Centum buys 20-acre Kiambu land for private school plan

Centum Investment chief executive James Mworia. PHOTO | SALATON NJAU
Centum Investment chief executive James Mworia. PHOTO | SALATON NJAU 

Investment firm Centum has bought 20 acres of land in Kiambu, setting in motion its grand plan to build a chain of elite international schools.

The land, near the popular Paradise Lost recreation park, has been bought from the family of a former Gatundu MP and coffee tycoon, Zakaria Kimemia Gakunju.

“The total land on which the proposed project will be developed is 20 acres, of which 17 acres will be used for the school, and three acres set aside for future teaching staff and student accommodation,” Centum says in its filings.

It has been hived off a 160-acre coffee estate that is now owned by the late Gakunju’s children.

Centum, in partnership with a Dubai-based PE firm and an international chain of schools, plans to build a 2,000-capacity institution that will admit pupils from kindergarten to high school.

Regulatory filings show that construction of the school that is due to admit its pioneer pupils in September 2018 will cost Sh535 million.

Property developers familiar with land prices in the area say the consortium may have paid at least Sh1.2 billion to secure the land (at the rate of about Sh60 million per acre), handing the Gakunju family a tidy payout.

The consortium, which includes Investbridge Capital and Sabis, has cleared off the area and is currently tendering for the project in readiness for groundbreaking expected to take place within the next few months.

The venture is 40 per cent owned by Centum, 40 per cent Investbridge and 20 per cent Sabis.

Centum and Investbridge will manage the school while Sabis will supply its proprietary curriculum and textbooks, under an investment vehicle called Africa Crest Education Holdings Limited.

Sabis is a family business headquartered in Beirut, whose network of schools has spread to 16 countries, including the US, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates, with a total of 70,000 learners.

Maiden foray

The school is Centum’s maiden foray into the education sector and marks its unrelenting repositioning from a conservative investment company into a deep-pocketed property developer.

The NSE-listed firm is mid this month expected to open Two Rivers, a Sh25.2 billion shopping mall that sits on 11 acres out of the 102 acres that Centum owns on Nairobi’s Limuru Road, near the affluent neighbourhoods of Runda, Nyari, Gigiri and Muthaiga.

Centum now has a diversified portfolio of assets in several sectors, including financial services, real-estate and property development, fast moving consumer goods, ICT, power generation, healthcare, and agribusiness.

The planned school places Centum in direct competition with international schools such as the German School, International School of Kenya, Potterhouse School, Braeburn, Rosslyn Academy, Kenton and St Andrews Turi.

“This project translates our vision of becoming active sector sponsors in areas that represent basic needs for the growing population, such as education, healthcare and agriculture,” Centum chief executive James Mworia said when he first made public the company’s plan to invest in education.

The international schools space has recently benefited from a steady growth of the middle class and the large pool of expatriates working for multinationals, foreign governments and global institutions like the UN.

The top-of-the-range schools charge annual fees of between Sh200,000 and Sh600,000 for day scholars while those in boarding school pay up to Sh1.7 million a year.

Centum’s land purchase has brought the family of the late Gakunju back in the spotlight as his children continue the sub-division and sale of his massive coffee farms in Kiambu County.

In the early 1990s Mr Gakunju sold a portion of his land holdings to real estate developers, giving rise to Runda’s Evergreen Estate where he also lived until his death on May 16, 2008.

Powerful individuals

He was among a small clique of powerful individuals – including Eliud Mathu, Andrew Zagoritis, Elias Zagoritis and Njenga Karume – whose investment exploits gave rise to the sections zones of the affluent estate.

He was also behind the development of Evergreen Park and Garden, a recreation centre on Kiambu Road that is currently run by one of his sons.

Mr Gakunju, who was detained for four years during the pre-independence emergency in the 1950s, rose from a clerk at a city-based law firm to become the chairman of the Kenya Coffee Growers Association and an assistant minister for wildlife and tourism.

He was also at one point the chairman of the Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the man behind Mbuni Drycleaners.

As the chair of the coffee umbrella body – present-day Kenya Coffee Producers Association – Mr Gakunju was vocal in his defence of members, even taking on former president Daniel arap Moi and his Cabinet.

This is not the first time that Centum has purchased land from a prominent Kiambu family.

Land on which the Two Rivers mall stands was bought from the Koinange family, which, like the Gakunjus and the Karumes, controlled huge swathes of land in the area.