Guide to Cebu City, Philippines

A guest post by @sportskenya about a visit to Philippines. Home to boxing legend Manny Pacquiao, famous political families the Aquinos and the Marcos’. The Philippines archipelago is a collective of over 7,000 islands, spread over an area of 300K sq. kms along the SE Asia. Here’s a sneak pic of the island nation through one of its cities, Cebu;

Getting There: I used Etihad Airways which is a 3-leg trip Nairobi-Abu Dhabi; Abu Dhabi-Manila and Manila-Cebu (though on the second & last part of legs to Cebu was through Philippines Airlines (partner of Etihad). The cost of the trip is about US$1,850 per person for a round trip. There was an hour layover in Abu Dhabi going to Cebu, but with 4 hours on the way back, there were no complaints while exploring Duty Free area and beautiful airport…☺. There is also an alternative route via Abu Dhabi to Hong Kong and finally to Cebu at approx. US$ 2,100.

Image 1 - Cebu City Sign courtesy of raisthename.blogspot.com

Cebu City Sign

On Arrival: It was fairly easy to go through the Manila Airport as well as Cebu airport. No visa is required from Kenya and a number of other countries. However there is an exit/departure charge of Philippine Pesos (denoted as ₱ or PHP) 300 – 2700 (US$ 6.7- $60) depending on your travel class i.e. from Economy to First Class  - and the fee charged on every visitor irrespective of country or destination. Interestingly I was put on the Express Lane while leaving Manila airport because I was Black or is it of African origin…which the Immigration office said, was a rare thing (or did I miss the jibe?)

At Cebu, we were welcomed by the local tourism officials who had arranged for a welcoming party for attendees of Global Voices Summit. Security was tight thanks to the Papal visit a few days before, but nothing overzealous from the security personnel.

Getting Around: The main form transportation in Cebu are the Jeepneys (equivalent of matatus in Kenya), which are open and fairly reliable. The charges are subsidized, meaning the Jeepneys can only charge a certain rate even at peak hours. The holding areas for these are also fairly well-organized with long queues forming at peak times. It costs between PHP5 -15 (US$ 0.10-0.35) per person per trip.

Cebu City - Jeepney courtesy of @sportskenya

Cebu City – Jeepney courtesy of @sportskenya

Cab services are also available though slightly pricey since most of these are metered and a standard fee of PHP (₱) 40 is charged by local transport authorities (...don’t know if it’s the same in other cities in the Philippines). Traffic does get heavy as is expected in any city at peak hours, but there are traffic marshals who make it orderly and less stressful of travels.

Cebu is relatively safe and is comparable to the Mombasa of yesteryear. Petty crimes like pickpocketing are also rare though not totally non-existent. I did my usual evening walks every day without any incident.

Where to Stay: We were booked at a business hotel (Harolds’ Hotel) at approximately PHP3400 (approx. US$ 67) per night which can go up to PHP6000 for Executive suites. There is also the Golden Peak which had slightly lower prices at PHP1180 per night. Most hotels are between $100 – 300 USD/night. Power is reliable with few outages, however one needs to carry a universal plug as most power sockets are 2-hole meaning it was hassle for those of us who use British standard plugs.

Staying In Touch: Thanks to the Global Summit organizers’, we got SIM cards and free daily airtime. However the calls are fairly expensive especially international calls as well as for data. The infrastructure has been largely GSM and 3G in Cebu (though 3G is more prevalent in Manila). You can purchase a SIM card easily for about PHP100 (US$ 2.20) for the SIM card and some airtime at PHP100, 300 or 500 etc. Calls are at US$0.40 per minute, while data is expensive to use on the SIM and phone calls cost more than they do in Kenya. The issue is due to the spread of the islands which makes network towers investments expensive. Fibre optics cables are being laid in parts of Cebu as I could see from freshly dug trenches on some pavements and walking areas.

Cebu was also the landing spot for the country’s Internet through cable laid in the port city in 1995. However authorities have only recently upgraded the infrastructure to fibre optics in a bid to organize the normally slow Internet and communications links.

Shopping & Sight-Seeing: Most Cebu speak Cebuano – the 2nd most spoken language in Philippines which  comprises a mix of Spanish, Malay and a bit of English from the US. One can get through by speaking English, though on back streets one may need to get a local to accompany you especially if buying items (for haggling purposes). There are quite a number of major malls in Cebu which explains the US cultural influence, and major US brands such as McDonalds, Starbucks, among others, are big here.

Ayala-Cebu -Courtesy of philippineblog.com

Ayala-Cebu

Cebu is mainly a tourist city and also a port hub for this part of the Philippines. Historically the town was the point of entry for Spanish explorers including the famous Ferdinand Magellan who met  his death here. This was at the Battle of Mactan under the hands of Lapu-Lapu – a native ruler who became a hero for his resistance. The Spanish heritage is rich in the architectural and street designs as well as some of the words in Cebuano language and naming too. However not as much Spanish is spoken as would be expected.

The city has beautiful beaches and for those with an interest in marine life and nature trails, there is quite a variety of things choose from. From walks at the scenic Chocolate Hills, to bathing in the beaches of Logon beach Malapascua. It also has some beautiful historic sites such as the Capitol Hill (venue of GV Summit), Magellan’s Cross among others.

Eating Out: Filipinos love their meat and have a certain fascination for pork. I sampled mostly red and white meats; from beef to pork and chicken. Local dishes include tapa – cured beef; abodo – chicken or beef in some garlic and soy sauce; hamonado – pork in some pineapple sauce (almost like Hawaiian pizza but richer servings…) among others.

As far as sea food goes, I chose to play safe lest I pick reactions or trigger any allergies. But for all you seafood lovers, the sushi and octopus stew as well as other delicacies are in plenty. Interestingly I managed to sample a Chinese eatery which was quite busy in one of the many malls. The meals prices ranged from PHP150 to PHP450 on the higher end for a single meal (and therefore PHP300-900 for a double).

As for beer and other alcohol drinks, the Cebuanos love their alcohol and would walk around meeting many going to make merry or having a good time. There are no Mututho laws here! They have some potent beer which retail at between PHP55 to PHP 80, depending on your choice of club. There is an interesting beer brand by the name, Beer Na Beer (almost thought there are Swahili people here too). Other brands include the potent Red Horse (which also comes in a large 1 litre bottle) and San Miguel. I usually opted for the Cali, a non-alcoholic brand or fresh juice (…teetotaler habits…). Filipinos also love clubbing with a number of clubs hosting international DJs during our stay as some were on holiday but mixing it up with some work. Their love for karaoke though was always one to behold.

Did You Know? The country was colonized by Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and Spaniards for over 400 years who left them the architectural heritage and bits of words in Spanish. They also left behind the Catholic religion of which 85% of population of over 100 million are followers. This trip came after the first papal visit by Pope Francis, who like most of his modern-day predecessors, has to make the pilgrimage to this island state.

The Philippines name is a tribute to King Philip the II from Spain – of the 16th Century – who was a devout Catholic who established the first trans-Pacific trade route between Asia and Americas. The Americans who are their ‘latter day occupants’ left more than that with the language, the road network, the love for anything consumerist and a largely capitalist state. After the overthrow of Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, the country embraced the Aquinos who have now managed to get a stronghold of the country’s political psyche.

Oddities:  

  • Karaoke, I spotted at least 5 different fellows on different days doing karaoke at their shops, complete with loudspeakers and screens to boot! Don’t ask me how they make their money…the only guys who can beat this are the Japanese I guess.
  • The country has a peculiar fascination with #Selfies – 2 of its cities rank among the top 10 #Selfies Cities of the World – Cebu City is ranked 9th.
  • Sinulog Festival is a religious festival usually celebrated every 3rd Sunday of January in honour of the Santo Nino de Cebu (loosely translated to Holy Child Jesus of Cebu) as well as the arrival of Ferdinand Magellan. It has a Mardi Gras-like parade which sees both young and old dance and make merry around the town for a couple of days. It has also recently been incorporated with the biggest outdoor dance party in the Philippines.
  • This island nation is the home of one of modern day’s sports legend, Manuel ‘Manny’ Pacquiao, who is a senator in the country’s Senate. He is also one of the biggest brands making endorsements all around. This may explode further if his next fight, titled as ‘The Showdown’, goes his way. It has been a long way coming, but might finally happen in May 2nd, 2015.

Cebu is a perfect honeymoon location especially around Jan-Mar of the year when temperatures are said to be cooler than usual (between 24-27 degrees). In the summer these can rise to a high of 33-36 degree with humid conditions given the large water masses around. All in all, a fascinating city which I’d recommend to visit beyond your more storied Manila.

Namibia President wins Mo Ibrahim Prize

President Hifikepunye Pohamba was today announced as the winner of the 2014 Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership. The award

Earlier, there was some speculation or expectation, with the announcement being made in Nairobi, that Kenya’s former president Mwai Kibaki might be this year’s winner. The prize panel comprising Salim Ahmed Salim, Martti Ahtisaari  Aïcha Bah Diallo, Mohamed ElBaradei, and Graça Machel addressed that in a  Q&A session after the announcement was made by Salim

He said President Pohamba made a mark in terms of reconciliation, cohesion, and respect for the constitution. He had offered sound leadership while remaining humble. His achievements were seen in gender equality (48% of parliamentarians are women) a focus on health (80% of HIV cases receive therapy and transmission rates are falling) and education, tackling poverty (social safety nets and disability grants) while grappling with challenges like the widening inequality.

  • Questioned on the criteria, Baradei said the awards are not given in a vacuum – and this is measured by improvements in governance and leadership. President have to do the right things amid challenges, and create a cohesive society in which citizens can work together. Aicha mentioned his acceptance of political parties  and consultation with opposition leaders.  Graca said the achievements in his country were done in a very short period of time.
  • Are all winners from the Southern Africa region? Machel said that was not true and they analyze every case regardless of region. She said that while three winners are from Southern Africa, the SADC regional also had some bad (young) countries
  • Does it create encouragement? Has the prize had an impact in Africa and is it work all that money? Yes they said. Salim said they would rather go a few years without an award, than give an award for no reason. There has been no winner for three years, and that may happen again in future. Ultimately, the answers lie in numbers derived from the Foundation’s Index of African Governance.
  • The MC read out a tweet from a Kenyan newspaper that Kibaki lost to the prize to Pohamba’ – and Salim said that it was an assumption that they had considered Kibaki for the prize.Mo Ibrahim at the 2014 Prize announcement
  • Chris Kirubi compared giving a prize to wealthy retired presidents to putting water back into the river. Mo Ibrahim stood and disagreed with the that generalization saying it was detrimental  to make. He said this was due to Africans relying on foreign media  and only knowing a few continental leaders like Mandela and then the infamous ones – and asked how many in the room knew the past winners like presidents’ Festus Mogae  or Pedro Rodrigues Pires or Pohamba (before today)? He appealed to the media to report properly on Africa by knowing the 54 presidents, some of who were wealthy, but others who lived humble lives, and find more heroes, beyond Mandela. He said Pires, a former liberation leader who became president, called a taxi and went to live with his mother after he lost the election. He also cited Botswana’s former President Masire who once traveled to  a meeting in Addis where he was overlooked by VIP protocol as they didn’t know he was traveling in economy class (to set an example).
  • ElBaradei said  the fact they don’t have winner every year is also a message. They would like to see 2 or 3 qualified ex-presidents every year but Africa is still facing challenges of transiting to democracy and good governance.
  • The award, which is a $5 million prize paid over 10 years, followed by $200,000 annually for life thereafter, remains open to any president who has left office in the previous three years. It affords winners a chance to have dignified years in retirement and invest or fund activities they believe in.

 Tatu City Gets Muddy 

Last Friday saw an extraordinary press event in Nairobi. Stephen Jennings, co-founder of Renaissance Group, called a press conference along with the new Chairman of Tatu City, Pius Ngugi, and the acting CEO Anthony Njoroge.

Jennings said that while he and his foreign investor partners have contributed over $100 million that so far has gone into, long-delayed, Tatu City since launch , the local shareholders, mainly Vimal Shah and Nahashon Nyagah, have not put a single shilling into the eight year old project, and have instead worked to frustrate the project through direct and indirect court cases, the latest of which came with a move to freeze the bank  accounts of the ongoing project – and which will stop their payments to staff, contractors and for taxes due. He challenged the duo to pay the bills for the project, now that they have frozen the accounts.

Tatu City's Stephen Jennings and Pius Ngugi He said they are not serious business partners, have no shareholding or directorship and have been disruptive for unclear reasons.  Jennings said that Shah and Nyagah have a personal business dispute in Mauritius that has carried over into Kenya resulting in them trying to extort Tatu City.

Jennings regretted that there have been allegations with racist undertones that he is a Russian and that Russian money is forcing out local shareholders – noting that he’s not Russian and there is no Russian money in Tatu City. He said that through Renaissance, they were among the first to the ‘Africa Rising’ narrative ten years ago and have published over 3,000 research reports and a book to back that.

He said $100 million has been put in to what can easily be a $1 billion project that will create thousands of jobs and house 60-80,000 people.  Already 50% of residential properties are sold, along with 80% of commercial and industrial ones and infrastructure is still being put in place.

He said the signals are bad for other potential foreign investors, if such a serious project, could be sabotaged by local minority partners. Tatu which was their first City Project has now fallen behind other African ones.

GEMS School Nairobi

In Kenya for the last two years is the GEMS Cambridge School on Magadi Road, just past Galleria Mall. They are part of the 55 year old GEMS network, the largest K-12 school system in the world with 160,000 students and 13,000 teachers at with schools in Dubai, France, US, India, Europe and now in select African countries, offering different systems of education like IB and IGCSE.  Kenya will be their African headquarters and the school will soon be joined by others in Ugnanda and Nigeria then later by more in South Africa, Ghana, and Tanzania.

Interestingly, they price the English curriculum education they offer in Kenya as  ‘upper middle’ with fees ranging between Kshs 50,000 -120,000 ($1,333) per month, while in Uganda they will price themselves as premium school that will command even higher fees. They also don’t consider themselves ‘expensive’ as other Nairobi schools charge much more in an curriculum system that has not had new schools in about 30 years.

The GEMS Nairobi school has facilities include ICT and science labs, cricket field, pool, full track, and library, for the almost 1,000 students who also include boarders.  They  work to transition kids from the Kenyan (8-4-4) system by doing assessments of new students and monitoring their changes in terms of critical thinking and habit changes.

Philanthropy is a big part of GEMS, and through Varkey Foundation, they have several initiatives including an annual $1 million teacher prize in which a Kenyan is a finalist this year. They have also rehabilitated a school in Kibera, donated 30 libraries to schools in 8 counties, and are collaborating with the iHub on kids tech camps.

Kenya gets Coal Power

Amu Power is a consortium of Gulf Energy on the technical side and Centum Investments who will do the funding side aims to be the only locally owned independent power producer and will produce 960MW  via coal power at the Kenyan coast.

The plant will be designed and built Chinese partners, supported by the ICBC, the world largest bank, with partial guarantees of the African Development Bank and built to World Bank standards for coal plants. The total cost of the project will be $2 billion and about  Kshs 36 billion will be spent in 21 months of construction around Lamu i.e. about Kshs 1.8 billion in a county that has an annual budget of Kshs. 1.6 billion

The backers are trying to work with local community where there’s a local unemployment problem; they will need, train, and employ local certified welders plumbers, masons, brick layers etc. Amu is planning to lease land from the Kenya Ports Authority in Kwasasi on the main land (not on any of the Lamu islands) for their 100-acre plant that they will operate for 25 years. Coal plants are always set up next to large bodies of water, and they plan for excess of water they desalinate to be shared with the town people.

The Intention is to use coal from Kitui, Kenya once production there starts but plant  will be  built to use South African grades of coal that may be imported in the interim. The founders say  coal is necessary for industrial growth to a scale that hydro and renewable can’t match. South Africa is 94% powered by coal, the US 43%, China 81% and India 68%.

Shares Portfolio February 2015 

Compared to last quarter, the portfolio is up 26% while the NSE 20 share index is up 3% since November 2014.
snoop
The Stable
Bralirwa (Rwanda) 
Centum (ICDCI) –
Diamond Trust –
KCB ↑
Kenya Airways ↑
Kenya Oil ↑
Mumias ↑
NSE ↓
Safaricom ↑
Scangroup ↑
Stanbic (Uganda) ↓
Unga ↑
Changes
In: None
Out: None
Increase: None
Decrease: None
Best performer: Mumias Sugar  (up 58% this quarter), then Kenya Airways  (38%)
Worst performer: Stanbic – Uganda (down -5%) , NSE (-4%)
Looking Forward To
- Bank profits & dividends from banks (KCB, Diamond)
- More M&A deals from Centum

Unga AGM 2014

The 2014 annual general meeting (AGM) of Unga Ltd. shareholders took place at KICC in Nairobi on December 2  2014. The meeting started on time, and with good attendance, and the set-up was different with the ‘speaker’ (primarily the Chairperson) using a lectern as opposed to answering questions while seated.

Some highlights:

  • Maize milling is not very profitable due to tax evading competition at the county level and has been brought back in-house to control the consistency of quality and supply. Also, Unga has implemented new Route-to-Market strategies and is opening up stores/warehouses that sell exclusively Unga products to overcome distribution problems in some areas.
  • Unga wants to become a ‘nutrition company’ versus remaining a miller. Therefore Unga has ventured into selling cereals e.g. beans, green grams, etc packaged under ‘Amana’ to attract high-end shoppers.
  • Unga got shareholder approval to buy 52% of Ennsvalley Bakery which retails its products through high-end outlets e.g. Nakumatt. Unga’s board (CEO spoke on this) feels Unga can revamp the firm to expand rapidly with a larger product range. The purchase of 52% in Ennsvalley is being financed by the proceeds from the sale of its 51% stake in Bullpak (for Kshs. 335M) and additional cash from internal operations. Unga will also loan additional funds to Ennsvalley at 15%.
  • There were interesting (& relevant) questions including the feeling that the sale of Bullpak was ‘cheap’ given the profitability of Bullpak. Some shareholders questioned the high purchase price multiples of Ennsvalley given the low sale price multiple of Bullpak. (Bullpak was a cash cow vs the cash hog Ennsvalley will be for a few years). Also, one of the Unga directors had to declare his interest in Ennsvalley though the extent of his family’s ownership wasn’t stated.
  • There was a discussion on GMOs and the MD said that, by seeing world trends, it is just a matter of time before the Government of Kenya has little choice but to approve GMO cereals especially if the region suffers extended drought conditions.
  • SWAG? No more bales of flour to be given to shareholders as the cost is too high on a per shareholder basis. This decision was made in earlier years and will remain so in the future.

 

World Development Report 2016

The annual World Development Report  (WDR) is considered to be one of the most authoritative reports published by the World Bank and is widely read by policy makers in developing countries  and anyone looking at development issues that affect the poor.

WDR2016  looks at the how the internet for development. At a presentation in Nairobi today, the researchers spoke of the unprecedented diffusion of digital technology – with the comparison that while Kenya got electricity, 60 years after its discovery, Kenyans were able to use mobile banking 5 years before the USA.

The internet affects development by helping people and economies around the world overcome information barriers/inclusion .(e.g women, and freelancers are able to get more online opportunities and funding (kickstarter))  than were available offline, attain lower transaction costs /efficiency (manual filing systems in government replaced by models like Estonia where you can start a company in 20 minutes) and achieve economies of scale/ innovation.

However, access has been unevenly spread and there are risks and challenges brought by the internet. These include exclusion (elite take the lion’s share), efficiency may lead to inequality, cyber security attacks & wasted projects , while more innovation may lead to  job destruction.

Firms in lower-income countries are less likely to use the internet and  low-income countries are becoming more disadvantaged as the internet rewards those at the top of the chain, while middle skilled occupations may disappear (bank tellers, drivers – from a hollowing out of the labour market)

Some conclusions

  • Internet brings growth opportunities but they are largely unrealized (You need 15% broadband penetration to see impact. Also it has to be fast, affordable and always on – mobile broadband does not have the impact of fixed broadband)
  • Internet can improve welfare and reduce poverty but can also worsen inequality
  • Affordable internet requires open access and public private partnerships (which are still lacking)
  • A digital economy needs a strong analog foundation – competitive  environments where incumbents are forced to innovate, and internet savvy newcomers can enter market easily

 

Mwalimu SACCO acquires 51% of Equatorial Bank

EDIT: Jan 27:  The Government has ordered an inquiry into Mwalimu National Sacco’s bid to acquire Equatorial Commercial Bank. The Commissioner of Co-operatives has appointed an inquiry team report to him following a protest by the Co-operative Alliance of Kenya (CAK) 

Last week, Mwalimu SACCO became  the majority shareholder of Equatorial Commercial Bank (ECB), acquiring  51% of the bank for Kshs 1.6 billion (~$18 million). The acquisition was cleared after no objections were received from the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK), Competition Authority of Kenya (CAK) and Sacco Societies Regulatory Authority (SASRA). There was another objection, but not from any of the regulators, who were aware of the issues raised.

Mwalimu with Kshs 24.5 billion of assets (2013), acquired the stake in ECB,  the country’s 27th  largest bank (Kshs 15 billion) which has been boosted by an earlier merger with Southern Credit Bank.Mwalimu will have three (3) seats on the board of ECB, but the Society is not converting into a bank nor merging with ECB. Due diligence of the financial and legal processes was done by Ernst and Young and Mose & Mose Advocates.

This comes two years after the LAPTrust, a pension scheme and the Kenya Tea Development Agency acquired a combined 22% stake in Family Bank – and LAPTrust estimated their stake was worth 1.6 billion in 2013, just two years after paying a 1/4 of that amount.

QNB in Kenya

The local newspapers have an ad by QNB Group (QNB - Qatar National Bank ). QNB is not in Kenya officially, but they are the largest investor at Ecobank (with 23.5%) who have a mid-size presence in Kenya (about No 20) – one of the 36 countries across the continent that Ecobank is present in. QNB

A newspaper opinion piece last year linked QNB with a bid to buy government shares in one of Kenya’s state-owned local banks – one with a regional presence in East Africa. QNB Capital was also joint lead manager for Kenya’s 2013 eurobond with pals to arrange a Sukuk (sovereign bond) for Kenya after the Eurobond.  

A Bloomberg piece notes that the Qatar bank is pushing into Africa as competition in its home market of 2 million people curbs profitability..with the possibility that QNB will go for the entire (Ecobank).