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HomeWealthBillionaires Landlords Who Built Nairobi City

Billionaires Landlords Who Built Nairobi City

By Kuria Kimani

The city under the sun, as Nairobi is known, has a long rich history. Behind its current splendor and boom is a select group of billionaires who left an indelible mark in what we now know as Nairobi. 

Here are the billionaires landlords who had a hand in building Nairobi as told by WoK writer. 

AM Jeevanjee

Alibhai Mulla Jevanjee is one of the billionaires who built Nairobi city and at some point he owned 70% of the city. He was born in 1856 in Pakistan. His father was a spice trader.  Jevanjee would arrive at Kenya’s coast in 1890 where he set up a construction company in Mombasa. The Imperial British East Africa Company (IBEAC) contracted him to import laborers to build the railway. He imported more than 31000 laborers for the Mombasa-Kisumu railway line from India. Part of this immense workforce would later be used to expand the rail line to Nairobi. Throughout the railway construction period, Jevanjee would establish shops by the line in Kisumu, Eldoret, Kitale, Naivasha Nakuru, and Nyahururu. As of 1905, he was worth Ksh 74 billion in today’s currency.

Also Read: Kenyans Of Indian Origin Who Control The Economy Of Kenya

He also oversaw the construction of buildings such as law courts where today’s Imenti House stands and was an avid promoter of Asian people’s rights. To this effect, he was appointed to the Legco as the first non-white in 1905.

In early 1904, AM Jevanjee began building a 5-acre public recreational park that he donated two years later to the colonial government. It was threatened in 1991 by influential individuals seeking to set up a car park but was saved by his granddaughter Zarin Patel who penned his biography. 

She notes in the biography that AM Jevanjee built Jevanjee Gardens, Jevanjee Market, the Survey Department Buildings next to Central Police Station,  Ainsworth’s House on the present National Museum’s site, the first Nairobi Club at the present the NSSF Building site, and Moi Primary School opposite Jeevanjee Gardens. He also founded the Mombasa-stationed African Standard- present-day Standard Newspaper countering press racism. He died in 1936 of a heart attack aged 80.

Gerishon Kirima

Gerishon Kirima is a billionaire who came to the limelight after his death and the consequent court wrangles as his family fought over his hard-earned wealth. He moved to Nairobi in 1960 as a carpenter at the University of Nairobi. With independence beckoning 1963, the British and Indians who owned large tracts of land and businesses started leaving the country. This left a vacuum that was filled by budding Kenyan entrepreneurs. Gerishon was among these new-age businesspeople. He set up butcheries, bars, and expanded his carpentry business. This was good business for him as he was able to save a lot of money and competitively purchase parcels of land in prime locations. 

Also Read: Siblings From Wealthy Families Fighting For Their Parents Multi-Billion Investments

Kirima, the father of Nyama Choma, purchased 980 acres of land, some of which he put into animal rearing. He also ventured into long-distance bus travel under the Kirima Bus Service but went out of business in the early 1970s. He however would become Kenya’s first proprietor of a private abattoir and expanded his real estate business. From his city rentals, his business fetched him a monthly income of Ksh 20 million as of 2005. With various ventures, he brought them together under Kirima & Sons, a company that would manage all his businesses. 

In the early 2000s, his health started failing. With the family patriacth pretty much incapacitated, a vicious tussle over his wealth erupted pitting his second wife Teresia Wairimu against her stepchildren over control of his estate. The second wife is infamous for locking up Kirima in his mansion despite being very sick until he was saved by policemen and his children. He passed away in December 2010 while receiving treatment in South Africa marking the beginning of court wrangles. Four years later, the case was settled with the estate being left under his daughter’s management.

Gerald Gikonyo

Gerald Gikonyo was a friend of Gerishon Kirima and they both shared a desire to make it big in the city from their villages. Gerald came from Rwathia village in Murang’s County ready to work his way into a dream he had conceived in his mind. He started off selling cabbages with Kirima at the Marikiti Market and would then walk door-to-door selling the vegetables to Indians. In an interview held in April 2021, Gikonyo said, “Selling vegetables was tough because if it was raining, you would have to work in the rain. And you had to rush so that you did not find the families had already cooked.” 

This humble beginning led him to later on open a hotel and notably would employ former Equity Bank Chairman Peter Munga as a casual laborer. 

Also Read: Equity Bank Founder Peter Munga Net Worth

He has also been a coffee plantation farmer and later joined the Kenya Planters Cooperative Union’s coffee mill which marked his last stint as an employee. After approximately twenty years of hard work in various businesses, he set up Rwathia Supplies and Mwihoko General with five of his friends. Two of the men in the group, Gikonyo being one of them, were tasked with running a hotel that they built. 

With savings from business and skill as a businessman, he forged partnerships that would enable his purchase of buildings in Nairobi including the famous Sabina Joy. He would also acquire plots and go into real estate development covering both residential and commercial properties. With the rise of the Mau Mau movement, the Asians that owned several buildings and parcels in Nairobi began moving out fearing retaliation from locals. 

This opened up the opportunities for ready businessmen like Gikonyo to purchase the buildings the Asians owned. He said, “But most of the buildings we wanted to rent were owned by Asians. They were fearful of the Mau Mau, so many of them were migrating from Kenya and selling those buildings. This is how we started buying some of the buildings that we own to date.” 

The business they set up has now grown into 50 companies owning several buildings in the city and employing more than 100000 people. With his immense success and significant input into the city development, Gikonyo was in 2017 handed a ceremonial key to the city by President Uhuru Kenyatta and the then governor Evans Kidero. This offered him free parking of all his cars, having a road named after him, and attending all county and national governments functions. The governor said, “This is a token of appreciation to honor your work in this county. With this key, you can move freely within Nairobi County. You are also exempted from paying the city-county parking fees for your fleet of vehicles.”

Gerald Gikonyo passed away in July 2020 at the age of 111 years leaving behind twenty-three children, and one of his four wives (three had passed on).