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A frugal carpenters epic struggle to the helm of real estate fortune

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Former assistant minister Gerishon Kirima has died while undergoing treatment in South Africa. Photo/FILE

Former assistant minister Gerishon Kirima has died while undergoing treatment in South Africa. Photo/FILE 

By JOHN KAMAU

Posted  Friday, December 31  2010 at  00:00

In mid 2005 Nairobi property magnate Gerishon Kamau Kirima, frail and walking with the help of a stick limped into Nairobi’s Market Branch of Barclays Bank with a bag full of cash. He was alone.

A few minutes later, a middle-aged woman rushed in and publicly scolded him for carrying large amounts of money on Nairobi streets.

It was end month and it could have been money collected from his many rental houses, which bring in more than Sh20 million a month.

Few people realised that the man was perhaps one of the wealthiest rags-to-riches businessman in the country.

Unlike other flashy millionaires, Kirima’s style of running his businesses was rudimentary, just like the furniture he made in his early years.

By the time he died in a South Africa hospital while on treatment on Wednesday, Kirima and his family were the centre of attention over fights in and out of court corridors for the control of his multi-million real estate empire and other investments.

It was a drama that had all the tenets of a soap opera — cash, witchcraft, back-stabbing, and litigation.

Kirima hardly controlled it, and was more of a spectator — thanks to his old age.

Born in the tea-growing Kiruri village in Murang’a on the slopes of Aberdares, Kirima was a simple man whose dressing, mostly v-necked sweaters under a suit, belied his business acumen and wealth, but revealed his humble backgrounds.

Scrupulously honest, Kirima often found himself on the wrong end of politics with his little education, having dropped out of school at an early age.

As a person, Kirima evaded the sophistry associated with millionaires, opting to run his businesses based on trust with his sons and daughters – and the first wife. At best he only trusted himself.

Like many businesses registered in early 1960s, at a time when women didn’t inherit property, his empire was simply a masculine Kirima and Sons Ltd, exemplifying the weaknesses of the social structure that he was moulded into.

Like many of his age-mates who did not go beyond basic education, Kirima’s background is weaved around the colonial education structure that prepared Africans for menial jobs.

That is how the self-made millionaire started off as a carpenter after he eloped from his Kiruri home and settled in the Kinangop plateaus.

It was here that he started his carpentry workshop, becoming one of the pioneer African businessmen.

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