Sunday, July 08, 2012

Diasporic Kenyan Runs into Financial Wall of Deceit

By Onyango Oloo in Nairobi

Kenyans in the diaspora who could be as many three million around the world, are a diverse, determined, hard working and patriotic lot.

 Despite living in North America, Europe, the Middle East, Asia and other parts of world where thousands have taken their citizenship of the various countries where they are domiciled, these Kenyans are still in a passionate relationship with their first love: Kenya.


Ibrahim Orengo.

Born and brought up in the humble working class housing estate of Kariokor in Nairobi, Orengo left Kenya by road in 1992 as a twenty two year old with hardly any money determined to look for greener pastures in Durban, South Africa after a most grueling journey hitch hiking all the way from East Africa to the tip of the continent. In South Africa he found work with a Greek shipping company and eventually visited over 15 countries before disembarking for good at Inchon in South Korea. Somehow he landed in Toronto, Canada where his life continued in the same immigrant trajectory. He pumped gas for a living before moving east to Halifax in Nova Scotia where he quickly enrolled as a part time student going to Dalhousie University at night. During the day he worked full time in a printing firm while holding down two other jobs in a fast food chain and a supermarket. He got a break when he joined Canada Post, first as a casual before rising up the ranks to become an Operations Supervisor and later, Operations Superintendent. He soon met and married Elena who bore for him two kids-a son and a daughter. Many years later the couple adopted the child of a close family friend who succumbed to cancer in 2011. At the end of the same year, after years of planning and saving, Ibrahim Orengo quit his well paying job decided to relocate and invest in his native land Kenya.  He quickly set up two businesses- Ibel International Traders and Vimani Furnished Homes and Guest Houses. He had sunk his life savings in these start ups confident that with hard work, patience and networks he would soon reap the benefits of his labour.

Ibel International Traders,-registered in Canada and Kenya- focuses on imported car tyres for which there is a growing market. Orengo made regular trips to China to purchase his goods which he supplied to among others- DT Dobie, one of Kenya’s most recognized companies and other clients.

It was in the course of pursuing his lifelong entrepreneurial dream that Ibrahim Orengo received one of the worst shocks of his life.

At the end of July 2011, a customer called Ibel International interested in buying a sizeable amount of tyres. Orengo was out of town but upon being advised by one of his employees of the impending sale, he advised the employee upon learning that the customer was going to pay with a banker’s cheque, the employee take the cheque to the bank and first verify if it is legitimate and further, to call back while at the bank uporn confirmation. As instructed, the employee took the cheque to the bank . She then asked for it to be verified for legitimacy by the receiving clerk, who not only confirmed that the cheque was good, but also screened it under a special light.

It was on the strength or this professional assessment and assurance from The Bank of Africa that Orengo subsequently released the goods to the client, valuing over a million Kenyan shillings.

Two days later Orengo called his account manager to verify if there was a deposit in his business account. The manager advised him that there was indeed, and that it will take 4 days to process the funds; however, he can withdraw some of the funds at a fee. Orengo advised him that he was not interested in withdrawing the funds yet since they were for business.

Imagine Orengo’s shock when a few days later the same bank manager contacted him later to inform him tersely over the phone that they could not honour the cheque because allegedly it had been returned as  fraudulent due to suspected criminal activity.

Attempts by Orengo to get clarity on the matter were met with evasions, stone walling and plain lies.

Orengo sent an email and letter after letter to The Bank of Africa to no avail. He was lied to that the bank had responded to his letter when this was not the case.

Finally after months of frustrations, Orengo contacted a lawyer and advised him to begin civil litigation proceedings in an attempt to recover his money and keep the bank accountable. In the meantime he had filed an official complaint with the police who dragged their feet in their alleged investigations.

The matter is still in court but not without further strange new developments . In the meantime, the whole process has left a heavy toll on Orengo’s finances, health, credibility and other relationships. His squeaky clean credit history in Canada is in tatters. He risks losing his residence in Halifax because of mortgage arrears. His fragile heart condition has been aggravated. He was forced to lay off all his workers and his working capital has dwindled to the point where he is staring at bankruptcy.

The bank meanwhile is throwing all they have against Ibrahim Orengo. They have questioned his credibility and labeled him “the author of his own misfortunes.” After hiring one of the best law firm locally, they still did not respond to the suit within the specified 14 day period according to documents filed at the court by the bank in its defense; but what was even more surprising, Orengo having tried to get an earlier court date as he has to return to Canada for a major heart check up in mid August- to hear his application for a certificate of urgency, his application was scheduled to be heard on June 29. When the bank was informed of this, they quickly put an affidavit claim that strangely got scheduled on June 21 before Orengo’s earlier scheduled court date. As a result the banks’ affidavit application was heard first and since the judge advised them that he will rule on that on the 12th of July, Orengo’s case could not be heard until the bank’s application has been ruled on, of which if the ruling is in favour of the bank, he will be expected to deposit 1.5m ksh with the court to have his case heard against the bank a sure way to get the case dismissed before it sees the light of the day in Court.

A stable, focused and patriotic Kenya who relocated back to his homeland to grow a business is finding to his cost that the only reward that giant financial bureaucracies like the Bank of Africa have in store for him is a swift, brutal kick in the teeth.

Is this how Kenyans in the diaspora are going to be integrated into Vision 2030 and other well-meaning blue prints for future sustainable development in Kenya?