Open Letter to Imperial Bank

To the Shareholders and Directors of Imperial Bank,

Exactly one month ago on a cloudless morning, a message soundlessly snuck into our family whatsapp group. It sat there nestled underneath photos of the newest addition to our family – a floppy eared Alsatian pup with a vicious teething problem.

Imperial Bank had been placed under receivership.

Overnight we were rendered effectively broke. Just like that. You see every single shilling our family has is in Imperial Bank. Every single shilling. With only a few hundred bob in the wallet, we didn’t even have the money to pay our electricity bill. And it’s been like that for a month now, with no idea what’s going on or whether we will ever be able to access that money. In the last month entire families have had to beg and borrow money to put food on their tables and pay rent. Children have had to be recalled from University and businesses have been paralysed. To add insult to devastating injury, you have not deigned to issue a public statement, have not bothered to provide an explanation, hell you have not even offered an apology. You see our agreement was with you, the bank. So if you, putting it lightly, messed up, the least you can do is look us in the eye, acknowledge the gravity of the situation and recognise the enormity of the consequences.

But it has been one month. And all we have gotten in that one month is shrugged shoulders. I certainly don’t understand the complexity of the situation. But to me, this is akin to me handing over my money at a shoe store, and the salesman refusing to give me the pair of shoes I bought, but just muttering ‘Aki Woyishee’. So please, help me understand how my money has not been stolen.

You know, just under a year ago, armed men broke into our home, terrorised us and stole whatever we had in the house. It was a traumatic experience, but somewhere deep inside me, the violence of the encounter aside, I got that these were men were overcome with desperation and a sense of helplessness. They may have felt trapped in a cycle of despair, the kind which I cannot, by virtue of my privilege, understand. Our failure as a society to take care of these people had driven them to monstrous actions. That’s why they could do what they did in the way they did it. They didn’t see us as human because they didn’t feel like they were being seen as human. We had decapitated each other’s humanity. And they had to feed their children.

So what was the motivation here? A fancier car, a finer single malt, a more expensive pair of shoes, a bigger house? Greed.

And ignorance is not an excuse. Frankly, as directors and shareholders the buck stops with you. You are ultimately responsible and should be held accountable. I’d like to know, what are you doing about this? Of course, the Government has a role to play, and in some way did play a role. But our President has said we are fine, and we just need to work hard.

Work hard. We know a thing about working hard. In that Imperial Bank account is life savings of five members of our family, three generations, amounting to over 155 years worth of working hard. In that bank is 53,000 people’s worth of working hard. Livelihoods.

You know it is rumoured that a large percentage of our community has been affected. Let me give you some context of what that means. My forefathers left India, carrying nothing but steely determination. They came to Kenya and worked hard. Let me give you more context. One month after we finally moved into our own family home, I caught my grandfather standing in his room furiously turning his tasbih. My grandfather tears through tasbihs at a rate that wears away the thread and sends coloured beads frantically spinning across the floor like tiny little rain dudus that have lost their wings. He had a smile on his face. I asked him what he was thinking about. He said that when he was twenty years old, all he owned was a toothbrush. And now he can’t believe he was standing in his own family home.

Everything my grandfather has accumulated is in that account. His life’s work. What does life’s work look like? He tells me about how he used to wake up every morning at 4:00 am to drive through the misty winding ridges of the Ngorongoro Crater delivering bread. How he lost it all when in the 60s President Nyerere embarked on Ujamaa and his bakery was nationalised. How he stuffed the car with whatever belongings could fit in between the various family members squeezed into the little Volkswagen beetle, and drove off back to Kenya to start all over again. How he ended up in Mombasa and set up another bakery. In a chapter of his life which I call The Haunted Boflo Days, he would wake up in the morning to find the bread he had baked in the previous evening had green mould laced over the perfectly risen crust. Perhaps convinced that the djinns of Mombasa had acquired a taste for his baked goods, he packed up. And they started all over again.

This time they tried their luck with a cafeteria in Nairobi. My now arthritic fingered, silver haired granny would wake up before the sky blushed orange to make samosas. Every morning she would precisely mix the filling of spiced minced meat, dhania, chillies and onions. Carefully she would stuff each samosa, one by one, sealing the corners with the sticky home-made flour based glue so that they wouldn’t explode when fried. It was tedious, finger cramping work. The money in that bank came from my grandma making literally millions of samosas with her hands. And my grandfather would stand all day in the cafeteria, selling these samosas, one by one. Samosas that made them famous. Samosas that when fried had a crispy golden brown pastry that you crunched through to get to the hearty meaty core. And they were popular. Together they built a thriving business. Honest, humble, hard work. Until one year on boxing day, they were forcefully evicted. And they had to start over all over again.

That is just a slice of my grandparents story. I won’t even go into the decades of 10 hour workdays that my working class mother and father put in, with the hopes that now they are both retired, they could live a comfortable life. So you see, we are used to starting over again. But as my dad said last week, at 64 how do you start all over again?

We are fortunate to have a support network that has helped absorb the impact so far, but we are just one of the 53,000 families who have been affected.

It has been one month.

So tell me please, what are you going to do?

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111 thoughts on “Open Letter to Imperial Bank

  1. A very good article and what happened is monsterous. The people involved deplorable. People since the dawn of time have been evil, selfish and greedy . Unfortunately this is a hallmark of capitalism. However, watching those Indian serials and living in kenya (and the world) , you should have known better than put all you eggs in one basket. That is basic common sense and obvious?, especially if so much depended on it. Yes, what they did is unforgivable and heinous beyond belief but you also hold some responsibility for not trusting and putting your eggs in one basket. Instead of playing victim why don’t the 53000 of you and your supporters (including me) use social media and organize. Get out there and protest. I am not going to advocate what you should do but I will tell you with some intelligent thinking and planning you cam bring these people to their knees. So instead of mourning and sinking energy into something you can not do anything about, focus than energy on working to change the outcome. This is life on planet earth and has been so since the dawn of time. They know what the did, they saw an opportunity to take a bunch of gullible sheep and decided that their lives are more important than yours. The author of this article talks about being robbed by home invaders and justifies their behaviour as being an act of inhuman desperation and compassionately understands them. However what these guys did is the other side of the coin and the same thing. These thugs attacked with pangas and direct threats whereas the people who took your life saving attacked with computers and paperwork dressed in suits. The same inhuman desperation just manifested into two different ways.

  2. Hi..my mother is 75 years old, has been working hard doing manual labor to support my handicapped brother and herself, living in a very tiny 1 roomed home, saving whatever she could each month, after paying all bills etc, in a savings account with imperial. She has been widowed and struggling for the past 53 years, living frugally just so that there could be some money to help in looking after my handicapped brother when she is unable to do so. Upon hearing of imperial banks closure she has had a shock and crying and worrying incessantly (and she just had cancer surgery a couple of months ago). How does one comfort an old woman who has nothing to rely on now? She now has not a single penny since she’s been out of hospital after surgery? Not a penny to pay for food, medications, bills etc!
    And imperial bank is staying quiet, not a word of assurance of when clients can withdraw etc!

  3. Hope u pull through this and come out good on the other side. I believe the only word u didn’t use and would have been fully justified using is thieves – that’s exactly what the leaders are at both Dubai, imperial and all the other bank directors and owners that have swindled people’s money.

  4. Am a victim…..had to go around begging while showing my bank statement as proof of ability to pay back. 2 days ago my 8 year old son asked me if his account savings are secured didn’t want to answer for he would have pounded on me for its me who opened his junior account.

  5. pole for what happened to you,its really difficult to start all over again with no capital,we know how hard u struggle to get where ur

  6. Sorry for your family and whoever is affected’s situation and I hope Imperial Bank and CBK sorts it out ASAP. I also hope this is a lesson for you not to keep all your eggs in one basket. You can NEVER be so sure

  7. Sorry for your family and whoever is affected’s situation and I hope Imperial Bank and CBK sorts it out ASAP. I also hope this is a lesson for you not to keep all your eggs in one basket. You can NEVER be so sure

  8. We never appear outraged because there is no worthy forum that could make a difference in this country. We are literally left at the mercy of the powers that be. We do not stick together to get things done in terms of injustices so there is no united voice or organisation that could push CBK or KDIC to reopen faster. No body really cares about our suffering because they are not in our shoes and they are doing fine. Even the MPs arguing about why CBK should not open the bank until they prosecute the guilty, do not have to face living without money!

    Those with the harshest words for us in how we made such a “bad choice of banks” are all those with no money (or not enough to mess up their lives) in there so they can sit on the sidelines and criticise. Only those of us affected are trying to be positive, and of course the compassionate amongst the unaffected. Everyone else could not care less!

  9. Hi Chanyado, I totally concur with your sentiments and feel so sad for you and your family. At the very least Imperial bankers should have received an apology, but no – nothing. Our journey as business owners had just begun and here we are a few months later, having invested all that we had, starting again, running helter skelter explaining things to people and asking them to try and understand our state of broke-ness. Still, the sentiments are that Imperial is a good bank, I have heard that said, and don’t really know what it means as the on-going investigations have shown otherwise. What I really think is that the people working for Imperial may/or may not be good, and the owners may have been greedy- But how does the owner steal without the knowledge of the employee or vis/versa, the signs are always there, some-one should have said something. Once a thief always a thief, and this to me smells like theft or attempted mass thievery. From what I have read, the very top senior management were not very good at sharing information and were not transparent in their dealings, which has now led to this state of affairs. I don’t really know how one can even consider banking with them again. Of-course we are now faced with stuck monies, and the fear that once the doors open, we will all rush to get our money, leaving the bank cashless, as if that were even possible. I am sure CBK will regulate what can and cannot come out of that bank. And what was CBK doing all this time anyway? Why didn’t they do what the Bank of Uganda did and allow transactions to continue under their watchful eye? I am totally disappointed with all these manenos, not even angry just disappointed.

  10. Sorry guys for your predicament..guys like Eric ashanda..perhaps when your planning for the education of your kid..consider financial institutions that are tailor made for education planning alongside other long term goals..e.g pan Africa life assurance..i believe as a career financial advisor you should diversify your savings..dont put all your eggs in one basket..also the history of the financial institution is much vital in terms of how has the company been operational,what are the protection mechanisms in place to protect investors,/shareholders..johngeorgewambugu@gmail.com…financial advisor pan Africa life assurance…dont give up,don’t be bitter…money comes money goes.. yaani…goes money comes money

  11. Makes me think of what money really means. Can’t banks just loan out money and borrow money from central bank and they will pay back just like the government does over and over?

  12. I am so sorry all this has happened to you. Sometimes you wonder how life can be so unfair. The only positive thing I can say is that this is a fine piece of writing, and thank you for writing it.

  13. there’s nothing that can be said
    that hasn’t already been said …

    there’s nothing that can be done
    that hasn’t already been tried …

    there are no words to dull the pain
    no thoughts to make you wiser
    or lift the heart of trusting souls
    whose love and lives once given
    so sadly will never be
    the same …

    I am so sorry for you
    that your lives have been stolen
    by the ancient beast of
    greed … … ks

    1. Never touch any so called financial advisor. If you have money put it in property or gold or have a good time. One of them sits in a large shopping mall in the outskirts of Nairobi and sweet talks people into investing with him. Then he starts an offshore trust with crooks in Mauritius, after which the Investor has no control over his funds. He falsifies documents, starting a so called life assurance with an IoM company, now owned by a SA company. The investor is locked in and the whole gang is looting his money for 8 years, after which most of it is lost. He probably conned people for over a dozen years and every one of them was skinned from their life savings. . . .

  14. Caught you on a rerun of JKL while trying to de-stress from an exam. Thought I would wander by and I’m so glad I did. Excellent writing. Should have a black box warning “contents known to be highly addictive”. Needless to say, I’m officially hooked. Keep writing, my Sister….

    1. I cannat begin to say that i undersdtand wht ur goin thru but i sympathise with ur families.I will definitely say a prayer 4 u.Furthermore,the only Movie tht best describes this situation is “Assault on Wall Street 2013”.
      Just to emphasise justice has to be done promptly

  15. Your letters are very inspiring, i have a similar background and can relate to what has happened, as i do have my money in imperial as well. All we do is pray that we recieve our money as starting over again in this time and age is a night mare. but their is a God and he will guide us and show us the way

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