The late Mugo Mungai was a pioneer Kenyan indigenous banker whose ingenuity and hard work saw him rise to a top entrepreneur. However, he lost two of his banks during President Daniel arap Moi’s regime and passed away at the age of 81 fighting for what was rightfully his. What he lost in today’s value is said to amount to Ksh8 billion.
Here is his story as told by WoK,
Early Life and Employment
Mugo was born in Kanyariri in Kabete. He trained in shorthand and worked as a stenographer. He got his first job in 1959 as a secretary to Kimani Ngumba. The latter would in future be the mayor of Nairobi and a banker.
In a past interview, he stated that before registering his company, Pioneer Building Society in 1978, his only competitor was the East African Building Society. This was owned by the late Lalit Pandit.
Before the seizure of his wealth, Mungai owned two financial institutions-the Capital Finance Limited and Pioneer Building Society.
He was also the proprietor of Pioneer Estate, which had 259 maisonettes in Nairobi and Capital Center. He also owned 50 half-acre plots in Gigiri, near UNEP.
It came as a shock to him when in 1986 he found his properties seized. One November morning, he woke up to the devastating news that the government had taken over his properties.
He said his bank was under no financial trouble and took the matter to court in what would be a lengthy legal battle.
Soon after Yoweri Museveni’s ascent to power, Mugo flew to Kampala with the aim of opening branches of his financial institutions in the country.
However, at the time it is reported the then president was wary of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi and thought he was working with Yuweri Museveni.
He was also suspicious of wealthy mount Kenyan businessmen as he thought they controlled the national politics. Hence, this visit became the source of Mungai’s woes. Upon his return to the country, the then 44-year-old was grilled by officers of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID). They asked whether he had gone to buy guns.
“I didn’t know that I was a marked man,“ he once shared in an interview saying that the timing of his visit to Uganda was wrong.
He tried to reach the former strongman to iron out the misunderstanding in vain. Then head of civil service and secretary to the cabinet Richard Leakey warned Mungai against bringing his issue to the president. He advised him to instead have his issues resolved by the receiver of his properties.
Mungai, who had been taking donations to the president was adamant and continued to seek audience with Moi,
“I went to Kabarak one morning in 2000 to see President Moi who knew me. I used to go to State House often to take donations to him, just like everybody else in those days. We talked diplomatically and I told him I needed his help. He promised me that he would sort out the matter and I gave him some written facts on my banks and properties,” he told the Daily Nation.
All was looking up and Mungai was confident his troubles will end once and for all.
“Moi left his office and escorted me up to the public car park. I got the impression that he would indeed help me recover my properties. But I was wrong. Seven months later, I saw him on television handing over power to Mwai Kibaki.
“I was destroyed. At first, I thought I knew important people. But when I went down, they all disappeared,” he told the leading daily newspaper in 2016.