Business Daily (Nairobi)

17 October 2011

Kenya: If You're Planning to Marry Family Fortune, Think Again

All animals are [genetically) equal but some are more [financially] equal than others. Animal Farm, George Orwell

Maj (Rtd) Phillip Moi found himself in very unfamiliar circumstances a fortnight ago when a judge issued a warrant for his arrest. His crime? It was alleged that he failed to pay Sh60,000 to his estranged wife Rosanna as earlier ordered.

This order was only lifted when his lawyer proved that the cash had indeed been deposited with Rosanna's lawyer.

Rosanna Pludo's lawyer finds it difficult to believe that the son of a wealthy former president is unable to come up with Sh250,000 every month to support the life his estranged wife and children have grown accustomed to.

Mr Moi's protestations that he is a retired army officer living on a fixed pension have been dismissed by his opponents as untrue.

To outsiders, members (especially the children) of prominent family businesses appear to be a homogenous group of people, relatively indistinct from one another.

It is easy to assume that each has the same access to financial resources, each is endowed with similar (if not identical) business acumen and that each child occupies the same place of prominence with the parents or the leader of family business.

This assumption may lead one to believe that associating (by friendship, work or marriage) with a member of this prominent family is a direct line to the family's business resources.

While I have a number of good friends who have married into prominent families purely out of love, many others I know of, both men and women have made the decision to marry into a prominent family business as a strategy to grow their businesses or as an avenue to a cushy lifestyle.

It's easy to tell the difference between them; it's in the longevity of the relationships.

The expectation that a wealthy extended family will take responsibility for a member who has fallen upon hard times is common.

It is common to see and hear prominent people berated for the desperate state in which their relatives live and unthinkable that a rich parent would let his /her own child, their flesh and blood, languish in poverty. Many times, this expectation is misplaced as demonstrated in the case of Warren Buffet, one of the richest men in the world. When Peter Buffet, second son to Warren Buffet, turned 19, he received an inheritance of $90,000 from the sale of a farm which his father converted to Berkshire Hathaway stock.

Warren Buffet made it clear to his son that this was the entirety of his inheritance and that he should not expect anything more.

Given the elder Buffet's commitment to devoting his wealth to philanthropy upon his death, it is fair to assume that he meant exactly what he said to his children.

The young Buffets used (squandered) their fortunes in different ways, with Peter choosing to sell his stock (which would be worth about $72 million today) to test the waters of music recording.

He has since become a moderately successful composer based in San Francisco and found such satisfaction in his calling that he wrote a book "Life is what you make it; find you own path to fulfilment".

False assumptions

This is the lesson from one of the richest families in the world : That every family has its own intricate dynamics and may operate on principles that seem bizarre to outsiders.

The expectation that Philip is inextricably tied to his father Rtd President Moi with some obligation that the latter will come to the help of the former in times of distress may be based on false assumptions.

Philip entered the marriage relationship as his own man with the belief that the resources he had on hand were adequate to support a family. It is also possible that he had received all that was due him from his father at an earlier date, with the clear understanding that he would make his own path in life.

Love being what it is, it's also possible that Rosanna came into the same arrangement starry eyed and filled with expectations that the safety net in such a prominent family as the Moi's would save them from any financial hardship.

It appears that both were sadly mistaken.

The mismatch of expectations is obvious from the court proceedings and they are all bracing for the battle ahead.

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