A whirlwind of controversy has engulfed Kenya, stemming from the government’s repurchase of Telkom Kenya shares from Helios Investment Partners, a renowned UK-based private equity firm. The timing and alleged involvement of influential figures within the Nation Media Group (NMG) have cast a shadow of doubt over the entire affair. This unfolding scandal has set off a public firestorm and prompted a parliamentary inquiry into the murky transaction.
Dubious Timing and Financial Maneuvers
The saga unraveled when it emerged that, mere days before the momentous August 2022 general elections, the government disbursed a staggering Ksh6.09 billion to secure a controlling 60% stake in Telkom Kenya from Helios. Naturally, eyebrows were raised as to why such a transaction was executed during a period of political transition, prompting suspicions of ulterior motives behind the sudden buy-back.
Digging deeper, investigators discovered that Jamhuri Holdings Limited, a subsidiary of Helios Investment based in Mauritius, was the recipient of this substantial payment. To add to the intrigue, the Controller of Budget, Ms Margaret Nyakangó, disclosed during the parliamentary inquiry that the National Treasury bypassed her approval process, thereby raising concerns about the transparency and legality of the entire financial arrangement.
Implications for the Nation Media Group
As the controversy swelled, unexpected revelations emerged within the hallowed halls of the Nation Media Group (NMG). Reports surfaced that Chairman Wilfred Kiboro allegedly issued orders for the dismissal of Michael Omondi, the Managing Editor of Business Daily. This development left many bewildered, until the stunning discovery that Dennis Aluang’a, a director at NMG, held a partnership stake in Helios. This damning connection insinuated that exposing the Helios-Telkom Kenya deal would inadvertently implicate the NMG leader in the unfolding scandal.
Navigating Legal Minefields and Image Restoration
However, terminating Mr Omondi’s employment proved to be a double-edged sword for NMG. Insiders privy to the situation intimated that Mr Omondi possessed substantial grounds to secure victory against the media giant in a Labour court battle, thereby resulting in considerable damages. To preempt this catastrophic outcome, NMG executed an unexpected twist by appointing Mr Omondi as the specials and investigations editor, thereby strategically curtailing his oversight over Business Daily.
A Rare Reversal: From Privatization to State Control
Amidst the whirlwind of controversy, it is important to recognize the rarity of a privatized company returning to state hands. Telkom Kenya’s repurchase signifies a paradigm shift as the government endeavors to revive the ailing telecommunications company, rescuing it from its downward spiral. Following France’s Orange acquisition of a majority stake in 2007, subsequently selling it to London-based Helios Investment in 2015, the government’s intervention represents a calculated move to rejuvenate the fortunes of Telkom Kenya.
The Telkom Kenya buy-back scandal, entangled in a web of intrigue and conflicting interests, has exposed deep-rooted concerns about transparency and potential conflicts within Kenya’s business and media landscape. The questionable timing of the transaction, coupled with the alleged involvement of influential figures within the Nation Media Group, has ignited a fervent public discourse and necessitated a parliamentary inquiry. As investigations unfold, the onus lies on the government and NMG to address the accusations and ensure accountability, thus restoring faith in the integrity of this controversial deal.