Business

When it rains, it pours: Auctioneers now target Osewe’s property in debt row

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At Ranalo Foods on Kimathi Street in Nairobi, better known by the possessive Luo tag K’Osewe, life never really stopped after the attempted murder of the owner five years ago.

But, like many in the hospitality business, Ranalo was hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, and now its owner William Guda Osewe is suffering the twin tragedies of poor health and loan defaults.

Lunchtime here is always a frenzied affair. Ranalo is one of those restaurants in the city that just seem to attract patrons, come rain or shine. But as hundreds sink their fingers into steaming mountains of ugali and fish — for which this place is famous — the proprietor, a daring man who dared to dream, spends his days and nights struggling with financial demons that could sink his empire.

Auctioneer firm Garam Investments has put up for sale Mr Osewe’s five-storey commercial-cum-residential apartment in Nairobi’s South C neighbourhood, along Five Star Road, over a Sh330 million loan he borrowed from Guaranty Trust Bank (GT Bank).

The loan was secured using an unfinished hotel in Kisumu and the South C flats, but he failed to service the loan and since 2018 has been battling to save his businesses from being attached.

Mr Osewe blames his current financial woes on two things; the incident on December 1, 2016, when he was shot by a Nairobi businessman named Tom Mboya and left for dead, and the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I was doing good businesses,” he says. “But lying in a hospital bed for two months and at home for three years without work when you have loans can ruin your life.”

Following the shooting near Garden City Mall, the restaurateur spent two months in hospital. And even after he was discharged, he had to spend a considerable amount of time in a wheelchair. According to him, this meant that he was not fully in charge of his businesses and servicing the loans became a problem, leading to default.

In February the Court of Appeal stopped the lender from auctioning the property together with his four-star hotel in Kisumu on condition that he deposits Sh25 million in court in 45 days.

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The stalled seven-storey hotel in the high-end Milimani Estate sits on 1.3 acres. It was to be sold in January after Mr Osewe failed to persuade High Court judge Thripsisa Cherere to stop the bank from auctioning it.

But he rushed to the appellate court, arguing that he has continued to service the loan despite disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“If you have a loan running to some hundreds of millions then you default for three years it is not easy to recover it. I defaulted for three years when I was down. I could not work, naturally, and so I would default. That has brought me to so much trouble,” he says.

While public attention has been on the contested properties, he volunteers that that is not all.

“My landlords are just understanding,” he offers. “I had accumulated a lot of debts here (the restaurant on Kimathi Street) which I am now trying to recover from. It is not easy.”

Mr Osewe started as a hawker in the 1970s, selling, among others, roasted groundnuts on weekends in Kaloneni, Nairobi. From those humble beginnings he built a business empire that included K’Osewe, which started in Kaloleni before he moved next to the Kenya Railways yard in the CBD. As the business grew, he relocated to Cameo Cinema along Kenyatta Avenue before moving to Kimathi Street.

Over the years he has added to his business empire four multi-million restaurants, the block of commercial-cum-residential apartments in South C that Garam Investments intends to sell off to repay the bank loan, and also Blue Waters Hotel in Kisumu.

“The damage I got was psychological, physical, financial and marital,” he says. “But I never knew that a human being can turn a gun to a fellow human being and shoot one, two, three, four times. I am only alive by the grace of God and if I survived the gunshots, I believe the business will recover as well.”


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