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Said Abdallah Azubedi: Nakuru real estate mogul who lived like a pauper dies

HOME & AWAY
By Steve Mkawale | February 27th 2019

Mourners carry the casket contaning the remains of Said Abdalla Azubedi for burial at the Islamic Cemetery in Nakuru on February 26,2019. [Photo: Harun Wathari/Standard]

Said Abdallah Azubedi, a Nakuru real estate tycoon who lived like a pauper among the poor in a slum, is dead.

He died on Monday at Aga Khan Hospital in Nairobi aged 79. Azubedi, who was buried yesterday at a Nakuru Muslim cemetery, was the kind you would hardly notice in the streets of Nakuru town where he lived most of his life. 

He had no flashy fuel guzzlers and owned a 1971 Peugeot 504. Yet, he owned a lot of property and was sometimes thought to own half of Nakuru’s Central Business District and its surroundings. A debate is still ongoing as to whether he was a millionaire or billionaire.

Mr Azubedi had no bodyguard and was only accompanied by one or two handlers everywhere he went.

When he was not attending court, a tribunal or other must-attend sessions, one would find him serving customers at his Tabaruk Cafe near the Shabab matatu stage in Nakuru town.

He doubled up as a cashier and a supervisor in the cafe. But besides serving food, the cafe was the place where hundreds of his tenants paid their rent – to him directly. 

Azubedi was easily accessible to everyone; from street children – who he fed free of charge, to the rich and powerful – seeking to sell him some property or discuss a business proposal at the cafe, where one was most likely to find him dozing, or appearing to be.

His hair always appeared unkempt. You would never find him in a coat, jacket, sweater or a suit.

Regardless of the weather, Azubedi was always clad in a shirt. Ties and closed shoes were, seemingly, anathema to him.

Flip-flops

He preferred flip-flops throughout the years and seldom wore the Muslim kanzu.

He was media-0shy, often declining interviews. He was a man of few words. 

Azubedi’s name will forever linger in the minds of Nakuru dwellers because his legacy is all over the town.

The businessman owned several commercial buildings in Nakuru’s central business district, a dozen maisonettes in the posh Milimani Estate, tens of rental houses in Freehold, Langa Langa and Gikomba Complex which houses hundreds of business stalls.

At the Bondeni slum, where he lived all his life, a quarter of the houses in the slum belonged to him.

 Azubedi’s Bondeni home was actually a humble affair. It initially served as his main business centre where he set up a soft drink and cigarette distribution centre that served Nakuru, Baringo, Kericho, Nyandarua and neighbouring urban centres before the distributorship was snatched from him in early 2000s.

Azubedi's 1971 Peugeot 504, which he used for as long as anyone can remember, is on the verge of giving up due to old age.  

Those who knew Azubedi well, like former Bondeni Councillor Gibe Kassim, describe him as a generous man.

“Although he was not so generous to himself, he is a known giver and played a major role in helping the Muslim community by contributing generously during Islamic events. He was considered one of the biggest donors during Iftars and Islamic holidays,” recalls Mr Kassim.

His younger brother Ali Azubedi, who was close to him and also his confidant, described him as a down-to-earth man, who was generous to a fault.

Ali has defended Azubedi’s lifestyle, saying: “He was who he was. No one, not even his wife and children, could change him. He lived as he wanted... we cannot fault him for that.”

Ali says Azubedi achieved his wealth through hard work, determination and sacrifice.

Thriving business

“He was the first born in the family. When my parents arrived here he was only three years old. He worked his way up and managed to set up a wholesale business that thrived and expanded into a soft drink and cigarette distribution,” Ali recalls.

After the soft drink and cigarette distribution businesses were discontinued, Azubedi moved to the CBD to manage a cafe right next to the Shabab Matatu terminal.

It is around this time that he switched to real estate. 

At the cafe, every day he sat behind the cashier’s desk. It was easy for one to mistake him for an elderly employee in the tiny but ever busy eatery.

He was, however, not so generous with his image.

Before his death, this writer tried to have an interview with him several times, but every time he entered the eatery, he would bow his head down and speak without looking at him in a low voice: “Hiyo maneno bado nafikiria (I am still thinking about that)”. He would then invite the writer for a cup of tea. He died before granting the interview.

Despite being reclusive, the late Azubedi was never short of controversy, especially on matters land.

He was engaged in a long-standing dispute over a prime property located in the heart of Nakuru town next to the Nakuru wholesale market, where small-scale traders operated for years thinking it belonged to the defunct municipal council. 

In 2003, former Nakuru Town MP Mirugi Kariuki (deceased) was captured in the Hansard report demanding to know who owned the parcel in Nakuru’s CBD.

Out of the blue

Mirugi wondered how a man could come out of the blue to claim a piece of land that was next to the wholesale market, where traders had operated for 15 years.

But the then the Assistant Minister for Internal Security Orwa Ojode (deceased), had the answer. “The current owner of plot No LR Nakuru Municipality Block 10/197 is Mr Said Abdalla Azubedi,” he said without hesitation. 

According to Ali, Azubedi came to Kenya in the 1950s and was among the first non-Africans to establish businesses in Nakuru.

Ali says his brother was generally an introvert. “If he trusted you, he could do anything for you,” he says.

Azubedi is survived by seven children and wife Washuka Samira, whose father is Nakuru businessman Jeremiah Mbaria.

Azubedi’s first wife died.

A man only identified as Mohamed, and whose photo circulated on social media sitting with Azubedi when the latter was hospitalised, says Azubedi’s father was called Abdalla Azubedi. His mother, Sheha, is still alive. 

Other sources say Azubedi came to Nakuru when he was two years old, reportedly from the Middle East, but this information could not be immediately verified. 

Azubedi attended Menengai High School alongside football legend Joe Kadenge.

Mbaria, who joined The Standard team during the interview alongside Nakuru Islamic leaders, led by Fadhili Msuri, only said: “It’s God’s will”.

 

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