“In every great city, disorders needing the care of the physician continually spring up; and the graver these disorders are, the greater will be the skill needed for their treatment.”
Niccolò Machiavelli, the Discourses 1512-1517
John Njoroge Michuki and James Njenga Karume are testament to the adage that “there are many ways to skin a cat”.
Both arrived at the same end; fabulously wealthy, brilliantly connected and treasured confidants to Kenya’s sitting president. Though they rose from similarly humble backgrounds, were meticulous time keepers and astute investors, they took radically different paths to greatness.
Their near simultaneous deaths during what must have been a tragic week for President Kibaki may just mark the end of their similarities. This dichotomy of destinies could manifest itself in the paths that their vast estates will take now that they are dead.
Michuki left a relatively cohesive family; an elderly, respected wife who carries herself with a lot of dignity.
Their children are, according to the media, accomplished professionals in the private sector.
Karume leaves behind, in addition to a widow with a toddler, grown children from his deceased wife, many of whom have neither been seen nor heard of in the public arena. He also leaves behind controversy surrounding a “son” who has appeared in the media on account of numerous court applications seeking to compel Karume to recognise him as his seed.
Even though Karume wrote a book, Beyond Expectations: From Charcoal to Gold, it remains to be seen whether he wrote a will and if, given the Kirima scenario that continues to unfold, this will is enforceable.
Given these differences between Karume and Michuki, it can be argued that they require very different successors to manage their estates.
Karume’s family, just like the house of Michuki, has several factors going for them. First, they have what can only be described as a vast estate at their disposal. “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart” (Job 1:21a) never rang truer than it did when the two great men were laid to rest. None took any portion of their wealth with them; it’s all here and available for their heirs.
Second, Karume’s age mates are on hand to help resolve any issues they cannot deal with internally.
Third and most important, they have to deal with the question of Mr Edwin Thuo who claims Karume was his father.
Where the house of Michuki needs a quiet, wise, suave operator willing to guide matters from the background, Karume’s family requires a brave, outspoken opinionated leader who clearly defines the desired end result — equitable dissolution of Kurume’s estate — and the path they must take to get there.
Given the family diversity, the person should be influential, willing to quickly rally the family against a common cause. This action has proved effective in building cohesion among even the most bitter adverseries.
The family should conclusively deal with the matter of Mr Thuo. All options, including offering a token recognition and inheritance should be kept on the table as the family deals with the issue. When this is done, the leader will, for a short time, have a cohesive family. It is at this point that they should debate strategies for estate dissolution.
Whatever formula is arrived at, a portion of the property should be held in trust for the future generations to secure them against scions that waste their inheritance.
If this is secured, the leader will, if he is wise, get commitments to the distribution formula in writing and dispense with the issue. If the leader does this, the house of Karume will stand forever.
Mutua is a Humphrey Fellow and a leadership development consultant focused on family businesses.