- Joseph Goldberger hobnobbed with the political bigwigs of both Moi and Kenyatta era.
He was a short, stout Israeli real estate millionaire with a deep love for classical music.
When he died in November, 2000, Joseph Goldberger, or Yoji to some people, was little known until you mentioned Nairobi’s Doonholm estate, which he developed, and Tena Estate; land that he owned.
In Nairobi’s elite social circles, where he hobnobbed with the political bigwigs of both the Moi and Kenyatta eras, Goldberger was the ultimate Mr Nice; a wealthy, short stout Israeli real estate millionaire with a deep love for classical music. If you read the story here of Harun Muturi, the Nairobi tycoon who is part of the ongoing Moi-USIU land saga, then Goldberger was his partner but on another controversial land.
Recently, some drinking buddy of Mr Muturi and Goldberger called me and said, ‘boy, you left out a very important man – Joseph Goldberger. Go, and do some digging about him.’
It is only when you start digging that you start to connect some political-cum-business dots.
At the Nairobi Jewish synagogue, Goldberger’s memory is etched in a stained glass window donated by his family to celebrate his legacy thanks to his daughter Marie and his son, Andy, who used to run the family’s engineering business, East African Hydraulic and Metal Industries Limited in Nairobi’s Industrial Area.
It was that company that gave rise to Continental Developers Limited – perhaps one of the most important companies in the development of Nairobi’s eastland properties.
By purchasing the more than 900 acres of what is today Doonholm estate, Tena, Savannah, Green Field and Tassia from the estate of James Kerr Watson, Nairobi’s pioneer architect, Goldberger was inheriting a piece of land that the government had sought to purchase in order to build housing schemes.
Goldberger knew how to play politics and his Continental Developers Limited included President Kenyatta’s daughter Margaret, Dr Njoroge Mungai (Kenyatta’s first cousin), and Harun Muturi (Kenyatta’s in-law).
Registered in 1973 with a nominal share capital of Sh200,000, Continental Developers’s office was Goldberger’s industrial area company on LR 209/4390 along Dar es Salaam Road.
His purchase of Watson’s former dairy farm, which used to supply Nairobi with milk during colonial days and where Kenya’s first cattle dip was built, was a big investment and he knew as much.
Before he landed into financial mess, he first developed what is today known as the Old Doonholm and also started building Nairobi’s Mountain View estate, before he ran out of cash and started selling plots.
His dream was to have organised neighbourhoods, planned housing estates with infrastructure. That is what he had thought of when he (and Muturi) subdivided the 98 acres of what is currently Tena estate into 900 plots. Tena was an acronym standing for Teachers of Nairobi (Tena) Sacco which was to purchase the land for its members. In the initial arrangement, Continental was to design the houses and
Goldberger had promised to develop the infrastructure – but again, he realised later that the cost of the promised infrastructure was higher than the amount he would get from the plots. With that realisation, he started selling part of the project. The first went to President Moi’s son Raymond who developed some 88 bungalows. But Raymond run short of cash and Goldberger took over the project, according to a source familiar with that particular transaction. Some of these houses, now marooned by high-rise apartments, are the only reminder of the dream that Goldberger had in Tena Estate.
Further to the south, Goldberger sold some land to a former auctioneer, David Munene Kairu whose company was to develop the modern-day Savannah Estate. With the advent of multi-party politics, Kairu ventured into politics and was elected Kieni MP on Mwai Kibaki’s Democratic Party ticket.
In Old Doonholm, Goldberger sold the shopping centre to the director of the Criminal Investigations Department, Ignatius Nderi and the real estate business seemed to give him all the glory that he needed.
And that was before things became thick after he was introduced to the executive chairman of National Bank of Kenya: Stanley Munga Githunguri. It is an intriguing story that forced the Chief Justice A H Simpson to hear the civil case in camera after the parties conned him to believe that some of the evidence could affect public security. As he would say later, “no such evidence was produced” meaning that he had been duped to hear a public-interest case was in camera.
It all started on November 19, 1976 when Goldberger and Muturi, the two signatories to the Continental account, executed a debenture or rather an unsecured loan of Sh10 million from National Bank of Kenya to develop Doonholm Estate houses.
Two years later, and as the demand for housing increased in eastlands, Goldberger and Muturi entered into a multi-million agreement with National Bank of Kenya. The agreement was simple and the NBK Executive Chairman Stanley Githunguri had held several discussions with the duo. Continental was to build and sell to the bank some 814 houses for Sh168 million. The bank had agreed to advance Sh80 million and pay the balance against the production of the occupation certificate. The bank agreement was signed on September 21, 1978, just as the country was going through the political transition from Kenyatta to Moi.
In order to access the money, the Continental directors passed a resolution to borrow some Sh85 million from NBK. That resolution, signed by Muturi and Goldberger on November 3, 1978 as the chairman and managing director respectively saw the two visit NBK headquarters where they signed a personal guarantee of up to Sh85 million.
Some six days later, Goldberger received a letter, Ref.AKN/vmm/11/6678 from A N Ngwiri, a chief branch manager of NBK’s Harambee Avenue branch confirming that the headquarters had authorised a loan of Sh70 million “bringing the total indebtedness to us at Sh83,032,116.”
With that letter, Goldberger was asked to execute a first legal charge for Sh80 million over the 900 acres on LR No 212/3, which is the modern day Doonholm Estate and which was valued at Sh200 million then.
“You will further be required to execute a debenture over the entire assets of the company to be supported by director’s joint and several guarantees,” read the letter in part.