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Overnight millionaires whose fortunes evaporated in months

BUSINESS
By | June 25th 2011

By Alex Kiprotich

Beer flowed endlessly, partying went on till the wee hours of the morning and women flocked the dusty town and left like birds in migration.

Illiterate herdsmen who had not seen the inside of banking hall, and who had never  gone beyond where their animals led them, were the new millionaires in town.

For the first time in their lives some put on undergarments, a mark of sophistication, and exchanged the red shukas for shirts and trousers.

A house that one of the recipients of the money tried building.

This was eight years ago, when hundreds of pastoralists who sustained injuries caused by live ammunition left by the British Army training in parts of Samburu were compensated, turning the arid town into a millionaires’ haven.

But this did not stop the herders from slumping back to poverty as I found out last week when I visited the town. Instead of millionaires I met paupers.

Residents could only point out to me two buildings within the town as testimonies to the millions of shillings compensated to the herdsmen. The buildings do not look anything like millionaires’ mansions.

The newly made millionaires who had never touched Sh500 notes were lured by the trappings of modern life.

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Coming from the banking halls, they went shopping, swapping their rubber-tyre sandals for 4x4s and their traditional outfit for vast quantities of clothes. The men – young and old alike – hit the bars, drinking with abandon and eating copious quantities of meat to announce that they ‘had made a fortune’.

But this a bygone era now and sadly for the players there are few or no relics to hang on to.  With their heads hanging in shame, many of them have retreated into solitary lives. They want nothing to do with the society and it seems the society also does not want anything to do with them.

Off-road cars

Abraham Leparachao, one of these bubble millionaires, cannot countenance meeting some of the women who helped him decimate his stash of cash.

“They will throw up if I try greeting them,” he says in a resigned tone.

Leparachao was compensated Sh9.5milion which went down the drain in only six months. Today he  engages in menial work to get food. When we met him he was mending his neighbours fence. He had not eaten for a day.

“I was told my account had been credited with millions. I did not know millions get finished because I had never touched Sh500 in my life,” he says.

While he told me his story I was not sure whether to empathise with him or laugh. His brutal honesty on what he did with the millions is both hilarious and moving.

“The first thing I did to confirm that the money was mine was to tell the bank manager to give me Sh500,000,” he says.

To confirm whether it was real money, he went on a spending spree, buying anything he came across.

“I would pass by a shopping centre and buy everything, including plastics, and distribute,” he says.

He bought a RAV4, a Land Rover and a phone. Today he does not even have a phone and squats at his brother’s house.

Off-road cars in the arid plains of Maralal where the camel is the mode of transportation seemed like the ultimate prize for Leparachao.

The windfall caught the victims unawares as Anthony Lekakwar, who got Sh12 million, recounts.

“Nobody expected such amount of money. We were just chancing and we went crazy when we were told there are millions in our accounts,” he says. “These are people who have never ventured beyond the locality of the grazing fields and you tell them here are millions.”

And mad they ran. All but three of the 28, who were compensated in Maralal, have something to show for the millions. Many have moved back to the remote villages after exhausting the money to hide from the ridicule.

Leparachao, who has now retired to smoking and taking illicit brews, is a man in denial as we found out.

When I met him mending a fence, I asked him to take me to his house and he agreed.

However, Nick, a friend from a location station, whispers to me that he has sold the house. I gave the 38-year-old the benefit of doubt even after saying that he did not have the key because his wife, who lives in town, went with it.

As we negotiated the bad terrain, we could see the said house from afar. As we neared it, it was evident that it was disused and in dire need of repair. The glass windows had been replaced with carton boxes.

About 80 metres from the house, Leparachao tells our driver to stop and turn the vehicle to face the direction we had come from and orders us to disembark and take a walk to his house.

He conducts me into the compound with gusto. My friend notices that the door to the house is not locked and we get inside and start taking pictures.

Suddenly a man appears with a sword and a whip and locks the door from outside and paces up and down shouting. The man engages Nick in a heated argument in the local dialect and in panic I try to get in touch with my colleague in the vehicle only to realise there was no network coverage.

The ten minutes of being locked in the house seemed an eternity. All this time my eyes were fixed on the sword hanging loosely from the waist. And when the man calmed down and opened the door, I headed straight to the vehicle and only talked to him after my heartbeat had normalised.

“This house was sold to my father by this man (pointing Leparachao),” he said.

The house, which cost over Sh1million together with a ten acre farm it stands on, was sold for Sh100,000.

Lack of Education

John Kaman, a resident of Maralal, says many of those compensated led extravagant lifestyles. “They bought vehicles and did not even possess driving licences. The  men were surrounded by women they did not even care to know their names,” he says.

Leparachao says at any given time he had at least six women with him.

Lokitelesi Leitore, who lives in Wamba and got Sh10 million, says most of them fell for conmen and conwomen.

“We had no plan on how to spend the money and lack of education worsened the situation,” he says.

 He says it is hard to trace those compensated as others committed suicide after they sunk to poverty they thought they had kissed bye bye with the arrival of of millions. Leitore believes that if others were to be compensated now, they would spend the money wisely because they are now aware that no amount of money is a lot if not well planned for.

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