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A close shave with property conmen

Posted by Popular Ombudsman on December 8, 2009

by Enock Ondeyo
Man is a creature of habit. The dream of every Kenyan is to own a piece of property where one may retire to in their twilight, never mind that such a time may be long in coming. It was in that spirit that a close relative asked me to seek and organise the purchase of some property in Karen, one of the up market woods in Nairobi. Being streetwise, I knew that the best way to get a clean deal was to purchase the land through one of the reputable property development companies.

How was I to determine that a company was reputable anyway? Easy! Or so I thought. If a company had a Head Office within a respectable neighbourhood and flashy offices, it had to be my choice. So I went to the Head Offices of a famous property development company in Westlands which shall remain unnamed for now. I did my inquiries about properties available in Karen area. I was shown a number which were however not suitable, or way too expensive.

So after discussing the whole issue with another relative, we decided that maybe, it could be better to get somebody who was selling his or her land and negotiate directly. We sent out feelers and also kept checking classified advertisements. Finally, we located an advertisement for land in Karen, somewhere near a high cost school (on Kolobot Road I think). We called the number given and conversed with a smooth talking gentleman setting an appointment with him in the process. We drove to the City Centre and met somewhere outside Nairobi Sports house. He then took us to a dingy office which he shared with several other desk-top companies and proceeded to extol the virtues of the property he was selling. We told him we needed to look at the property and so we drove to Karen in his Peugeot 504.

All the while, he told us how he had schooled in our home area and how he had attended Lower Kabete Campus for his Bachelor of Commerce. He named several senior people including a Minister for Planning at that time as some of his University classmates. After arriving in Karen, we saw the property, and behold it was good and unoccupied. We even visited a home nearby and greeted a caretaker.

In my mind, I noted that next to the property, there was a huge clearing, so I asked him what the clearing was about and he said that it was for one of the road bypasses or something to that effect.

We drove back to the office once again. We knew what we needed next. From my earlier experience, I knew that we had to carry out the title check in Ardhi House before committing a single cent. I asked him to give us the particulars of the piece of land i.e. LR No. for a title check before we could pay. Remember at this point, he had already produced a purchase agreement and wanted us to sign it and make a down payment. At the mention of the title check, my man became agitated, almost turning violent! He actually shouted that if I did not pay in the next four days, he could not wait for me because there were many buyers who were interested. He claimed that he wanted to help me because we come from the same general area. I told him that as much as I understood his empathy towards me, I still needed to do the check because it was mandatory for me! Then he said, ‘if you wish to satisfy your bloated ego, here are the details, but remember, the first customer who comes along will take the property. He then showed me a purchase agreement with some other Kenyan working in Switzerland who had already paid a million shillings or so to secure his interests in the adjacent plot. I replied that the title check was not negotiable.

My initial efforts to check the records were hampered by a lack of cooperation from some officials at Ardhi House. I gave up and went away, but when I returned a few days later and found a different official, I was given access to the whole file for the particular LR. They wouldn’t give me any official document acknowledging the search but allowed me to see the history of the property. In brief, this is what I found:

It turned up a litany of court orders and caveats stretching through over 10 years and none of them lifted. There was even an existing one, lodged only a few months earlier! Everybody claimed to have an interest in the land because they had paid a deposit to some company or other. In brief, this was a money mill, because as soon as one paid some money to somebody, they disappeared and all you could do was to put a caveat on the land! And a broker was enthusiastically inviting me to become the latest victim, and pay him a fee too.

I called the advertiser and cancelled the deal immediately, got in touch with the relative who wanted to purchase the property and advised him against it. If I did not insist on the check, ours could be a very different story now. As you seek to purchase property in Kenya, this is some common wisdom for you: Get someone trustworthy and willing to genuinely help you, or better still organise for one month leave and do it yourself. Ensure you see the property, do the title searches as an absolute condition and generally find out as much as possible about the land before any financial commitments. Complete the payment when transfer documents are received and upon confirmation that they are genuine. If you do not do these at the minimum, please be prepared to suffer unbelievable losses. That is how easy and difficult it has become.


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Posted by Popular Ombudsman on November 30, 2009

by T. Mongare (c) 2009

No doubt your creators must be dancing in their graves to date; for no problem is outside your purview harambee. You accept all problems big and small, wide or narrow minded; whether it is a poor student or a poor parent, you harambee will always prove handy. Harambee, you provided classes which ended up being called harambee schools, which admitted harambee students who learnt in harambee classrooms and were taught by harambee teachers! Anytime nobody wanted to take responsibility for something, you came to their aid.

Even for lovestruck couples with taste and anxious to make a statement with 200 cars and a 15 seater limousine in the middle, you, harambee have always been handy, irrespective of the folly of their enterprise. Ah Harambee! Harambee you have been used to cover for useless governments which are unable to provide essential services by making them sleepy and asking the victims to help themselves in your spirit. And harambee, where did you actually come from? Who put you in our coat of arms? Why and when did you accept to become the informal provider of government services? If it were not for you, how could con men and drug traffickers cleanse themselves and become famous leaders in my part of the world?

Oh harambee, what a shame you have become! If you decided to go back where you came from, do you know how many people here could die of poverty? Do not look at me incredulously like that harambee, it is the pure truth! Look at it this way: As a parent, I may conduct twenty versions of you, harambee before my child finishes his six month computer course. Out of your generous disposition, I can squeeze and manage to put two matatus on the road, all because of your spirit. You understand we policemen are poorly paid. My success is a combination of your generosity and of course my in-born shrewdness. Harambee, when you were younger, the people who invited you to their compounds or kijiji were a bit dumb to say the least. They had no idea as to your full potential!

During those pre-historic days, imagine they could allow people to carry yams, plantains, goats, chickens, eggs, ten cent coins and even I remember one old man who carried sukuma wiki to your auspicious occasion, harambee. Please forgive them for their great trespasses. But as we became wiser dear harambee, we discovered that for you to be of maximum use, we had to invite senior civil servants. We had to send delegations to the great mayors and businessmen. This way, when elections were called, we brought out the books of remembrance and calculated who had attended most of the occasions held in your honour, harambee and that person became duly elected the next member of parliament. You see those days, I always wondered why they fought so hard to get to that sterile house, but a friend of mine told me that that was where the bread was partitioned. He told me that by being there, whenever an elephant was slaughtered in the Aberdares or Mau Ranges, one was assured of a bigger chunk of the carcass. I think many elephants were slaughtered during those heady days, and even the bones and horns became more critical to your future sustenance harambee, than the meat itself!

These elections also needed you around in another way you know! You see, the aspirants could come riding on bicycles early in the morning or wearing heavy clothing and bata gumboots and a hat at night. They could then visit every home giving out a kilogram of sugar and a kitenge with their picture on it. You see this was your spirit at work. Blimey! Just think about it. How could they actually come riding bicycles and still end up being elected? Anyway, we had not seen your full potential as I had mentioned above. So as we became more enlightened and wiser, we made sure that most of your meetings dear harambee, were scheduled a few weeks before election day. The pressure on the bicycle riders became unbearable. It was too hard an exercise because they needed to be in many places in a single day.

Then one day, they met. Two of them at one place. Both of them, filled with your spirit gave until one was unable to match the other and walked off. Unbeknown to us, the one who gave until the other had no answer had also asked a few village thugs (we called them kebaago those days) to escort the vanquished opponent. They caught up with him and his bicycle team and forced him to give the remainder of his contributions in your name harambee, which he was going to deliver to another venue. Finally he lost! So harambee as much as you are welcome in our community, you have caused untold anguish in many homes! The man closed his business down as he became bankrupt because of you, harambee.

Even if there are countless examples to learn from, your allure harambee, is bewitching. Because you promise great things, with minimum effort. Nowadays, they still do come in your name. You see from the nineteen nineties, a vehicle called VW92 was created in your name. Although it started off at a crawl, looking much like a beetle, it soon turned into a bus! What a miraculous, riveting transformation it was. Inside the bus, it is said it was actually carpeted with money and there was a machine that spewed money continuously. Few other machines had been made of similar nature. They never even needed to go to any of these places where we queue before we get money to take to any occasion called in your name dear harambee, they had a constant production line. They gave in your name, and gave and gave and gave some more. Nobody knew, least of all they themselves how much they gave in your name, dear harambee. In brief, they gave.

By the time they were done, the single bus had turned into airplanes and each of them could ride his. Unfortunately, because they honoured your spirit so generously and the machine in the bus never malfunctioned even once, all the things in the shops were bought to go and carry forward the miradi in various homes. Then the shopkeepers decided that instead of closing the shops, the fewer shop things remaining would only be given to the projects with the highest amount of money. So, soon, nobody could afford even sugar anymore except the ones in the airplanes. This is when I started hating you with a passion harambee. And not just me, but many of my neighbours. Harambee, it was at that time that we discovered that you gave us useless money! We then decided that the only things we could accept in your name henceforth could be sugar, corn flour, salt, bread, meat, cooking fat and generally other tangible things but not money. But the guys in airplanes kept flying without perching; and never came down to the ground to deliver any sugar! Harambee, please note that this was a period of great suffering and trials for most of us. We shall not forget it in a hurry and you partly caused it!

The other thing your spirit did harambee, was that it plucked mouths from the good bicycle riders and gave them to thieves, who could ride airplanes and use microphones. Harambee, you did something which damaged even your own self. I do not trust or get excited by you anymore. You are like a pig: You eat the good and the bad, and the only thing you seem to produce with certainty is just mafuta mingi. Even my neighbour who had disapproved of the wiry ways of your previous proponents recently fell headlong into a ship which had initially been an airplane! Although he banged his head against something on the deck, he still lives in the ship and I hear it has an even bigger money making machine, that works day and night in the name of none other than yourself, dear harambee!

When I had hoped that the nightmare is gone, that I will not live to see another day when I will feed my children on maize meal and iodized table salt, what do you do? You brought together all the guys riding airplanes to where I and my neighbours were shivering in coldness and in your spirit they cheated me. You see they told me to stay out here in the open, where my children are suffering from pneumonia. They told me that the bad guys are somewhere else but not themselves. As I listened to one of them keenly, I remembered that the land from which I moved a few days earlier in order to come to the road, was sold to me by the same person. I was confused! And he said he had called you, harambee and you had yielded a few bags of maize meal, beans and I do not remember what else it was. You must be a very mean person, harambee! Then I asked myself: Recently, we had a big drought. We, full grown men started chasing rats and roasting them, something which we had never ever done before. The lake where we had always fished became dry and for the first time, I saw an elephant stuck in mud ever since I was a child. When food was bought and put in the stores to be brought to us then, the same person converted it to money dear harambee, since you only stay in clean places oh harambee! Today they came in an airplane too.

I hear in the big meeting place where you stay nowadays, there was no money making machine. They just gave loose change and then got into their airplane and flew here. Harambee, how do you expect me to love you? How can I harambee, when you are stupid and dumb? Even thieves preach in your name, they have become your bosom buddies. Harambee, why should I wait on you when there is a government? How can I reconcile myself to you when both you and me are victims? In the name of my suffering harambee you were deceived to grace a meeting, only for them to offer you loose change to come and fix my problems which require a money minting machine. They should have surrendered the airplanes, buses and ships, my dear harambee. But I suspect you are blind and hard of hearing. I say with bitterness in my mouth: Keep your riches, Oh harambee, they are contaminated with the blood of the innocent. Harambee, you must urgently be reborn. You must get a new name and a new character. Maybe something like ‘egesangio’, original and meaningful. But if you cannot and will not; then, dear harambee, I have one last wish for you: A quick death.

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