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How I met ‘James Bond’ and what he means in race to State House

NATIONAL
By Kamau Ngotho | July 18th 2021

Businessman Jimmy Wanjigi during a fundraiser at Bondo ACK Church on October 11, 2020. [Collins Oduor, Standard]

In the five-year tragicomedy that is the General Election, the latest scene ahead of next year’s show is the announcement by businessman and political fixer Jimi Wanjigi aka James Bond that he will be on the presidential ballot. Expect Jimi not to be another of the run-of-the-mill types. He will bring colour, bags of money, and high intrigue. Here is a close-up of the man and his game.

      ***

I met Jimi three times when I was in active journalism. At the first instance, I had written a four-day serialisation in the Nation newspaper on the mystery of a Kenyan of British ancestry, Bruce Mckenzie, who was in independent Kenya’s first Cabinet, yet he was an active agent of the British and Israel spy organs, the MI6 and the Mossad, respectively.

Like many readers, Jimi liked the story and contacted me through a colleague. I went to meet him at his offices those days located at a building on the intersection of Haile Sellasie Avenue and Uhuru Highway. The sign at the entrance to his offices read ‘Kwacha Group of Companies’.

I had been a journalist for a long time but never heard of any group of companies by that name. I only knew ‘kwacha’ to be the name of the Zambian currency. I don’t know whether Jimi still runs the same group of companies, but it looks like whatever he does nowadays is wide-ranging and deep.

Back to that first meeting in 2000, I would say it was charming and disarming. From stories I had heard about him, I expected to see a giant of a snob. But here was a man of average build, vertically and horizontally, and soft-spoken. He came to pick me from the reception, addressing me as “my brother” though we had never set eyes on each other before.

The scion of a wealthy family and educated abroad, I expected Jimi would speak to me in heavy English baritone – like that of his St Mary’s fellow alumni broadcaster Jeff Koinange. Instead, he addressed me in fluent vernacular as spoken by their other old schoolmate, one Uhuru Kenyatta. Over a cup of coffee which Jimi offered to pour into my cup and stir the one spoonful of sugar, he complimented me on the Mckenzie story and briefly chatted on the politics of the day, which was the succession of President Daniel arap Moi whose term was coming to an end.

It happened that President Moi had been pressurised by international money lenders to appoint a Kenyan of British ancestry to a key position in the Civil Service. The particular Kenyan - though he delivers on assignment – is not a pleasant person. He is tough and rough.

Businessman Jimmy Wanjigi. [George Njunge, Standard]

As expected, the mzungu got on the nerves of many and Jimi wanted him “eaten” (that is the word he used), just like I had done Bruce Mckenzie. 

I told him I had no problem “chewing” the mzungu if he could give me solid facts to back the story. He promised to assemble a “dossier” and get back to me. He was yet to do so when a few weeks later President Moi abruptly sacked the mzungu.

I called Jimi to ask him about the dossier now that the mzungu had been fired. He was on cloud nine and said: “My brother, the chap is down. Let’s just forget about him and move on.”

The second time I sought out Jimi, I had just had a brainwave-why not write a book about the contribution of Kenyans of Indian origin in the making of the Kenyan nation. I had the Jevanjees, the Malkiat Singhs and the Chandarias among others, in mind.

Having heard that Jimi was well connected to moneyed Kenyan Asians, I thought I could ask him to interest them in funding my book project. I called him and we met by the side of a swimming pool in a hotel in Westlands.

The first thing he asked me was the budget of the project. I gave him a modest six-figure amount. My monthly salary was a five-figure sum and I thought I could work better with a lump sum if I did the book I had in mind. On mentioning the figure, Jimi made a face and told me to leave it to him, and that he would get back to me. He never did.

In retrospect, I guess he must have felt insulted that I would seek his genius in a project worth peanuts. Also, he may have pitied me that my ambition was to cash a mere six-figure cheque.

At the time, he was ‘handling’ a group of Kenyan Indians the grapevine called G-7, and who dominated the construction and commodity supply business with the government. The G-7 Indians have since been replaced by a Chinese G-7, and Jimi changed his phone book as well to go with the times. In short, I was naïve not to know that Jimi, as Mario Puzo writes in the novel “The Godfather”, follows the money and not the ‘fossils’ I had in mind!

The third meeting with Jimi was a chance one. We bumped into each other in the office of a retired civil servant whose wealth is more than enough to sustain his tenth generation even if they never do a day’s work. Surprised that I also visited the old man, Jimi sarcastically remarked: “Kamau, now I know why you don’t call me. You got into the league of the big money guys!”

Businessman Jimmy Wanjigi. [Courtesy]

The truth is that while Jimi most likely had gone to discuss big money with the old man, I had gone to see the latter who is still my good friend because he is a great storyteller with loads of humour. The only time I discussed money with the old man is when folks from my village listed me as a guest of honour in a fund-raiser and I requested him to sindikiza (chip in) my donation. He painfully handed me a Sh1,000 note. Rich men can be mean!

Fast forward, many years after losing contact with Jimi, I gathered from sources close to the source that he was Mr Fix-it in the 2013 presidential election, a fact he personally confirmed much later when addressing the media at his Muthaiga home during a brief moment when he had fallen afoul of the powers-that-be.

He disclosed that the Jubilee coalition was formed at his residence in December 2012, where the principals would visit and have a meal with his family.

But come 2017, Jimi was no longer at ease with the Jubilee principals. Reports have it that they dropped him like a hot potato as soon as they got to power, and that they denied him the chance to do his thing and follow the money. Naturally, Jimi got offended. To him, the Jubilee principals had behaved like the proverbial frog which after it was helped to cross the river kicked aside the helper and boasted it had done it on its own.

So it happened that in 2017, Jimi was on Baba’s side. He was reportedly the main financier of the presidential campaign and the court petitions that followed. Also, reportedly, he was behind the swearing-in of Baba as “people’s president”.

Now, can you believe the story that Jimi is set to challenge Baba for the ODM presidential ticket? Never! Jimi’s game is to sabotage Deputy President William Ruto’s bid. In many ways, Jimi is the type that can stop the DP. He has the means, and like the DP, he can play rough.

Reportedly, Jimi has already snatched Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria from the DP’s armpit and is in serious ‘consultation’ with a number of MPs in Mt Kenya. The plan is to stop the DP from running away with the Mt Kenya vote. Jimi knows that if Baba’s 2017 coalition vote can be mobilised afresh, and he gets just one-third of the Mt Kenya vote, he will be the next occupant of the House on the Hill. That looks like a stroke of genius, the Jimi way.

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