One fine mid-day in 2005, a frail old man limped with the help of a stick into Nairobi’s market branch of Barclays Bank carrying a bag full of cash. He was alone.
Moments later, a woman rushed in and scolded the old man for carrying large sums of money in the dangerous Nairobi streets.
Many people did not know it at the time, but the seemingly vulnerable individual was none other than billionaire property magnate Gerishon Kirima.
It was during the end of the month, and it was speculated that the bag of cash he was clutching contained money collected from his many rental houses, which, according to Business Daily, amounts to over sh 20 million per month.
The once-powerful politician and successful businessman was considered to be one of the richest men in the country at the time.
He had been a former Member of Parliament for the Starehe constituency and had also served as the Deputy Mayor of Nairobi, later ascending to the position of assistant minister in the government of former President Daniel Moi.
Many people now know him as the owner of the 1000-acre farm in Nairobi’s Njiru area where hundreds of squatters who occupied the area after his death were recently ordered to vacate.
Aside from this, Kirima owned the Njiru slaughterhouse, which, in its heyday, slaughtered at least 300 cattle per day, making it among the largest meat abattoirs in Nairobi at the time.
The slaughterhouse, which sat on a 500-acre piece of land, made him a meat tycoon and propelled him to the helm of the Kenya Butchery Owners Association.
Kirima had also ventured into real estate. He reportedly owned hundreds of low-income rental houses in Eastlands as well as vast tracts of land in Kajiado and Kariobangi.
In total, his vast estate was estimated to be worth at least sh 750 million, although much of his wealth is still undocumented.
He had two mansions, an up-market Kitisuru home, and his K&S house overlooking Jivanjee Gardens in Nairobi.
How he made his wealth
Kirima’s journey to wealth traced its roots to his early career as a carpenter.
After leaving his Kiruri home, he settled in the Kinangop plateaus and later moved to Nairobi at the dawn of independence.
In the capital, he worked as a pioneer carpenter at the University of Nairobi. He also operated a small workshop in Bahati and later in Kaloleni alongside his first wife.
However, it was venturing into the meat and real estate business that catapulted him to the billionaire’s club.
After independence, he took advantage of the unprecedented rural-urban migration to open bars and butcheries across Asian and African neighborhoods.
He was aiming to take advantage of the increasing number of intellectuals who had new jobs and money.
By 1967, he had saved enough to purchase 500 acres of land from Italian Domenico Masi in Nairobi.
By then, only the Kenyatta family owned such large tracts of land.
In the same year, he bought other large farms in Nairobi, including 108 acres from Charles Case, a British Settler and a further 472 acres from Percy Randall.
Kirima converted the tracts to ranches and became one of the biggest meat suppliers in Nairobi, which was perhaps among the reasons why he was appointed the chairman of the African Butchers Association.
He also dabbled into the transport business by establishing Kirima Bus Service, competing with established bus companies like OTC along the central Kenya route.
However, he, alongside other early tycoons in the transport sector, was pushed out of the businesses when matatus were allowed to operate in 1973 by Kenyatta.
Kirima abandoned the transport business and ventured fully into real estate. Here, he built an empire by concentrating on low-income rental houses in Eastlands.
Despite his wealth, it was speculated that he never really recovered from his humble upbringing.
Until his death, he reportedly drove a battered 10-year-old Peugeot although he could have easily afforded any vehicle he wanted. His fashion taste was also questioned, as he mostly wore V-necked sweaters under a suit.
Further, even with the riches, his children still picked coffee on his farms, collected rent, and sold meat in their spare time.
Kirima died of pneumonia in 2020 while receiving treatment at a South African hospital.