CBA picks Uhuru lawyer to chair expanded board


Mr Desterio Oyatsi when he accompanied President Uhuru Kenyatta to the hearing of a complaint Mr Kenyatta lodged with the Media Council of Kenya against The Star newspaper. Mr Oyatsi has been named CBA board chair. FILE

Commercial Bank of Africa (CBA) has shaken up its board and appointed President Kenyatta’s lawyer as chairman amid plans to open more foreign subsidiaries and gain market share locally.

The bank, which is associated with the family of President Uhuru Kenyatta, has appointed six new directors, pushing its board size to 10 members.

The mid-tier lender is keeping with the trend in corporate Kenya of appointing serving and former CEOs to the board to help develop strategy with the appointment of Desterio Oyatsi, the managing partner at Shapely Barret & Company Advocates and the President’s lawyer.

CBA has also appointed Sicily Kariuki (CEO of Tea Board of Kenya), Nicholas Nesbitt (CEO of IT firm Kencall), Mukesh Shah (former partner at PwC), Nelson Mainnah (former head of enterprise risk at the bank) and Abdirahin Abdi (former Speaker of the East African Legislative Assembly).

Mr Oyatsi has held brief for the President on a number of legal matters, including the International Criminal Court (ICC) where Mr Kenyatta, Deputy President William Ruto and radio journalist Joshua arap Sang have been charged for crimes against humanity allegedly committed after the 2007 General Election.

“We have had the new board since last year and the reason is we were putting in experienced people and our chairman died last year and the deputy chairman the year before,” said the Grroup CEO, Issack Awuondo.

The changes come as the bank is looking to open foreign subsidiaries in Rwanda, Burundi, South Sudan, Mozambique, DR Congo and Ethiopia.
CBA last year opened its second regional shop in Uganda after a cash call that raised about Sh1.5 billion from the lender’s shareholders.

(Read: CBA awaits central bank approval to set up in Uganda)

The bank has been operating in Tanzania since 2005 after it bought the parent company of United Bank of Africa operating in Tanzania.

In line with its regional expansion the institution upgraded its core banking system and restructured its management in a reshuffle that saw Mr Awuondo elevated to group CEO in line with its regional ambitions. The bank appointed Jeremy Ngunze as Kenya CEO—which earned him a seat on the board.

Regional expansion is becoming important as the East Africa Community (EAC) common market takes shape, opening the way for free movement of factors of production in a market of 130 million people.

Kenyan companies are racing to open subsidiaries in the regional countries with banks following suit. It has caught the eye of Equity Bank, KCB and DTB. CBA is largely a corporate bank with its key strengths being in institutional and diplomatic banking.

But the choice of the new board signals that the bank is keen to deepen its reach in the corporate banking market to include IT and agriculture that are served by Mr Nesbitt and Ms Kariuki respectively.

The bank has been operating with four directors following last year’s death of former chairman Mirabeau Da Gama Rose, which left the President’s younger brother, Muhoho Kenyatta, who doubles as acting chairman and deputy chairman.

Mr Muhoho will continue to serve as deputy chairman under the expanded boardroom. Older directors included Mr Awuondo, Mr Ngunze and Stuart Armitage, who also sits on the board of Brookside Dairy—which is also linked to the Kenyattas.

Commercial Bank of Africa is privately owned with about 30 investors including the President’s family and was initially majority owned by Bank of America before it divested in the 1980s.

The bank, which was founded in 1962, is one of Kenya’s largest non-listed lender with total assets of Sh100 billion and last year posted a net profit of Sh2.6 billion.

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