Embakasi Ranching Company Limited chair Phideli Wangari

Embakasi Ranching Company Limited chair Phideli Wangari during the burial ceremony of the company’s former chair James Njoroge at Lironi in Kiambu County on September 5, 2023. She is the first woman to head the controversial land company.

| Joseph Kanyi | Nation Media Group

Is this the woman with the riskiest job in Kenya? Theologian takes over Embakasi Ranching firm

What you need to know:

It is now 51 years since Embakasi Ranching Company Limited was founded by then President Jomo Kenyatta as a horticulture and dairy farming venture.

The President had teamed up with his associates, including Njenga Karume and Nairobi legislator Muhuri Muchiri, to consolidate swathes of land in Nairobi, Kiambu and Machakos counties.

By 1978 when Mzee Kenyatta died, the firm had amassed more than 30, 000 acres. It is then that the remaining ‘partners’ opened up membership of the company to their kinsmen to own shares in the spirit of post-independence Africanisation. There are claims the total acreage was under declared and that those behind the scheme pocketed a fortune in eventual tradeoffs out of the deal.

And that was the origin of a corruption vampire that today has claimed numerous lives in the raging insatiable appetite for land grabbing that has left in its wake disillusioned elderly shareholders, some in their late 90s.

Many have died waiting for their share of the vast land and thousands of their descendants are queuing to get title deeds as powerful wheeler dealers obstruct the process for selfish gain.

Embakasi Ranching Company Limited

 A wall fencing the offices of Embakasi Ranching Company Limited in Ruai on February 24, 2021. 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

All four chairmen who have served in the ranch so far have died of heart attacks. In their last days they exhibited signs of paranoia, exposing the viciousness linked to the fight for control of the vast prime land and the huge revenues collected from poor shareholders.

The latest chairman, James Njoroge, died on August 26, aged 72. He was buried on September 5.

Mr Njoroge was succeeded by Phideli Wangari, the first woman to head the controversial land company.

She spoke about the ranch, her fears, the intrigues and the way out of the mess that is the ranch.

Who is Phideli Wangari?

She is just a simple woman aged 48, a theologian with a background in business management. A wife, a mother of three adults and a philanthropist who loves people, especially the vulnerable.

How did you get into Embakasi Ranching politics?

My dad Mr Patrick Gitau, now 90, together with my late mother Cecilia Wanjiru, owned 18 shares in the ranch. Consolidated, they were entitled to about nine acres. As their ages advanced, they surrendered pursuit of their shares to me.

Starting 1983, I have been an active member agitating for the titling of the Embakasi ranch using the pulpit.

In the April 13, 2019 Annual General Meeting, I was alongside 13 others elected as a director.

On July 20, 2019, the registrar of companies gave us approval to operate through issuance of CR12 certificate, and that is when we settled on Mr Njoroge as the chair and I his deputy.

Our bylaws indicate that the vice assumes the role of chair if and when a vacuum occurs.

I have cleanly acquired five shares in the ranch, but even though I’m a director, three of them have been stolen at the Lands ministry and credited to a ghost realtor.

And you are familiar with the perceived suspicious deaths of Embakasi Ranching chairmen who include your immediate boss?

All those deaths are suspicious. We have picked a nauseating pattern of the deaths occurring during great controversies.

Mr Muhuri Muchiri died in 2006 as he threatened to lead shareholders to oppose re-election of Mwai Kibaki as the President unless he gave us title deeds.

Mr Kariuki Mwaganu died in 2009 after he threatened to lead shareholders to oppose the Kibaki succession plan unless the shareholders secured titles.

Mr Mwangi Thuita died in 2018 battling the President Uhuru Kenyatta directive that the company be dissolved and titles issued without a verified register.

Mr Njoroge died this year fighting President William Ruto’s drive to pick titling from where Mr Kenyatta left without verifying the register.

You can be forgiven for connecting the source of those deaths.

Embakasi Ranching Company Limited chairmen

Embakasi Ranching Company Limited chairmen from left: Mr Muhuri Muchiri (1976-2006), Mr Kariuki Mwaganu (2006-2009), Mr Mwangi Thuita (2010 to 2018) and Mr James Njoroge (2019 to 2023).

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Yet you agree to step into that office...

I won't say that I’m not afraid of this position.

Being a wife and a mother means that I have my pressures to minimise risks about my life. But if something must kill a man, a woman should not feel exceptional.

I'm ready to pay the ultimate price in leading the shareholders in their quest for justice. I cannot betray the aspirations of our shareholders as old as over 90 years.

Every death in this ranch reminds the world that we have land thieves around who are not afraid to steal from the very aged, sponsor both State and gangland violence against them while busy scheming the murder of their defenders.

Embakasi Ranching Company Limited chair Phideli Wangari

Embakasi Ranching Company Limited chair Phideli Wangari. She says she has a medical report stating that her heart is healthy and should her end come suspiciously, she cautions the world not to buy heart failure as the cause.

Photo credit: Joseph Kanyi | Nation Media Group

You recently had an overall health check-up.

I have a medical report dated August 28, 2023 from the Heart Centre in Murang’a stating that my heart is healthy and is performing well.

 I have also ascertained that so far I have no terminal illness. God forbid, should my end come suspiciously, the world should never buy heart failure as the cause.

But we cannot sit here discussing my health and possible death. I have committed myself to God to preserve me and give me wisdom to diligently serve these suffering shareholders. You only need to call a shareholders’ meeting and see the faces that turn up.

You will cry seeing the very aged of this country, some with oxygen support machines with weariness all over their faces but with a distant twinkle of hope that they will not die without getting justice.

I foremost need prayers. For bravery, I have it in abundance through my God and Christian faith. I will not run away from these vulnerable shareholders and I shall face the threats in supplication.

You say that your predecessors died while fighting cartels connected in high offices. Will you be different?

No, I will not be different. I will fight those cartels. But I will change tact. As a theologian, I identify with the prayerful character of the current government.

I have witnessed President William Ruto, first lady Rachel Ruto and Second lady Dorcas Rigathi shed tears in public after they came face-to-face with faces of desolation.

I only need to bring our plight to this government in a respectful and consultative manner. I want to propose that we endorse Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua as our patron and in turn he seconds his aide into our board so that we can create a direct connection and relationship with this government.

That way, we will shed off the confrontations and engage towards peaceful problem resolution.

Embakasi Ranching Company in Ruai, Nairobi.  

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Define the problem you talk about.

It is big and complicated. But we must confront it and give it an answer.

We have over 19, 000 disputes in this ranch’s declared 16,000 acres of land owned by the original 3, 000 shareholders.

We also have more of undeclared lands measuring 700 hectares in Kitengela, 300 hectares in Syokimau and 800 hectares in Ngong.

The government has kept us busy discussing the Eastland’s holdings as those 1, 800 hectares continue to be subdivided by thieves.

Embakasi Ranching Scheme Chair in court over alleged illegal occupancy of office by rival group

Don’t you have a share register?

There are a dozen versions of that share register. It depends on who provides it. The one we have containing both primary and secondary shareholders indicate we have increased from 3, 000 to 35,000.

But during the recent titling drive ordered by the president, documents emerged from the Land Ministry indicating that we are 50, 000. That is the elephant in the room.

How the 3, 000 figure evolved to those tens of thousands is the poison in the cup.

Those additions’ fight to be titled is the deathtrap for the shareholders and their directors. There are death agents roaming our company in search of someone to kill so that the cartels can buy more time to keep us in a crisis that will give them more stolen plots.

Embakasi Ranching Company

A director of the Embakasi Ranching Company, Mr Henry Wamba (left), shows a fake land allocation certificate to members during an event to allocate plots to shareholders in Ruai .

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

How rich is Embakasi Ranching Company Limited?

We were supposed to be a billionaire entity. We were supposed to be giving our shareholders annual dividends. We have not done that in our history.

We inherited heavy machinery in the Horticulture and Dairy farming transition to a land business enterprise. We do not have an account of where those machines went.

To understand the crisis, in 2021 Cytonn reported that our land had appreciated by 115 per cent since 2011, an acre selling at Sh71 million as opposed to Sh33million then. It means that every additional 71 fake shareholders in our register are seeking to be millionaires. As many seek to be millionaires, they have picked on corrupting our share register. It is a dangerous money game that should be stopped.

Embakasi Ranching shareholders

Embakasi Ranching shareholders protest outside the Supreme Court on May 24, 2022. They claimed the land, which they acquired over 30 years ago, had been grabbed.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

You describe that problem as if there is no law for social engineering…

The law is made, enforced and supervised by men. The very same man is the component that designs civility and crime. It is an interesting relation.

As all in this mix strive to exist, conflict is inevitable. That is why I strongly support the President’s ultimatum for the cartels in the sugar industry, ‘Mambo ni matatu’—either exit the plot, go to jail or suffer permanent departure. The buck stops with him.

The president must kick the thieves out of Embakasi Ranching by way of ordering his Land CS to preside over an honest audit of our share register. We must clean that register.

It is only the president’s word that can empower the law to deal with the big politicians, security officers and businessmen who have illegally infiltrated us and developed land that they had no business occupying. They have even grabbed more than 300 acres of public utility land.

Directly address the president

Our president, come through for these shareholders in a more compassionate way than your predecessors.

You should look at the desolate faces of these majority elderly men and women asking for their title deeds. They are the age mates of your parents. Looking at their faces as they resort to street protests is sad.

You should deal with this issue once and for all, utmost justice being your leading light. We have told you that we have a problem in Embakasi Ranching. You have publicly admitted that we have a problem in this country. Give us a solution.

And if he fails you?

I will leave his case to God. I will go into history as one who attempted to plead with him on behalf of these people. There is the chief custodian of justice and his name is the Almighty God. His justice will influence the process and the end.