Inside Mombasa tycoon Punjani’s life of opulence
Reuben Mwambingu and Kimathi Mutegi
This is Kenya! A country in which 61 per cent of the urban population resides in slums; typically overcrowded one room hovels with barely adequate ventilation.
Many of the homes straddle open sewer drains or stand on or next to dump sites, unsurprisingly exposing families to diseases such as malaria, respiratory infections, and cholera. Yes, this is Kenya.
But so is this other one, where a man lives on a seven-bedroom palace sitting on three acres of prime beach land in Mombasa’s premium Nyali estate. The man in question is Ali Punjani, suspected drug baron, now among the most sought man by the Kenya police.
Punjani evaded a police dragnet on Monday during a raid in which Ms Karki Sushmi Ja, a 24-year-old Nepalese, believed to be Punjani’s wife was arrested and two men of Nepalese and Indian origin.
The raid followed heightened crackdown on drug lords and trafficking at the Coast following Interior Cabinet secretary Fred Matiang’i’s announcement that the government will embark on a “painful operation” to rid the area of narcotics.
The swoop may have missed the key suspect but it did burst open an opulence that will leave your mouth open, unless you belong to the tiny percentage of Kenyan’s able to match Punjani’s lifestyle. The first impression is a blue metallic gate guarded by watchful security guards.
Once they screen and agree to your reason for visiting, they will usher you onto a tarmac driveway leading to the main entrance.
You can admire the beautifully decorated perimeter wall with a wall-top electricity fence spanning the expansive compound as you walk.
You may pause to admire the black Toyota Land Cruiser V8 or Toyota Noah sitting under shaded carports outside the imposing building.
However, a better sight is the white Mercedes Benz Blue Tec S 350 enclosed behind glass doors in what appears to be a specially made parking slot that is complete with an automated air conditioner to keep the top-of-the-range machine cool in the humid Mombasa air.
Leave the pampered motorcar, of course wiping sweat from your sweaty brow, and proceed to the main lounge through the imposing mahogany door. Admire its design impression of interwoven wooden surface, then marvel at the lounge itself. It is fully furnished with leather sofa-sets of various colours; from brown to red to black.
You are probably right to imagine this is where Punjani and his family unwind. Otherwise, what would be the use of the state-of-the-art ultra-modern lounge, complete with cool contemporary interiors and recessed ceiling lighting that oozes of class.
You are definitely thirsty but it is highly unlikely you will get served a drink at the home bar lined with expensive wines. So you swallow dry air because the image of something cool, preferably bitter, in one of the golden glass wines displayed inside the mahogany wall cupboard just can’t leave your head.
A stylish music system watches you in silent arrogance next to a tasteful pool table. You don’t smoke but you notice the Dunhill packs on the counter and you know they don’t come cheap.
The kitchen with three giant fridges, a deep freezer and several cookers reminds you of a medium size hotel. You leave shaking your head and walk upstairs where flowing golden lights illuminate the staircase. The sight is made even fancier as the lights beam against the backdrop of a giant golden curtain on a floor-to-ceiling glass window.
The house is dotted with motion censors in virtually every corner of the interior with air refreshers mounted all over.
Where the staircase ends, six gold-framed family photos smile at visitors before opening up to a high-end gymnasium. There is a smaller lounge and two offices upstairs but you skip those and detour to the library.
You are curious to sample the tycoon’s reading tastes. Among the list of books in Punjani’s library, you find a novel by Tarun Tejpal titled The story of my assassins. It tells the story of a journalist who learns that the police have captured five hit men on their way to kill him. You swallow hard and turn to the walls in the suspected drug lord’s library.
They are dotted with pieces of expensive artworks and paintings that clearly show his love for art.
On the other side of the seafront is a carpet of natural grass where you get a clear view of the deep blue ocean. You are amazed at how close to the deep sea Punjani lives.
But you also marvel at the vanity of material wealth when you remember that the owner of all that wealth is living the life of a fugitive, hunted by Mombasa Police Commander Johnstone Ipara and his charges.
While leading the operation on Monday, Ipara told residents to brace themselves for a major security operation to flush out drug barons and criminal gangs.
He said many documents suspected to be linked to the drug trafficking business were confiscated in the hours-long search of the tycoon’s mansion.
Ipara confirmed that so far, 17 people have been arrested including Member of the County Assembly for Bofu Ward Ahmed Salama, who, however was freed by the courts yesterday.
“We expect to make more arrests as we are determined to neutralise all drug peddlers in this county and other coastal areas,” he said, adding that with the opening of Mwatamba Police Station in Nyali and Junda and Conrcodia police posts in Kisauni sub-county, security teams were ready to conduct a crackdown like never witnessed in the coastal city.
“We have launched security operation that is different from the ones that residents have witnessed in the past. Many will not like this operation but we have to flush out criminals including drug dealers,” he said.