Day Kenyatta almost fainted after seeing loads of cash

Jomo Kenyatta signs the visitors book on arrival at CBK. Looking on is CBK Governor Duncan Ndegwa, his deputy Abdalla and Finance Minister Mwai Kibaki, December 1972. [File, Standard]

Imagine transporting trailer loads of currency notes along Kenyan roads. What a heist that would be for gangsters, who awhile back made cash-in-transit business a costly and dangerous affair? This has not always been the case for during Kenya's age of innocence, scenes of money being ferried in bulk were quite common.

These scenes are best captured by Kenya's first Central Bank Governor Duncan Ndegwa who in his memoirs, Walking in Kenyatta Struggle: My Story, recounts how it was like in May 1967 when he took over from his predecessor.

Apparently, when Kenya gained independence, it was loaned more money by the World Bank. One of the most precious assets the World Bank had loaned the country was a 79-year-old frail banker, Dr Leon Baranski, who went to work if it was absolutely necessary and mostly mid morning as he was afflicted by arthritis.

When he took over, Ndegwa recalls how mesmerised Kenyans were as flatbed trailers, heavily guarded by paramilitary police, transported currency notes to Nairobi Railway Station from Mombasa. At the time, the currency notes were being printed in the UK.

Ndegwa writes how bystanders wondered: "How could government say there is no money? Where are all those 12 trailers taking all this money?

Not even President Jomo Kenyatta could contain his surprise. Ndegwa recollects that when Kenyatta visited Central Bank vaults one day, his jaw dropped at the sight of rows of cartons packed with crisp notes.

"We took him to the bank vaults and on seeing the cartons and crates of bank notes, stacked all over, his mouth seemed to sag. He looked over his shoulder at the security detail. He waved them away impatiently."

According to Ndegwa, when the presidential guards retreated out of the room, Kenyatta whispered, "Ndegwa, is all this money? I replied in the affirmative."

Apparently, the notes Kenyatta had seen at the vaults were mere papers. Money gets value only after it is issued to banks and used as a means of exchange.

So sensitive was the money business that when Ndegwa proposed the establishment of a money printing firm in Nairobi, the idea was flatly rejected by government officials who felt that the risk was too great. Spies were posted to Central Bank to snoop about counterfeit.

Ndegwa had suggested that a currency printing firm be established in Ruaraka, Nairobi.

Today, Kenya's paper money is printed in Ruaraka. What is baffling is that we cannot print election materials and examination papers locally.