What you need to know:
- The former Lugari MP's survival instinct has seen him make big news for decades.
- In political rallies, Mr Jirongo was Mr moneybags, dishing out crisp Sh500 notes.
On February 5, Uganda President Yoweri Museveni presided over a deal that would see his country accurately quantify how much greenhouse gases it produces.
China’s Luokong Technology had just signed a contract to undertake the works.
The Chinese firm will develop a Digital Measuring, Reporting and Verification (DMRV) platform for Uganda, and also launch a carbon asset exchange – a marketplace where institutions buy and sell credits that allow for the emission of a particular amount of greenhouse gases.
Carbon credits are permits that allow the holder to emit a specific amount of greenhouse gases.
Several countries have a cap on the greenhouse gases each institution can emit in their regular operations.
Institutions that want to go above these caps must purchase credits from other holders, in complex deals that often involve cross-border transactions in carbon asset exchanges such as the one Uganda intends to set up.
Uganda, if successful in setting up its carbon asset exchange, will become the first African country to have such a trading platform.
During the ceremony, Luokong announced that its African representative will be Shiftings Ltd, a company owned by former Lugari MP Cyrus Jirongo.
“We’re thrilled to introduce advanced tools to Africa’s carbon market, ensuring standardised, digitally-driven carbon accounting for nature-based projects at a fraction of traditional costs and time,” Mr Jirongo said in a statement issued by Shiftings Ltd.
Like a cat with nine lives, Mr Jirongo has almost always had a knack for bagging lucrative opportunities just when circumstances point at him being written off. His survival instinct has seen Mr Jirongo make big news for decades.
President Daniel Arap Moi’s decision to repeal Section 2A of the Constitution in December, 1991 set the stage for an unprecedented poll a year later, as the move returned to multiparty politics and scored points towards becoming a democratic republic.
Progressive as the move was, it also posed a threat to the strongman’s bid to sit on the throne for as long as he possibly could.
The growing opposition had turned President Moi into a pariah, as his top and most trusted lieutenants left in droves to fuel rivals angling for State House.
That was the canal through which Youth for Kanu (YK92) was born. Originally birthed by Joe Kipkung, Fred Kiptanui, Joe Mwangale, Sammy Kogo and Victor Kebenei, the outfit became synonymous with Cyrus Shakhalaga Khwa Jirongo and President William Ruto.
The group was planned as a platform to encourage the youth to glue Moi to State House, but ended up becoming a feared outfit that shook Kenya’s political, social and economic scenes to the core.
The five founders nominated Mr Jirongo, who had just been voted AFC Leopards Chairman, to lead the YK92. He did much more, as within three months Mr Jirongo had become one of President Moi’s closest allies.
At just 31, Mr Jirongo had risen to the top echelons of Kenya’s leadership, sitting in national security briefings with President Moi and commanding a budget that even the most successful blue chip company at the time could only dream of.
In theory, Kanu sympathisers, led by President Moi, fundraised for YK92, which used the funds to campaign for the incumbent. But in reality, the multibillion-shilling budget was funded by loot from government institutions, most notably the National Social Security Fund (NSSF). At least, according to Joel Barkan whose 1993 article, Kenya: Lessons from a Flawed Election, revealed.
The NSSF in one instance, purchased land from Mr Jirongo’s Sololo Outlets at Sh1.2 billion, when their actual value was Sh66 million.
Later in the year, the NSSF hired Sololo Outlets to construct an assortment of housing units in Nairobi’s South B estate for Sh1.2 billion.
This would become Hazina estate. Mr Jirongo was to complete construction through loans from Postbank Credit Ltd, now defunct. This Sh2.7 billion borrowing was one of several other debts Mr Jirongo would incur, perhaps in the hope that he would repay the loans with proceeds of various government deals such as the Hazina estate development.
The loan was guaranteed by Mr Jirongo’s Offshore Trading Company, which was later awarded a 1,000-acre land in Ruai. Other of his companies like Cyrot Ltd also left huge debt around. He had earlier borrowed Sh700 million from National Bank of Kenya in 1991 and used properties owned by Sammy Boit, one of the YK92 founders, as security for the loan.
In political rallies, Mr Jirongo was Mr moneybags, dishing out crisp Sh500 notes that the Central Bank of Kenya had recently introduced. The notes were named after him, as he seemed to have a bottomless pit of the currency. Mr Jirongo was on top of the world.
Much like the Greek Titan Kronos, President Moi feared that his children – the now all-powerful YK92 – would one day overthrow him. After winning the 1992 election, President Moi set in motion a plan to eat the YK92 just as Kronos would devour his children.
It was a figurative bloodbath. President Moi disbanded the YK92 in June, 1993 after accusing the group, which used violent attacks to stop opposition rallies, of tarnishing Kanu’s reputation.
The move was also advised by some top YK92 officials, such as Mr Jirongo, being implicated in big money scandals. Some officials, including current President William Ruto, were arrested and accused of working with opposition leader Kenneth Matiba to overthrow the government.
Micah Kigen, one of the officials arrested, told the Nation in a past interview that he was ordered by police to disown Mr Jirongo and sign a document that the YK92 chair planned to assist Mr Kenneth Matiba in overthrowing the government with help from Uganda.
Eventually, the YK92 officials were, of course, released with no charges preferred. In August, 1993, the NSSF terminated Sololo Outlets’ contract to put up 400 housing units in Hazina estate.
It was now clear that President Moi was immobilising the YK92 honchos. Mugoya Construction, owned by another of Moi’s buddies in James Mugoya, was contracted to complete the Hazina Estate project.
Mr Jirongo would remain in the cold, attempting to patch things up with the President, until 1997. He successfully contested the Lugari MP seat, an indication that the Jirongo of old was back.
In the tail end of Mr Moi’s 24-year reign, Mr Jirongo was appointed Minister for Rural Development. Despite President Moi and Kanu having lost popularity and fear they commanded for over two decades, it was a sign that the Lugari MP was still a force to reckon with.
In 2002 Mr Jirongo was one of the few senior politicians banking on Kanu, as he vied for the Lugari seat for a second time. Narc, which brought together several opposition honchos led by Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga, had swept most parts of the country.
Enoch Kibunguchy of Narc won the Lugari seat, tossing Mr Jirongo into the political cold. Things went silent for the former Lugari MP until 2007 when he formed a new party – Kenya African Democratic Development Union – and contested the Lugari seat again.
This time, Mr Jirongo won and appeared to be back in the corridors of power.
A year after being elected, Mr Jirongo’s Yu Sung Construction Company signed a deal with the South Sudan government for the construction of a military academy and warehouses in Juba.
The project, however, stalled after Mr Jirongo’s firm had been paid an initial deposit of Sh2.6 billion. In 2011, the South Sudan government turned hostile to Yu Sung and kicked the firm out.
In 2019, Yu Sung sued South Sudan at the East African Court of Justice and obtained an out-of-court deal for payment of Sh5.4 billion for illegal termination of the contract.
In December, 2020 Yu Sung filed a suit in Kenya against South Sudan, and obtained orders freezing the young nation’s locally-held bank accounts pending determination of the case.
South Sudan unsuccessfully challenged the freeze order at the Court of Appeal. While still in office, Mr Jirongo’s Sololo Outlets sued the NSSF claiming Sh4.9 billion for irregularly terminating the Hazina Estate contract.
In 2012, the NSSF paid Mr Jirongo Sh490 million as part of an out-of-court settlement of the matter.
In 2013, the former YK92 boss contested for the Kakamega Senate seat, but lost to Boni Khalwale, and once again got left in the political cold.
It is not clear why or how, but Mr Jirongo seemingly fell on hard times as he went on a borrowing spree over the next few years, which would land him in financial trouble.
In 2014, the High Court ruled that Mr Jirongo owed eight companies owned by YK92 co-founder Sammy Boit Sh700 million for a 1991 loan the former Lugari MP borrowed from National Bank of Kenya.
Unable to pay the debt, Mr Boit’s companies – Masole Ltd, Baia Enterprises, Gilera Ltd, Koti Developers, Saman Developers, Kenete Enterprises, Marimio Enterprises and Linsala Enterprises – filed bankruptcy proceedings against Mr Jirongo. On October 9, 2017 the High Court declared Mr Jirongo bankrupt. He, however, appealed the decision.
Just a year earlier, Mr Jirongo had entered into a deal with Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu) Secretary-General Francis Atwoli, for a “friendly” loan of $1 million (Sh100 million at the time).
The loan was to be repaid within 50 days as one of Mr Jirongo’s companies, Kuza Farms & Allied, was awaiting money from Nairobi County. The money was in respect of compulsory acquisition of a 2.5-acre land in Mukuru kwa Reuben.
What Mr Atwoli did not know, was that the Mukuru kwa Reuben land title deed was being held by the Kenya Deposit Insurance Corporation (KDIC) as part security for the Sh2.7 billion loans Mr Jirongo took from Postbank Credit Ltd in 1994.
The KDIC was only willing to let the title deed go after Mr Jirongo’s company offset its debt. And Nairobi County was only obliged to pay Kuza Farms & Allied over Sh250 million, part of another out-of-court settlement, if the company would avail a trouble-free title deed.
Mr Atwoli sued Mr Jirongo in 2017, seeking payment of the Sh100 million. Mr Jirongo tried to evade responsibility by claiming that the funds were advanced to Kuza Farms & Allied, and not him in his personal capacity.
Justice Francis Tuiyott dismissed Mr Jirongo’s defence and ordered him to pay Mr Atwoli the full amount, with interest of Sh10 million. Justice Tuiyott’s decision came just three days after Mr Jirongo had been declared bankrupt and appealed.
Mr Atwoli and Mr Jirongo once again agreed to await City Hall’s compensation for the Mukuru kwa Reuben land. In July, 2020 when Kenya was fighting the effects of Covid-19, City Hall released Sh250 million to Kuza Farms & Allied for the 2.5-acre Mukuru kwa Reuben land.
This, despite the fact that Mr Jirongo had not recovered the property’s title deed and ensured that it was free of debt. Kuza Farms sent Sh20.6 million to its owner, Mr Jirongo, before wiring Sh131 million to six prominent individuals. Mr Atwoli (Sh60 million), Pan-African Parliament MP representing South Sudan Albino Abuog (Sh38 million), former Vihiga Senator George Khaniri (Sh5 million) and former National Assembly Speaker Kenneth Marende (Sh3 million) all received a slice of the funds.
Two years later, Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC), summoned everyone who received funds from Kuza Farms. The EACC held that City Hall has always owned the land it compulsorily acquired from Mr Jirongo’s Kuza Farms. The detectives added that the land hosts a school, dispensary and police post.
The investigation is still ongoing, but Mr Atwoli, Mr Khaniri and Mr Marende all told detectives that they were owed money by Mr Jirongo who was fulfilling obligations.
Once again, when most thought that Mr Jirongo was down and out, he popped up next to President Museveni and officials of Luokong Technology to sign a deal potentially worth millions.