|A commercial and legal dispute is brewing between the highest decision-making organ of the Catholic Church in this country and the management of a city restaurant - Al Yusra Restaurant Limited - over tenancy rights.
The Somali-owned food outlet along Kimathi Street, Nairobi, signed a six-year lease starting December 2013 for a section of Waumini House, headquarters of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops Secretariat, in Westlands, Nairobi, for the opening of a branch.
The lease was signed on behalf of the bishops by property agents Knight Frank Limited.
However, the bishops, through lawyer Charles Kanjama, now want the lease terminated, saying it was signed without their "express written consent".
In the letter, the Catholic bishops say the premises could not be used as a restaurant, "due to the character of the property and the area".
"We instructed our agent (Knight Frank) to let out the premises sometime in 2013, BUT NOT [sic] to restaurant business, due to the character of the property and the area," reads a letter dated May 28, signed by lawyer Kanjama.
Contacted for comment, Knight Frank said they are under "clear instructions" from their client not to speak to the media about the issue. "Please keep us out of this," said an official who requested anonymity.
Kanjama said an agency agreement between KCCB and Knight Frank required the owner's written consent to any proposed tenancy.
"Unknown to KCCB, the agent purported to let out some premises to yourselves, which action was done without authority and is thus null and void," he wrote.
But the management of the popular city restaurant, through Rahma Jillo and Company Advocates, said their clients were being denied tenancy because they are Somalis and Muslims.
"To allege that the reputable firm Knight Frank had leased the premises without the consent or authority of your clients is not only insulting to our clients but also an attempt to mask the truth, that your client is unlawfully seeking to terminate the valid tenancy through strong-arm tactics that are informed by intolerance and discrimination," their lawyers' letter, dated May 29, reads in part.
A series of meetings involving the KCCB general secretary, members Fr Vincent Wambugu, the Rev Antony Muheria and Bishop Martin Kivuva at the Holy Family Basilica, chaired by Cardinal John Njue, convened to resolve the stalemate but failed.
In one meeting, Bishop Kivuva is quoted as saying that the bishops were "uncomfortable" with having part of the premises rented out to Somalis and Muslims as it may "cause havoc".
"For the record, we have video recordings of the meetings that will be produced at the appropriate time," said the restaurant management through lawyer Rahma Jillo.
"This is not only discriminatory but highly objectionable in view of the recent past screening of Muslim Somalis being profiled on grounds of ethnicity and religion. This is discriminatory, unconstitutional and against the teaching of the Catholic Church," read the response letter, also copied to the National Cohesion and Integration Commission.
The management said the allegation that the "reputable firm of Knight Frank Limited did not have authority or the consent of your client, is not only a lame excuse but out-rightly false".
KCCB has since taken over control of the 2,153-square-feet renovated space.
Al Yusra Restaurant Managing Director Abdull Wahab told the Star yesterday that they had already spent Sh18.5 million on renovating the premises and continue to "incur losses" due to the delayed opening of the branch. He said they had paid Sh2.1 million in rent.
The terms and purpose of the lease were clearly indicated in the agreement, Wahab said, adding KCCB's "feigning of ignorance" of the contents of the document is "insincere".
"The premises are to be used as a restaurant only and change of user will not be permitted during the period of the lease without the lessor's consent," reads a copy of the lease agreement seen by the Star.
"Who wants to cause havoc in his business? We are genuine businesspeople and respected as such," he said.
There have been complaints by Somalis in Kenya of harassment since the ongoing security crackdown started two months ago.
The restaurant was due for opening yesterday. Wahab said they are moving to court this week, to seek legal redress. "There are laws in this country. We feel the move to deny us access to the premises which we heavily invested in and coming from the highest decision-making organ is shocking and illegal. We are being denied because we are Muslims and Somalis," he said.
On Friday, contractors who had been applying final touches were locked out after they found the doors chained and padlocked. A security officer was also reportedly assaulted in a scuffle. The matter was reported at the Parklands police station.
The bishops' body led by Cardinal Njue now demands the restaurant vacates the premises. "We put you on notice that KCCB objects in the strongest terms to any attempt by yourselves to operate a business on the said premises," said lawyer Kanjama.
"Kindly take notice that KCCB will immediately move to deny you any further access to the space in question and does hereby demand that you forthwith and under our client's supervision give vacant possession of the said premises,"
He said the restaurant is only "allowed to remove equipment, fixtures and fittings under supervision. But you will not be allowed any further access to any part of the building in the interim and without sufficient notice to our clients".
Al Yusra said the released premises was previously a restaurant and had all the structures and set-up of a restaurant, including a kitchen.