Mae Ridge in Runda, Nairobi, is an upscale estate that was designed by Triad and Beglin Woods Architects and developed by Mae Properties.
The US Embassy, the UN and the Village Market are just a saliva spit away past the Lord Errol Bridge. To live in this address means coughing Sh50 million for a house with breakfast, family, TV and study rooms, besides a double carport and two staff quarters in your own half-acre, far from the madding crowd.
Runda can thank its exclusive status to the late Dr Njoroge Mungai, and Joseph Odero-Jowi. Dr Mungai was Foreign Affairs minister, while Odera-Jowi was Kenya’s ambassador to the UN. They both lobbied for the UNEP headquarters to be located in Nairobi.
Okay, there was also Canadian Maurice Strong, then UN Under Secretary, who had no heartburn with Third World Kenya hosting UNEP, for which he served as the first director.
This was despite bidding European and North American countries offering to build the UNEP head office with their funds if it were to be located in their countries. Kenya still won the bid to host the UNEP headquarters, minus building budget, besides $400,000 (about Sh40 million at current exchange rate) donation towards the UNEP secretariat!
That meant the UN had to fund UNEP headquarters from 1972. That Gigiri, neighbouring Runda, was selected as its home was God sent for Mae Properties, which owned Runda estate, then under coffee. Today, Mae Properties is owned by Pan Africa Life Assurance, but did you know the name is an acronym for the original three partners - Mathu, Andrew and Elia? To be precise; Eliud Mathu, Andrew Zagoritis and Elia Zagoritis, who on realising that UNEP would spur demand for upmarket housing, turned Runda Coffee Estate into an upscale living estate, mainly targeting UN staffers.
By the way, Oxford-educated Eliud Mathu was the first Kenyan nominated by the colonial government to represent miro interests in the Legislative Council (Legco). That was in 1944 when Rev JW Arthur, the former teacher of future President Kenyatta I, retired from the Legco. Eliud Mathu served for 13 years there, but lost the 1957 elections. He was appointed State House Comptroller at independence in 1963.
But sometimes, sidekicks of Uhuru Kenyatta’s old guy opening presidential mail without his knowledge drove Mathu up the wall. Once, when old Jomo was on a ‘working holiday’ in Mombasa, Mathu made a two-day disappearing act, only to be found in Ganjoni, high like a kite. He slurred to the search party that Kenyatta should be told in no uncertain terms that he, Mathu, was done with State House!
Okay, Eliud Mathu, who was anti-Mau Mau according to the 1995 book, ‘Decolonization & Independence in Kenya: 1940 -1993’, edited by Bethwel Ogot and William Ochieng, sobered up and returned to work.
In the eight years to 1980, Mae Properties built Old Runda with houses squatting on one and two acres before Johnny-come-lately developers got half-acre plots in Runda Phase Three in the early 1990s.
Gradually, Runda took shape with Kenya Commercial Bank developing New Runda along Kiambu Road and one-time Gatundu MP, the late Zacharia Gakunju, developing Runda Evergreen Estate in the east and Karume Investments, Runda Mimosa on the west.
There is Eliud Mathu Valley, Andrew Zagoritis Road and Elia Zagoritis Road in honour of the ‘Three Musketeers’ who made Runda - one of the world’s top 10 real estate markets, according to the 2015 rankings by global property consultancy, Knight Frank.