Succession wars lift the lid on wealth of Kenyatta-era oligarchs

The second families of deceased Kenyatta-era oligarchs have sparked gigantic legal battles over their multi-billion shilling estates, lifting the lid on the private lives of some of Kenya’s most powerful personalities.

Even in cases where wills were written, the second wives or hitherto unknown fiancées have emerged as a thorn in the flesh of successors, laying claim to portions of the wealth left behind by the businessmen and politicians.

The list of Kenyatta’s men whose second families have returned to haunt their empires includes Mbiyu Koinange, Fred Kubai, former spy chief James Kanyotu, former police chief Bernard Hinga, popular politician Josiah Mwangi (JM) Kariuki, the president’s cook John Kathumba and Gerishon Kirima.


Mr Koinange headed the powerful ministry of State in the Office of the President (1966-1979) while Kubai served time with Mzee Kenyatta at Kapenguria prison.

The court battles, complete with soap opera-like scripts involving big money, backstabbing and media coverage, have been playing out in the public domain in the recent past.

The cast in the Koinange drama includes four women who have been battling for control of his estate estimated to be worth Sh17.1 billion. Mr Koinange died in September 1981, leaving behind massive tracts of land in Nairobi, Mombasa, Mau Narok, Nakuru and Kiambu.

The politician also had shares in several companies, including Centum, Ocean View Hotel Mombasa, Limuru Dairy, BAT Kenya and Kenya Co-operative Creameries Ltd among others.

High Court judge William Musyoka in September ruled that two of the women claiming to be Koinange’s widows – Margaret Njeri and Eddah Wanjiru – were imposters.

In settling the 35-year-old inheritance suit, Justice Musyoka ordered the two women to return all the wealth they had appropriated. The court then divided the vast estate between Koinange’s two wives – Loise Mbiyu and Ruth Mbiyu – and their 10 children.

Nine out of every 10 Kenyans do not have a will, according to a dipstick survey conducted by Bleep Africa, a Nairobi-based marketing and research firm, risking an outbreak of family feuds upon death.

Cultural taboos associated with death and the burden of existential financial challenges have been identified as the twin reasons Kenyans do not write wills.

Peter Wairegi, an estate planning aiser, says Kenyans need to embrace the benefits of estate planning such as tax benefits, right to life choices in regard to medical directives, burial arrangements and ensuring one’s wealth survives.

“Few people plan to die in the near future but if you die suddenly without a will, you will be subjecting your family to a confusing and anxious experience over what is already a very difficult situation,” says Mr Wairegi, who last week published a book titled ‘‘Wealth Preservation The 7-Key Steps of Effective Will and Estate Planning Strategy.’’

Mr Wairegi argues that the high-profile cases should serve as a wake-up call on the need for wills, estate planning and wealth preservation.


Freedom fighter Kubai’s demise in June 1996 opened a protracted legal battle pitting his four families.

The children from Mr Kubai’s first three marriages teamed up against his fourth wife – Christina Gakuha –  claiming she was merely a house help and that she had forged a will.

Mr Kubai was among the famous Kapenguria Six who were arrested by the colonial government in 1952 alongside Jomo Kenyatta, Bildad Kaggia, Kung’u Karumba, Paul Ngei, and Achieng’ Oneko.

But Ms Gakuha put up a spirited fight to demonstrate that she was legally married to the independence hero, causing High Court judge Luka Kimaru to settle the two-decade-old dispute in her favour.

The judge ruled that Ms Gakuha was the sole administrator of Kubai’s estate as per the handwritten will filed in court.


For Mr Kanyotu – a shadowy figure who served as founding President Kenyatta’s spy chief – his death in February 2008 lifted the lid on his family life and wealth.

The scramble for Mr Kanyotu’s wealth followed a familiar script: four women engaged in a vicious battle for control of the spy master’s estate estimated at Sh20 billion.

The foursome battle pitted Mary Wanjiku, Mr Kanyotu’s publicly known wife, against three others Jane Gathoni, Margaret Nyakinya and Mercy Mumbi Mathenge – all of who claimed to have been married to the secretive man and even had children with him.

The High Court ruled that Mary, Jane and Margaret be made administrators of the Kanyotu estate after DNA tests confirmed the paternity of their children.

Ms Mathenge, the fourth wife, also claimed to have had a child who is still a minor with the former spy master.


The family of Mr Hinga – who served as Kenya’s first African police commissioner and died in 2006 – is also caught up in a succession battle.

The battle pitting children against their step-mother is for control of Mr Hinga’s Sh4 billion estate made up of prime real estate in Nairobi and Mombasa and large farms in Nakuru and Kiambu.

The ghosts of succession squabbles are also haunting the family of flamboyant politician JM Kariuki who was assassinated in March 1975. Mr Kariuki died without a valid will, leaving his three widows — Doris Nyambura, Esther Mwikali and Terry Wanjiku — and their eight children in a knock-down-drag-out fight for the control of his wealth.

Doris, the first wife, argued that Terry and Esther should not be considered as co-widows, a claim the High Court rejected. 

In yet another case, the two wives of Mr Kathumba – who served as Mr Kenyatta’s cook while the man who would be Kenya’s founding president did time in Kapenguria – are also feuding over his estate.

The prison cook died in 1990 and was survived by two wives — Esther Nzula and Beatrice Syokau – and 10 children.

The two and their children are on each other’s necks over Mr Kathumba’s 50-acre prime land in Embakasi, next to the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi estimated to be worth S.5 billion.


The Kirima succession case involved three wives. The property magnate, who began building his real estate empire during the Kenyatta era, died in 2010 in a South African hospital after having spent a week in a coma.

Mr Kirima’s first two families teamed up against his third and youngest wife, Teresiah Wairimu, in a bid to lock her out of the wealth he left behind.

The children from his first wife, Agnes Waruguru (deceased) locked horns with the second wife Grace Warwathia and the third wife Wairimu each wanting a say in the man’s Sh750 million real estate empire.

They disputed several wills purported to be authored by Mr Kirima, which were finally annulled by the courts.

Justice Isaac Lenaola ended the three-year succession battle in 2013 by distributing Mr Kirima’s wealth to his family, including seven children from the first marriage, as well as his two wives and their children.