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Billionaire investor Sono makes entry into Kenya, buys Re-Union FC

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By ROY GACHUHI
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Peanuts is the word used to describe a ridiculously small amount in a business transaction. But peanuts paved the road that made Jomo Sono a billionaire investor.

Sono, who didn’t complete primary school education, but has been honoured with doctorates from the University of London and the University of Dubai “for his contributions to football and business,” was in 2004 ranked 49th in a poll of the Top 100 Great South Africans.

He hawked peanuts to survive even before he was a teenager like the little boys you see doing the same in our own stadium terraces during football matches.
The orphan boy was dirt poor but today he is in virtually any business that you can think of.

“The only business I am not in is prostitution and that is because it is not taxed,” he says only half in jest.

In a way, the timing of his entry into the Kenyan market seems perfect because Government appetite for taxes is at its peak.

Very soon, the weight of his business acumen and financial resources is coming to a Kenyan football club and academy near you to replicate his Jomo Cosmos FC operation in South Africa.

“My grandfather was a blind man. He was a shop owner and a minister of the Presbyterian Church. How he managed his affairs in that condition I will never understand.

“But I owe all my business training to him. I am what I am today because of him.

“He gave me my first box of peanuts to take to the stadium and sell. He gave me directions to the stadium and I never understood how he was able to do that.”

Sono dutifully did as instructed.

He was eight years old and his father had just been killed in a car crash.

His paternal grandparents had taken him in because his mother was nowhere in sight.

This went on year after year.

One day, he was selling peanuts and apples in the tough streets of Orlando East in Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa’s commercial capital.

He saw many people going in one direction and asked them where they were headed to.

“Haven’t you heard?” somebody asked him.

“The big Orlando is coming to play an exhibition match today. Everybody will be there.”

Sono followed them, weighed down by his box of apples and peanuts.

Soon he was in what turned out to be a football festival, something similar to carnivals that people in other countries hold annually.

The celebrations involved matches involving Under 15, 17, 19, 21 and the senior Orlando Pirates team, founded by his own father as a breakaway from another team known as Black Pirates.

The U-15 team was a player short and the manager was in a panic.

He was going to lose his job for such an egregious dereliction of duty.

He turned to the young hawker. But Sono told him: “I can’t play. I have never played football in all my life. I don’t even like football. I prefer boxing.”

The frantic old man offered him a deal: “I will buy all your apples – all 15 of them – if you agree to play for our team.”

“Fine,” Sono told him. “But you must pay me first. Give me all the money for the 15 apples now because I don’t want to come looking for you after the game.”

The man agreed at once and Sono took the money and handed it to his grandfather’s neighbour.

He then took to the pitch – and scored a hat-trick. It was a virtuoso performance and everybody seemed to be in awe of him. People were heard asking: “Whose son is he?”

He was, of course, his father’s son and many people agreed that he was just like him. The manager of the senior Orlando Pirates team said: “He has got a burning spear in him. He plays with so much fire. He has a burning desire to win.”

Burning Spear was the name given to Kenya’s first president, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta who was very famous in Africa at that time.

There and then Sono became Jomo, the Burning Spear.

First it was a nickname but everybody called him by it and so with time, he registered it and it became his official name.

“I have no idea how I was able to extract such deal with the guy who bought my apples,” he says. “I was only 13. But as I like to say, peanuts and apples took me to Orlando Pirates. That is how my football career begun.”

He was designed for football. He performed poorly in school and didn’t care. He was mad about football and threw all of himself in it.

His first stop as a top professional was Portugal as a player for Sporting Lisbon.

Here, he faced the legendary Mozambican-born Eusebio, who some muttered was as great as Pele during his heyday. Eusebio turned out for Sporting’s eternal rivals, Benfica.

But Sono never mastered Portuguese and after eight months, stricken with home sickness and frustrated with the language barrier, he returned to South Africa to resume his career with Orlando Pirates.

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But his sights remained on the horizon. Sporting Lisbon had expedited his purchase upon getting news that Prof Julio Mazzei, the legendary Brazilian coach employed by Pepsi Cola and who formed a life-long partnership with Pele, was looking for him. Sono made contact with Mazzei again and before long, he was heading for America for trials with the New York Cosmos. The trials were rigorous, took two days, and he was the only African.

He made a decision: he would play in the free-wheeling African style that he knew, no one-touch stuff that he was being asked to perform like the Europeans.
“If it was putting the ball between defenders’ legs to have my way that is what I was going to do. I was not going to do things that I was not accustomed to.”

He a tad pessimistic about his chances and wistfully thought that having his picture taken with the legendary Pele and then return home would be satisfying enough.

As if to confirm this outlook, he was the first to be pulled off his game after 20 minutes of the second half.

That’s it, he thought, I am going home.

But as he walked towards the dressing room, he looked at the people on the grandstand above and the first person to catch his attention was Pele, clapping happily for him.

Then he say Mazzei who gave him a thumbs up sign. He was overwhelmed.

He burst into tears. He showered and raced for the nearest telephone booth to call home and inform his grandfather that he had passed the trials.

The American adventure would take him to Atlanta, Denver and then to Canada where it would end in a tragedy that he called a blessing. Toronto Blizzards, for whom he was playing, was in the process of selling him to Italy’s Juventus. The fans loudly objected and he felt trapped. But Giovanni Agnelli, the owner of Juventus was not going to have it any other way. And so there was one last game between the Blizzards and Manchester City. For Sono, it was time to move to England.

But it was not to be. Dennis Tueart, drove a hard tackle into Sono’s right ankle and the tough South African came tumbling down, his career at an end. His ankle was broken. There was going to be no Juventus and what lay ahead was anything else but playing time.

“I didn’t take it as a setback,” he says, “I took it as God’s signal for me to return home. I have never allowed storms to interrupt the course of my life. Even real storms, like the ones you see smashing though entire towns and causing massive destruction of life and property, they shouldn’t bring despair to those who survive them. Look, after they have done all that damage, go there a few years down the line. You will find beautiful hotels and homes. Whenever a storm comes my way, I just let it pass and then I proceed with my life. That is what I did.”

He returned to South Africa and purchased a white-owned football called Highlands Park for R50,000 (approx. Sh350,000).

All white players left because they couldn’t play for a black owner and so Sono had “a certificate but not club.”

He renamed the outfit Jomo Cosmos after his beloved New York Cosmos and started from scratch.

Today, it is valued at hundreds of millions of shillings.

And so he now has his sights set here. I asked him whether he had researched on Kenya’s football clubs.

He told me had done it on the surface because, “if you have seen one African team, you have seen them all.

“The problems are the same and so are the opportunities. There are a lot of complaints about incompetence and corruption in Kenya but don’t tell me that there are no good people in Kenya.

“There are. I hate corruption, in fact, at the 2002 World Cup the father of one player offered me a million rand to include his son in our national team. I said to him: ‘Say that to me again, and I will break your neck.’ I did that in the presence of the assistant coach. I don’t do business like that.”

Sono’s philosophy has always been to go for the new.

He thinks the problem with Kenya football might be focusing too much on professionalism at the top rather than development below.

He wants to reach the furthest corners of the country believing that “a country with one Victor Wanyama has 30 others.”

He is credited with bringing into South African football new stars such as Beni McCathy, Mark Fish, Helman Mkhalele, Sizwe Motaung Philemon Masinga and even others outside the country’s borders such as Zambia’s Chris Katongo.

He says: “What sports can do to unite people, nothing else can. President Mandela got it right; only sports truly unites people. I am going to use this vehicle for that purpose for as long as I live.”

Next time you walk into the stadium and a boy within sunken eyes and threadbare clothes implores you to buy a packet of peanuts from him, respect him. You never know.

He might end up employing your children, their cousins, friends, neighbours and countrymen at large.

For these are the mysteries of the world.



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Sordid tale of the bank ‘that would bribe God’

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Bank of Credit and Commerce International. August 1991. [File, Standard]

“This bank would bribe God.” These words of a former employee of the disgraced Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) sum up one of the most rotten global financial institutions.
BCCI pitched itself as a top bank for the Third World, but its spectacular collapse would reveal a web of transnational corruption and a playground for dictators, drug lords and terrorists.
It was one of the largest banks cutting across 69 countries and its aftermath would cause despair to innocent depositors, including Kenyans.
BCCI, which had $20 billion (Sh2.1 trillion in today’s exchange rate) assets globally, was revealed to have lost more than its entire capital.
The bank was founded in 1972 by the crafty Pakistani banker Agha Hasan Abedi.
He was loved in his homeland for his charitable acts but would go on to break every rule known to God and man.
In 1991, the Bank of England (BoE) froze its assets, citing large-scale fraud running for several years. This would see the bank cease operations in multiple countries. The Luxembourg-based BCCI was 77 per cent owned by the Gulf Emirate of Abu Dhabi.  
BoE investigations had unearthed laundering of drugs money, terrorism financing and the bank boasted of having high-profile customers such as Panama’s former strongman Manual Noriega as customers.
The Standard, quoting “highly placed” sources reported that Abu Dhabi ruler Sheikh Zayed Sultan would act as guarantor to protect the savings of Kenyan depositors.
The bank had five branches countrywide and panic had gripped depositors on the state of their money.
Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) would then move to appoint a manager to oversee the operations of the BCCI operations in Kenya.
It sent statements assuring depositors that their money was safe.
The Standard reported that the Sheikh would be approaching the Kenyan and other regional subsidiaries of the bank to urge them to maintain operations and assure them of his personal support.
It was said that contact between CBK and Abu Dhabi was “likely.”
This came as the British Ambassador to the UAE Graham Burton implored the gulf state to help compensate Britons, and the Indian government also took similar steps.
The collapse of BCCI was, however, not expect to badly hit the Kenyan banking system. This was during the sleazy 1990s when Kenya’s banking system was badly tested. It was the era of high graft and “political banks,” where the institutions fraudulently lent to firms belonging or connected to politicians, who were sometimes also shareholders.
And even though the impact was expected to be minimal, it was projected that a significant number of depositors would transfer funds from Asian and Arab banks to other local institutions.
“Confidence in Arab banking has taken a serious knock,” the “highly placed” source told The Standard.
BCCI didn’t go down without a fight. It accused the British government of a conspiracy to bring down the Pakistani-run bank.  The Sheikh was said to be furious and would later engage in a protracted legal battle with the British.
“It looks to us like a Western plot to eliminate a successful Muslim-run Third World Bank. We know that it often acted unethically. But that is no excuse for putting it out of business, especially as the Sultan of Abu Dhabi had agreed to a restructuring plan,” said a spokesperson for British Asians.
A CBK statement signed by then-Deputy Governor Wanjohi Murithi said it was keenly monitoring affairs of the mother bank and would go to lengths to protect Kenyan depositors.
“In this respect, the CBK has sought and obtained the assurance of the branch’s management that the interests of depositors are not put at risk by the difficulties facing the parent company and that the bank will meet any withdrawal instructions by depositors in the normal course of business,” said Mr Murithi.
CBK added that it had maintained surveillance of the local branch and was satisfied with its solvency and liquidity.
This was meant to stop Kenyans from making panic withdrawals.
For instance, armed policemen would be deployed at the bank’s Nairobi branch on Koinange Street after the bank had announced it would shut its Kenyan operations.
In Britain, thousands of businesses owned by British Asians were on the verge of financial ruin following the closure of BCCI.
Their firms held almost half of the 120,000 bank accounts registered with BCCI in Britain. 
The African Development Bank was also not spared from this mess, with the bulk of its funds deposited and BCCI and stood to lose every coin.
Criminal culture
In Britain, local authorities from Scotland to the Channel Islands are said to have lost over £100 million (Sh15.2 billion in today’s exchange rate).
The biggest puzzle remained how BCCI was allowed by BoE and other monetary regulation authorities globally to reach such levels of fraudulence.
This was despite the bank being under tight watch owing to the conviction of some of its executives on narcotics laundering charges in the US.
Coast politician, the late Shariff Nassir, would claim that five primary schools in Mombasa lost nearly Sh1 million and appealed to then Education Minister George Saitoti to help recover the savings. Then BoE Governor Robin Leigh-Pemberton condemned it as so deeply immersed in fraud that rescue or recovery – at least in Britain – was out of the question.
“The culture of the bank is criminal,” he said. The bank was revealed to have targeted the Third World and had created several “institutional devices” to promote its operations in developing countries.
These included the Third World Foundation for Social and Economic Studies, a British-registered charity.
“It allowed it to cultivate high-level contacts among international statesmen,” reported The Observer, a British newspaper.
BCCI also arranged an annual Third World lecture and a Third World prize endowment fund of about $10 million (Sh1 billion in today’s exchange rate).
Winners of the annual prize had included Nelson Mandela (1985), sir Bob Geldof (1986) and Archbishop Desmond Tutu (1989).
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Monitor water pumps remotely via your phone

Tracking and monitoring motor vehicles is not new to Kenyans. Competition to install affordable tracking devices is fierce but essential for fleet managers who receive reports online and track vehicles from the comfort of their desk.

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Agricultural Development Corporation Chief Accountant Gerald Karuga on the Spot Over Fraud –

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Gerald Karuga, the acting chief accountant at the Agricultural Development Corporation (ADC), is on the spot over fraud in land dealings.

ADC was established in 1965 through an Act of Parliament Cap 346 to facilitate the land transfer programme from European settlers to locals after Kenya gained independence.

Karuga is under fire for allegedly aiding a former powerful permanent secretary in the KANU era Benjamin Kipkulei to deprive ADC beneficiaries of their land in Naivasha.

Kahawa Tungu understands that the aggrieved parties continue to protest the injustice and are now asking the Ethics and Anti-corruption Commission (EACC) and the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) to probe Karuga.

A source who spoke to Weekly Citizen publication revealed that Managing Director Mohammed Dulle is also involved in the mess at ADC.

Read: Ministry of Agriculture Apologizes After Sending Out Tweets Portraying the President in bad light

Dulle is accused of sidelining a section of staffers in the parastatal.

The sources at ADC intimated that Karuga has been placed strategically at ADC to safeguard interests of many people who acquired the corporations’ land as “donations” from former President Daniel Arap Moi.

Despite working at ADC for many years Karuga has never been transferred, a trend that has raised eyebrows.

“Karuga has worked here for more than 30 years and unlike other senior officers in other parastatals who are transferred after promotion or moved to different ministries, for him, he has stuck here for all these years and we highly suspect that he is aiding people who were dished out with big chunks of land belonging to the corporation in different parts of the country,” said the source.

In the case of Karuga safeguarding Kipkulei’s interests, workers at the parastatals and the victims who claim to have lost their land in Naivasha revealed that during the Moi regime some senior officials used dubious means to register people as beneficiaries of land without their knowledge and later on colluded with rogue land officials at the Ministry of Lands to acquire title deeds in their names instead of those of the benefactors.

Read Also: Galana Kulalu Irrigation Scheme To Undergo Viability Test Before Being Privatised

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“We have information that Karuga has benefitted much from Kipkulei through helping him and this can be proved by the fact that since the matter of the Naivasha land began, he has been seen changing and buying high-end vehicles that many people of his rank in government can’t afford to buy or maintain,” the source added.

“He is even building a big apartment for rent in Ruiru town.”

The wealthy officer is valued at over Sh1.5 billion in prime properties and real estate.

Last month, more than 100 squatters caused scenes in Naivasha after raiding a private firm owned by Kipkulei.

The squatters, who claimed to have lived on the land for more than 40 years, were protesting take over of the land by a private developer who had allegedly bought the land from the former PS.

They pulled down a three-kilometre fence that the private developed had erected.

The squatters claimed that the former PS had not informed them that he had sold the land and that the developer was spraying harmful chemicals on the grass affecting their livestock and homes built on a section of the land.

Read Also: DP Ruto Wants NCPB And Other Agricultural Bodies Merged For Efficiency

Naivasha Deputy County Commissioner Kisilu Mutua later issued a statement warning the squatters against encroaching on Kipkuleir’s land.

“They are illegally invading private land. We shall not allow the rule of the jungle to take root,” warned Mutua.

Meanwhile, a parliamentary committee recently demanded to know identities of 10 faceless people who grabbed 30,350 acres of land belonging to the parastatal, exposing the rot at the corporation.

ADC Chairman Nick Salat, who doubles up as the KANU party Secretary-General, denied knowledge of the individuals and has asked DCI to probe the matter.

Email your news TIPS to [email protected] or WhatsApp +254708677607. You can also find us on Telegram through www.t.me/kahawatungu

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William Ruto eyes Raila Odinga Nyanza backyard

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Deputy President William Ruto will next month take his ‘hustler nation’ campaigns to his main rival, ODM leader Raila Odinga’s Nyanza backyard, in an escalation of the 2022 General Election competition.

Acrimonious fall-out

Development agenda

Won’t bear fruit

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