worth millions. This is how it happened.

When President Mwai Kibaki’s administration started building Thika Superhighway and the subsequent Eastern Bypass, land prices along Thika Road and around Ruiru skyrocketed as speculators and brokers descended on the area.By the time the brokers left, the 84-year-old grandmother was worth millions.

In June 2011, LR no Ruiru East Block1/1337 measuring  0.50 hectares ( 1.25 acres ) was subdivided into eight plots each measuring  0.033 acres, all registered in the name of Esther Wanjiku Wakaba.

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By then, each plot was worth at least Sh. 1 million. Today, one plot is worth at least Sh. 25 million.But Wanjiku did not want to leave her children empty handed. Instead, she decided to gift them their father’s Sh. 5 investment that had ballooned to more than Sh. 40 million.

Originally, her two sons, Kamande and Njane, were to receive a plot each while the daughters were to jointly own one plot together with their mother. The other six plots were to be sold to finance a commercial building on a plot at Kamakis.

The money from the six plots was to be put in a joint account operated by Kamande and his mother.Then things started going south.

After tasting millions, Wakaba’s family members went for each other’s jugular. Brother turned against bother, sister against brother in vicious plots and counter-plots that saw the multi-million shilling plots secretly sold off. Today, Wakaba’s widow, a millionaire a few years ago, has nothing.

“As I speak to you now, I have no place to call home. I now reside in a one-roomed shack at Kiandutu slums in Thika,” she says. According to Wanjiku, trouble started when she realized that the six plots had been sold and the construction of the commercial building started under the name of her son Kamande. “Kamande has chased me away from my own home,” Wanjiku said.

At the heart of the dispute is the commercial building that was agreed on at the division of the property. Now complete and housing five shops along the Eastern Bypass, the building has a monthly rental income of Sh. 130,000. Wanjiku says she has never received a dime.

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“I sold some of the land which was registered in my name so that I could finance  the construction of this building. Since its completion more than six years ago, I have never received a single coin from it,” she says. But Kamande disputes his mother’s version of the story. He denies taking away her property, insisting that the building and the land on which it stands belongs to him.

Kamande accuses his sisters of using their mother as a proxy to get to his property. “They took my mother away from my home in Juja and took her to Kiandutu (slums). They want to use her to get money on the pretext  that they are feeding her. I will not agree to this blackmail,” he said.

His brother Njane will not tag along with this argument. Instead, Njane accuses his elder brother of disinheriting the rest of the family, including their mother. As the accusations and counter accusations fly, Wakaba’s family has fallen apart.

Son and mother only communicate through lawyers.In one such communication dated July 10, 2020, Kamande, through his lawyers, K Moseti and company advocates, wrote to his mother’s lawyers: “The history of this matter is long. On 24/2/2011, your client (Wanjiku) swore an affidavit which I quote. Paragraph 4 that I have no objection in the approval of the building plan presented to Ruiru Municipal Council by Patrick Kamande Wakaba who is my son. Paragraph 5. That I am in the process of transferring the title deed to him.”

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Kamande argues that on the strength of this affidavit, he sold his properties elsewhere and commenced construction on block/14440. He claims that he has paid a total of Sh. 60,000 to his mothers lawyers.He was responding to a letter by E W Kamuyu dated July 7, 2020 stating that  Kamande was not the registered owner of the parcel of land where the disputed building block was.

“It is unfortunate that he has the audacity to throw his own mother from her own property. Our client is in custody of the original title, which is in her name and the same has never been charged to a third party,” wrote Kamunyu. At the time of his death on August 4, 1997, Wakaba, 56, had various parcels of land bought under Githunguri Ranch Company as well as shares with Juja Farm and Gatundu Mix Farmers.

Twenty three years after his death, all that remains of his impressive estate are remnants of his grave now overgrown with bush. From the eight plots that rose from his Sh. 5 investment, only one is remaining where the disputed building now stands. The rest, including his family, is gone.

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