Feuds rock clubs for the wealthy and famous Kenyans
Mighty and the Wealthy Kenyans: Zakayo Karimi and Stanley Kirui were unceremoniously kicked out of Royal Nairobi Club for six months on October 19 last year over alleged misbehaviour. The two were eyeing leadership positions in the club. The dispute between them and the private members’ club ended up in court, lifting the veil on the inner wars silently fought on the lawns where men and women of class pass their time playing golf, enjoying laughter-filled conversations and cutting business deals. The mighty and the wealthy of Kenyan society flock to these high-end private clubs where they drink particular brands of alcohol and smoke select cigars.
But the sophistication of the elite, as various court cases reveal, end immediately the gate man salutes and ushers them into the driveway between manicured lawns leading up to the clubhouse. Once there, they no longer ooze power – many instead end up being victims of other players in the clubs. Men muscle women out of decision-making organs while they too get squared out by fellow men who connive to shove them out of the way. In the above case, High Court judge George Odunga was told that Mr Karimi was the club board’s vice-chairman while Mr Kirui was a member of the board. Kirui wanted to take over the chairman’s seat whereas Karimi had his sights set on the position of club captain. They argued that the decision to have them thrown out of the club was aimed at locking them out of the elections. According to Karimi, differences had arisen within the board of directors over the manner in which the reigning chairman was handling the affairs of the club.
The court heard that on October 16, 2016, Kirui wrote an email to members of the club responding to allegations made against him by the chairman during a club event held three days earlier, a position that was supported by Karimi. Two days later, the honorary secretary of the club issued a notice of a special board meeting, with the listed agenda being to discuss the conduct of the two, among other things.
The two said they were notified of the allegations against them during the meeting but they objected to the proceedings and requested an adjournment of the meeting to give them sufficient time to respond to the allegations. They also pointed out that the board of directors had no powers under the rules of the club to discipline fellow board members but they were instead asked to leave. The meeting proceeded in their absence. On October 19, they were issued with suspension letters indicating that the special board meeting had resolved to suspend them from the club for a period of six months with immediate effect. The club said it had been fair to the two all through hence their case ought to be dismissed. The judge heard that Kirui allegedly insulted the directors via WhatsApp messages on October 17 and Karimi allegedly threatened to make further publications to the membership and further to the email published to the club members.
The club also denied allegations that the two were thrown out of the meeting, saying they sat through the entire session. At no time, the court heard, were they excluded from taking part in the deliberations of the board meeting. Royal Nairobi Club produced a copy of the minutes of the meeting and the email correspondences of members present, who confirmed that the two were present during the meeting. The court heard that Karimi had always roped Kirui into a series of political power struggle games, actions that were directed at usurping the powers of the chairman and the board. The club argued that that amounted to misconduct. “It was therefore quite clear that the applicants were driven by ill-will and malice in publishing the emails and WhatsApp communications, the subject matter of the disciplinary proceedings hence the respondent’s decision to suspend the applicants from its club was reasonable, rational, fair, lawful and in compliance with the rules of natural justice,” the club argued. Justice Odunga ruled in favour of Karimi and Kirui, noting that the club overlooked its own rules and gave them one day’s notice. He noted that the club’s law required them to issue seven days’ notice, which they did not deal with at the disciplinary meeting. “In this case, it is clear that the issue was not dealt with and considering the fact that the respondent’s own regulation provided for a seven-day notice,” Odunga ruled.
The judge went on to quash the decision: “It is my view that before proceeding further, this obviously prejudicial action ought to have been addressed and justified. The failure to do so in my view rendered the disciplinary proceedings as conducted by the respondent unfair.” Royal Nairobi Club is not alone in this theatre of power play. Limuru Golf Club, Muthaiga Country Club, Rift Valley Sports Club, Parklands Sports Club and Kenya Regiment Rifle Club have had their own share of court battles.
The Limuru controversy was caused by a board decision to block women from participating in the golf general meeting, which was to be held on December 22, 2012. The decision read: “The golf committee being a male-only affair, only full male members with valid handicaps, and who are fully paid up, will be allowed to participate in the meeting and that lady golfers will attend the meeting as guests.” Three women – Rose Wangui, Martha Wanjiru and Caroline Wangari – challenged the decision in court, arguing that the law discriminated against women and was drafted and passed three days to the general meeting. On the meeting day, the court heard, the chairman of the club did not allow anyone to question the decision. The three testified that the elections of the golf captain and members of the golf committee were held without any votes from women golf members. “The respondents had ensured that they marshalled the numbers to “shout down” any opposition to the passing of the proposed impugned by-law,” the judge was told.
The board also passed a vote of no confidence in Wangui as the vice-chairperson of the club on account that she was challenging their authority. She lost her seat as the chairperson of the disciplinary committee. Wanjiru and Wangari were suspended for six months and one month respectively for misconduct on the general meeting. The club and the board opposed the case but the Attorney General, who was also named as a respondent, told the court although the case involved a private club, it was not exempt from the Constitution, which encourages gender balance. He termed the action chauvinistic. The club argued that the gender discrimination the women complained about was allowed in the game of golf and that discrimination in private clubs was not fully outlawed. “Other clubs have similar discriminatory provisions. The court should therefore avoid an issue that may affect other clubs,” the club argued. The respondents, who also included Yassin Awalere, Robert Barua, Peter Mungai, Erick Kimuri, Kagochi Mutero, Victor Gichuru, Anthony Wangari and Tom Waiharo, all directors of the club, urged the court not to intervene and attempt to write the law as there was yet to be enacted a legal framework to substantively address issues of gender equity. But the High Court ruled that private entities were also bound by the Constitution and thus ought to ensure that their activities are not a men-only affair. “It cannot be safe in a progressive democratic society to arrive at a finding that allows private entities to hide behind the cloak of “privacy” to escape constitutional accountability,” ruled justices Mumbi Ngugi, Isaac Lenaola and David Majanja. The judges pointed out that private clubs by nature show partiality because they only allow certain classes of people but the discrimination ought not to be passed to those who were already inside.
“Whereas the membership of private clubs is generally, by its nature, discriminatory, restricting membership to particular groups, the discrimination that was perpetrated by the respondents through the unconstitutional by-law is not one that is permissible in a just and democratic society. The amendment to the by-law was also contrary to and in violation of the club’s own constitution,” the ruling said. The judges declared the law passed by the board as unconstitutional and ordered that the three women should get back their full membership.