Uhuru Kenyatta vs Jimi Wanjigi: Permanent rift or just severe turbulence?

President Uhuru Kenyatta (L) and businessman Jimi Wanjigi (R)

The current rift between businessman Jimi Wanjigi and President Uhuru Kenyatta’s administration is, to those aware of their longstanding ties, a cause for great concern.

This is because the Wanjigis and the Kenyattas are part of a group of families whose tight association goes back at least one generation or 40 years back.

Jimi, who is 54, and Uhuru, 55, both attended what was without doubt Kenya’s most prestigious school then, St Marys School in Nairobi.

Saints, as it is commonly referred to, was the school of choice for the children of Kenyan presidents and the who's who in society.

Jimi’s father Maina Wanjigi, 88, was a Cabinet minister in former President Daniel arap Moi's regime. With his roots in Murang'a County, the senior Wanjigi, although much younger than Jomo Kenyatta, knew the late president very well as he was a member of the monied elite from the region.

Buying property

They made their fortunes by buying property in Nairobi’s central business district. Others in this group included the late Gerishom Kirima.

Jimi and Uhuru met at Saints even though Uhuru was one class ahead. Jimi was in the same class as the man believed to be the real power in Uhuru’s presidency, Muhoho Kenyatta, who is 54.

Kenya and Saint Mary’s were virtually de-tribalised back then, in the mid-70s. I clearly recall that Wanjigi, Muhoho and Uhuru were part of a group of about 10 students who were virtually inseparable; both in and out of school.

This group also had the Kibakis and the Michukis among others.

St Mary’s offered education from Standard One all the way up to and A’ levels. Entry into Standard One was for five- to six-year-olds, and students graduated with their London GCE A’ levels aged between 18-19.

This was the path that not only Jimi and Uhuru took, but indeed their entire families.

I sought the views of one of our former school mates, a close friend of both the Kenyattas and the Wanjigis, who offered the following insights into the current ruckus.

“First of all, you need to understand the wealth both Jimi and Uhuru own is a direct product of their proximity to power. This can be traced to Jomo Kenyatta’s presidency,” said the classmate who did not wish to be named.

“What the Uhuru regime is doing is not really meant to destroy Jimi but rather tame him and let him know who holds the levers of State power.”

When asked how their differences were likely to end, the former Saints student said: “You must also recall that if there is one community that backs its own in Kenya it is the Kikuyu. Jimi is not an outsider so his effrontery in opposing Uhuru’s presidency and backing the candidature of the ‘old enemy’ is something that must be robustly resisted.”

School networks are, for most of us, precious aspects of our histories that we would ordinarily not sever. There is no doubt the same applies to Jimi and Uhuru.

Can they be categorised as close friends? Certainly yes. Both played rugby in school - Uhuru as a blind side winger and Jimi as the hard driving scrum half. Other than rugby, Jimi also played hockey, basketball and squash.

Uhuru was always jovial, the same as Jimi. But Jimi was also very inquisitive. This could have informed the path he took after school.

After St Mary's, their paths crossed again in the US, where they went for their university education. Uhuru earned a degree in political science and economics and Jimi in business administration.

Many close friends of both Jimi and Uhuru from St Mary's also earned their degrees from American universities; others went to the UK.

Jimi left St Mary's in 1980, alongside Jimmy Kibaki and the Michukis among others. Uhuru had left a year earlier.

Children from these families were privileged for sure. When school resumed, and particularly after the July-August summer holiday, you would find it hard to believe the stories about their vacations if you didn't know how moneyed they were.

Ordinary Kenyans

Overseas trips were the norm, with visits to places and events many ordinary Kenyans can only dream about or are not even aware that they exist.

These included attending concerts in the US, where the main acts were the Commodores and The Jacksons among others.

After their sojourns in the US in the mid-80s, Jimi amd Uhuru joined their respective family businesses. By then, the Kenyatta business empire was massive. The senior Wanjigi was also doing well.

Jimi joined his father's Kwacha Group as his friendship with the Kenyattas blossomed.

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