Had this Briton had his way, there would be no Uhuru Park in Nairobi. Robert Maxwell, the mercurial publishing tycoon was shipped to Kenya to shore up fortunes of state-owned Kenya Times newspaper in 1988.
By the time the six-footer was murdered and exposed as a “fat fraudster” and “extortionist spy” three years later, everyone ‘was crying in the toilet.’
Ruling party Kanu bought Nairobi Times from Hilary Ngw’eno in 1983 and renamed it Kenya Times, turning it into a government mouthpiece. That is when it began ailing.
Nabobs in government heeled in Maxwell to prop it up via the Kenya Times Media Trust - Kanu Investments Ltd held 55 per cent stake, Maxwell Communications, 45 per cent, with ambitions of making it East Africa’s leading newspaper alongside Kenya Leo and Sunday Times.
Maxwell imported new printing machines and Kenya Times became our first full-colour newspaper, boasting lavish designs.
Daily sales nosed from 30, 000 to 70,000, second only to the Daily Nation, according to Gunilla Faringer in her 1991 book, Press Freedom in Africa.
Maxwell proposed the construction of Kenya Times Complex, a three-tower, 60-storey, British-designed concrete and glass skyscraper smack in the middle of Uhuru Park as the media company’s and Kanu’s headquarters, beside housing commercial offices, KTN, a conference centre, shopping mall and parking for 2,000 cars.
A $200 million (Sh20 billion at current exchange rate) foreign loan was to fund construction of the “tallest, most magnificent piece of architecture in Africa,” besides Maxwell who was liquid with a $3.8 billion (Sh380 billion) loan. It later became his Waterloo.
The father of nine who spoke nine languages, was born Jan Ludvik Hoch in the then Czechoslovakia in 1923.
He wore his first pair of shoes at the age of seven. His Jewish family did not survive the Holocaust. Young Hoch sneaked to France and Britain, where he became an army officer and changed his name.
After World War II in 1945, the not-so-learned future Labour MP made fortunes after the M16, the British Intelligence agency bought him a publishing outfit- which formed the base of his 400 companies including... Kenya Times!
Uhuru Park’s ‘Freedom Corner’ stands in honour of environmentalist and Nobel Peace laureate Prof Wangari Maathai and her ‘naked protesters’ who opposed construction of the concrete Xanadu on the “green lung” of Nairobi, forcing Maxwell to flee the ensuing hubbub in 1989.
Gordon Thomas and Martin Dillon note in their 2002 book, The Assassination of Robert Maxwell, that the broke butt was extorting $400 million (Sh40 billion) from the Mossad, by threatening to spill his spying beans.
His 68-year old waterlogged body was found off the Canary Islands coast on November 5, 1991- when his publishing empire collapsed from plundering $1.6 billion (Sh160 billion) in Pension and other funds to shore up debts in the face of recession, inflation, high interest rates and plummeting profits after the stock market crash of 1987.
After a State Funeral, Maxwell was buried in Mt Olives, Jerusalem in Israel.
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