The family of the late Cabinet Minister Njenga Karume held the fifth anniversary of his death amid pressure on his sons and daughters to end a dispute over management of his empire, and which is threatening to tear the family apart.
Some family members acknowledged that the row had created a rift among them.
Family and friends gathered at the former Kiambaa MP’s Cianda residence in Kiambu for the ceremony, but the dispute over the multi-billion shillings properties he left behind dominated the speeches.
Speaker after speaker, including Mr Karume’s widow Grace Njoki, and his brother Samuel Wanjema called for a truce. They said the dispute, now in court, had put the family into disrepute.
The speeches painted a picture of a divided family and fears are rife that unless the issues are solved, the situation could escalate to deep hatred, like that witnessed in some prominent families, whereby siblings turn against each other over the properties left behind.
During the event which was held on Friday, and which was also attended by Mama Ngina Kenyatta, differences between the siblings nearly played out after Dr Wanjiku Kahiu, the oldest daughter, in a thinly veiled statement, claimed that some family members have been badmouthing and mudslinging others.
Other leaders who attended the event include Kabete MP Ferdinand Waititu, Jude Njomo (Kiambu Town), Paul Koinange (Kiambaa) and Kiambu governor aspirant James Nyoro.
A vicious legal battle has been going on in the courts after a breakdown of trust and communication between the trustees and some of the beneficiaries of the empire which include Jacaranda Holdings (hospitality interests), Karume Holdings (for the real estate interests) and Cianda Holdings for agribusiness.
Some of Mr Karume’s children accuse the trustees of running down the empire, of skulduggery, of plain dishonesty, of neglecting the education and medical wellbeing of some of them, and plain vandalism.
But the trustees have denied any wrongdoing and accused some of the late tycoon’s children of malice. The children also appear to have turned against each other as the battle for the estimated Sh100 billion properties escalates.
Ms Njoki, in an emotional speech, pleaded with the family to solve the issues as fast as possible, saying the battles have not only embarrassed the family, but have also stalled their development, five years after the politician’s death.
Her wish, she said, is the parties involved to withdraw court cases and agree to solve the dispute amicably. She hoped the family could be reunited in a show of respect to the family patriarch.
“He (late Karume) never liked his personal issues to go public, not even his illness. But what we have done is very painful and shameful, because we have embarrassed him in the eyes of the people who respected him,” she said.
“For how long do we want to go on like this? My prayer is that they (siblings) agree to end the fight so that we can reunite. Your father was of sound mind when he decided to entrust the property to other people on our behalf … and so, let us come together, talk to each other, so that we can be one,” the widow added.
Mr Wanjema said the conduct of the late politician’s siblings “has become too much” that at times he doesn’t like to be associated with them.
“This issue has always been on my mind, and it has been so embarrassing, such that, there was a time I never wanted to be referred to, or associated with Karume. And today, I want to apologise to everyone on behalf of the Karumes, and I will seek to end the differences, because the loss that is awaiting us is big and so, instead of putting a comma to these problems, we will put a full stop,” he said, adding that he had previously sought to address the issue in vain.
Mr Waititu, who is also eyeing the Kiambu governor’s seat, asked members of the Njenga Karume Trust to run his empire in a way that does not fuel the wrangles, but which cements the family unity. He said it pains him to read stories about the family’s differences in the newspapers.
“The trustees should always remember that they are dealing with Karume’s children, and therefore, they should not be competing with them because it’s not good, and people are unhappy. They should at times turn a blind eye (on the children) when they go wrong. It pained me recently when I met one of his children, who told me that he lives in a rented house, and I wondered how that would happen yet their father had worked hard for them,” he said.
Democratic Party leader Joseph Munyao, and late Karume’s longtime friend, said he is praying that a day will come, hopefully before the end of this year, when the family would hold a joint press conference and announce that they are together again.
He warned that that since Mr Karume was a prominent person who was known all over the country, anything negative about the family spreads like bushfire.
“We want the family of Karume to look like it used to look before. And I plead with all people to pray for their unity,” he said, adding that the empire could well be crumbling if the differences remain unresolved.