Thirty-two years on, Koinange family fights over estate

The 32-year-old court battle for control of the multi-billion-shilling estate amassed by former Cabinet minister Mbiyu Koinange stands out as possibly Kenya’s most intriguing family dispute.

Eight years ago, Court of Appeal judge Martha Koome, then a High Court judge, described the incessant wrangles among the Koinange kin and their lawyers as an unending circus.

“I am sorry to state that going through this court file and the tactics employed by the parties and their advocates can only be likened to the classical theatre of the absurd,” said Lady Justice Koome in a ruling she delivered on January 28, 2005.

She added: “It is a shame that 24 years after the death, there seems to be no end in sight. Numerous applications and consent orders have been recorded but very little progress has been made towards the distribution of the estate to the beneficiaries.”

At stake is an estate involving some of the country’s most prime land holdings – including 291 acres in the heart of the prestigious Runda estate and thousands more in the Rift Valley – and shares in some of the nation’s top firms.

Big names including top politicians have been roped into the ever-expanding web with no end in sight to the litigation involving Mr Koinange’s widows and 18 children.

Conservative estimates place the value of the property at Sh10 billion, but the real value is believed to be far higher.

The case has meant that many of the Koinange family members, in Justice Koome’s words, “cannot access their requisite share to enable them get on with their lives and thereby lost opportunities in life”.

She noted that the beneficiaries from the estate would like the status quo to prevail.

For three decades since Succession suit No 527 was filed in court in 1981 to resolve the distribution of the properties to the beneficiaries of the powerful minister, little progress has been made to resolve the dispute.

Nearly all the judges in the High Court and Court of Appeal, save for those recently recruited, have in one way or the other dealt with the Koinange succession suit, including those who have retired or were sent home by the Judges and Magistrates Vetting Board.

Parallel suits
Among them are Lady Justice Kalpana Rawal, who was elevated to the position of Deputy Chief Justice, and Lady Justice Koome, Justice GBM Kariuki and Justice David Maraga all of whom were moved to the Court of Appeal.

Equally, more than 50 parallel suits have emerged from the day the main succession case was lodged in court, attracting the highest turnover of lawyers.
Currently, more than 15 lawyers are appearing in court representing the widows, children and other personalities purported to have bought various of the estate’s prime assets without the knowledge of some of the family members.

Some lawyers have also been accused of holding hundreds of millions of shillings belonging to the estate, while one is said to have literally run away with a title deed and cannot be traced.

At a hearing of the case two weeks ago, lawyer Justry Nyaberi, representing one of the beneficiaries, pleaded with Justice William Musyoka to order advocate Jane Muthoni Njage to deposit in court the title of the controversial 4,296- acre Muthera Farm in Mau Narok, Nakuru County, pending the determination of the dispute.

The application was made after lawyers raised the red flag fearing the land may have been disposed of without the knowledge or consent of the court and the beneficiaries.

“We have made efforts to look for the lawyer, but she cannot be traced. She no longer operates in her previous offices, and nobody appears to know of her whereabouts,” submitted Mr Nyaberi.