Before May 6th 2016, the morning after Jacob Juma was shot and killed, the only existing image of Jimmy Wanjigi was 11 years old. There were in fact two images taken on the same day.
The first proper image of the man in a decade was of him standing next to opposition leader Raila Odinga, staring at the body of Jacob Juma in the morgue. For power watchers in Nairobi, the presence of Jimmy Wanjigi at such a public outing meant Juma was dear to him. The only other time he was that public was 4 years before when another of his friends, Interior Minister George Saitoti, died in a chopper crash.
The event that had Wanjigi in the press in 2005 though, was one of happiness. In November that year, The Standard published a large full-color image of the man smiling broadly. He was sporting expensive ivory and gold-framed spectacles. The only other image of him, taken that day, was never published. It was taken at the wedding of the Presidential Press Service director, Isaiah Kabira.
The publication of three images of him, taken around the events after Jacob Juma died, fascinated those who, in Nairobi’s power circles, know the undercurrents on which the government runs. For them, Jimmy “James Bond” Wanjigi, is no normal man. He is perhaps the most powerful man in Kenya outside of government.
Known as James Bond to his friends and enemies, Jimmy Wanjigi has a carefully culled and almost non-existent public profile. Yet the tentacles of his power reach across government agencies, and his hand has been behind some of the greatest deals in the last 15 years.
Jimmy’s first interaction with Kenya’s power politics started when he was young. Born in 1962, his father Maina was a senior civil servant with impressive credentials and a bright future. He joined politics in 1969, when Jimmy was 7. At only 38, the elder Wanjigi was one of the most learned men in Kenyatta’s circles. An alumni of Alliance High School, Makerere University and Stanford University, his political career spanned two and a half decades and covered several ministries.
Like most men of his generation, the elder Wanjigi created several investment vehicles to handle his money. At the apex of these companies was a single holding firm, Kwacha Group of Companies. Kwacha, in Jimmy Wanjigi’s story, is a central pillar.
With a political career and a growing fortune, Maina could afford to educate his kids in some of the best schools in Kenya. At St. Mary’s, the younger Wanjigi and his siblings would have the children of the president, the vice president, and other senior government and private sector officials as schoolmates. In fact, Jimmy is age mates with Uhuru Kenyatta, and Jimmy Kibaki, and was in school with both of them and Gideon Moi.
But unlike the sons of the top politicians who eventually sought to succeed their fathers in politics, Jimmy had different ideas. He would use his family connections in government alright, but to achieve something else: absolute power.
Anyone you talk to about Jimmy Wanjigi in Nairobi, mostly in whispers, will say that the man is a self-made man. It is when you get to the questions of just where he has made his fortune that things get a bit murky, and whispers become even lower.
Jimmy Wanjigi is a dealmaker, perhaps the most prolific of them all. According to the Kwacha Group website, the company is run largely by the elder Wanjigi, now in his mid-80s. But in truth, the real power behind the throne is the younger Wanjigi. A paranoid, extremely well-connected and ruthless dealmaker, Jimmy’s fingers have been in most major government deals of the last two presidencies. But his name is almost always missing in official records, a classic Wanjigi move for which he is famous, or perhaps not famous for. To those who know just how powerful yet invisible he is, the man is James Bond.
It’s hard to find a single source of the career moves that Wanjigi made to be where he is today. Sometime in the early 1990s at least, the young ambitious move entered the world of Kenya’s true finance and became friends with Gideon Moi (then known as The Chairman) and Goldenberg mastermind Kamlesh Pattni. One of the cogs in this wheel was the Vice President George Saitoti. Like others in those days, they minted millions of dollars in KANU’s final decade in power. Extremely ambitious, cunning, and loyal, Jimmy showed an early hand at smoke and mirrors, and became an irreplaceable hand for politicians who needed to benefit from government deals without dirtying their hands.
By 2003, Wanjigi was a seasoned wheeler-dealer. But still, no one really knows what he produces or provides. With Kibaki’s government came the second chapter of the Anglo Leasing mess, a procurement scandal instigated by Moi’s ministers and escalated by Kibaki’s. At the heart of it, according to various US diplomatic cables leaked by Wikileaks, was Jimmy Wanjigi.
According to the cables, the dossier by Ethics and Governance PS John Githongo implicated Jimmy Wanjigi and a network that included Chris Murungaru, Alfred Getonga, Deepak Kamani and Anura Perera. In them, Wanjigi was the local middleman, channeling contracts and payments in both directions as the bogus procurement scams were consummated. For his role in this expose, Githongo was threatened and forced to flee into exile. The diplomatic cables quote Githongo as believing that it was Wanjigi who was behind the death threats. The funny thing is that both of them were schoolmates at the prestigious St. Mary’s School: Githongo’s father, Joe, was a wealthy accountant who counted the president among his clients.
Jimmy Wanjigi inspires both fear and respect from those who know him, and the few who know of him. It is perhaps an indicator that he has survived three administrations without ever getting into any real trouble. The only times he has were at best minor; trouble with his licensed firearm, a cancelled US visa, and adverse mention in several leaked US diplomatic cables.
But his power and influence mean that he has attracted enemies more powerful than him. For being one of the cogs in government deals, Wanjigi attracted the attention of several foreign spy agencies, the most prominent of which were the CIA and the Swiss Financial police. He came under the CIA’s radar under the administration of US Ambassador to Kenya Michael Ranneberger. It continued under Ranneberger’s successer, William Bellamy, and it was under him that Wanjigi lost his visa.
But the biggest threat to Wanjigi wasn’t the Americans but the Swiss, particularly the Swiss Ambassador to Kenya Jacques Pittleoud. Pittleoud, a marskamn, hated Jimmy’s guys. Nairobi’s power watchers say he has the most comprehensive intelligence files on Jimmy Wanjigi. Pitteloud, who joined the foreign service in 1988 and was the secret diplomat sent to Tripoli after Gadaffi’s son and his wife were arrested in Switzerland in 2008. He came to Kenya two years later, and walked right into the mess that had become Kenya’s procurement and power circles.
Pittleoud chose to focus on the Asian frontmen who were the faces of the Anglo Leasing deals. He put the Swiss financial police on their trail, hoping it would eventually unmask the true beneficiaries of the deals. He also organized elaborate protocols between the Swiss authorities and the Kenyan State Law Office. But he underestimated the power and reach of the main man he was hunting.
In the midst of all this, he fell into a classic Jimmy Wanjigi trap.
He confidently visited Deepak Chamanlal Kamani at his palatial Kyuna, Nairobi, residence, and broke bread with him. Unfortunately for him, he took much too long with the Anglo Leasing so-called mastermind. Pitteloud’s visit was captured on high-definition CCTV and other hidden cameras that were rigged for sound as well. He was clearly recorded demanding that Kamani pay Sh55 billion in Anglo Leasing proceedings to a group of Swiss officials he would introduce to him, to avoid prosecution on charges of money laundering that the Swiss authorities were conducting on him.
A few days after the visit, Pitteloud received a copy of an edited version of his lengthy call on Kamani at home. It showed him soliciting a multi-million-dollar bribe, and could be used to ruin his career and name.
Pitteloud, who had mercilessly pursued the Anglo Leasing Asians, including the mysterious Anura Perera, finished his tour of duty in Kenya convinced of one thing: He had come face-to-face with a multinational organized crime outfit. The case followed him first in the form of a suit in 2014 before a Nairobi court, and then before the Federal Criminal Court, in Bellinzona in May 2015.
That kind of psychopathic focus on punishment is one of the things Jimmy Wanjigi is famous for, and with which he instils fear and obedience. When one of his former schoolmates at St. Mary’s, another power broker called Tony Gachoka, used an interview opportunity on Jeff Koinange Live to accuse Jimmy of having been the mastermind behind Goldenberg and Anglo Leasing, Wanjigi launched a legal war on them. He had them arrested and charged; then the bail was set at KShs. 2 million, a surprisingly high amount for defamation.
But Gachoka wouldn’t relent. As the war before the courts raged on, he made a video and posted it on Youtube describing Jimmy “James Bond” Wanjigi and his journey to absolute power. The video is inaccessible now because Wanjigi got a court order barring Google from allowing access to it. That kind of 360 degree war is classic Jimmy Wanjigi, launching Machiavellian shadow wars where his name is barely recorded, and always whispered.