Why Are Bank Customers Sad?

Why do customers stay with their banks when they are unhappy? Is there a Stockholm Syndrome in banking? Or are there strings or reasons that keep customers tied to unhappy banking situations?

The Competition Authority of Kenya is undertaking a study to: 

…explore and establish if there are any barriers to bank customers switching providers, including, but not limited to, lack of awareness of alternatives, the ability to access and assess relevant information and eventually act on this information to switch, costs of switching, account closure practices and any behavioural biases that may lead to consumer inertia to switch; (c) determine how the barriers identified impact on market development and customer choice;

They will see if laws need to be changed, or what government agencies can do to remove switching barriers, and if there are bank industry practices that need to be addressed.

Understanding Bitcoin and the Blockchain Opportunity

A guest post by @KaranjaJohn

Bitcoin in Kenya has generated a lot of controversy with the Central Bank of Kenya issuing a public notice warning against the use of bitcoin as a currency within the country. While currency regulation and monetary policy is within the purview of the Central Bank, it is important to dig deeper into what could be the most revolutionary technology of our age and how best we can we move forward with ensuring Kenya and indeed the African continent exploits fully the opportunity that is now within our grasp.

Make no mistake, bitcoin and its underlying blockchain technology will disrupt the current financial order that currently has banking institutions sitting at the top of the food chain. Incumbents who fail to understand and implement strategies risk becoming irrelevant akin to the manner in which Kodak became irrelevant by the advent of Digital Cameras. Indeed Kenyan Banks have already had a taste of this with the arrival of M-Pesa, the mobile money platform, that revolutionized the way Kenyans transfer money and pay for services within the country – amounting to approximately 40% of Kenya’s GDP.

Once again banks and other financial institutions will need to evolve. Bitcoin the world’s first decentralized digital currency is quickly positioning itself as the internet of money; a platform that will allow for instantaneous, immutable and secure exchange of value almost for free and at any given time.

It is important to note that bitcoin the currency is the first successful application of bitcoin the platform. Indeed, the world over, speculators have been the early adopters of this technology, with cases of millions of dollars’ worth of the crypto-currency lost to hacked exchanges across the globe. African Regulators should take time to assess the potential of blockchain technology to reduce costs and enhance transparency within multiple sectors of the economy. For example blockchain technology could eventually provide mechanisms to seal corruption loopholes and track illegal activity such as money laundering at very low costs. Indeed The Central Bank has a constitutional role to manage the country’s fiscal and monetary policy and as such regulating entities such as exchanges that utilize bitcoin the currency is well within their role. This is important to enhance safeguards that ensure consumer protection, prevents money laundering, and monitor transactions for any terrorist activity. This can be done without stifling the technological potential of bitcoin the protocol that is already self-regulating and trust-less.

Blockchain technology has in the recent past become quite popular with banks and financial institutions seeking a way to decentralize storage of information away from traditional databases like the dominant SQL technology. Indeed a number of banks in the United States have formed a Consortium called R3 CEV that intends to develop its own intra-bank blockchain protocol for secure settlement of money transfers between themselves. The World Economic Forum in Davos recently hailed blockchain technology as a revolutionary platform that will dis-intermediate costs associated with middlemen in the remittance space, saving the consumer billions in transfer and other associated costs.

Furthermore blockchain technology will also be critical in addressing corruption in the land sector. Issues such as duplication of title deeds as well as unlawful transfer of land properties will become difficult if not impossible should a public distributed ledger be used to permanently record these transactions. Existing centralized systems allow intermediaries to tamper with records as their databases can be corrupted quite easily.

In conclusion, bitcoin and its underlying blockchain technology offer huge promise in solving many problems across Africa by creating trustless systems that remove the power from centralized intermediaries that could otherwise be corrupted or influenced by power. These technologies can be deployed across many sectors to reduce costs and enhance efficiency. People should not look at bitcoin as a currency alone as that is really only its first application similar to the manner in which email was the first pervasive application of the Internet, which has since developed to include other applications such as web, mobile and even social media applications. Bitcoin and other blockchain applications are creating an Internet of Value where individuals will become even more empowered. Prudent regulation that protects consumers by ensuring third parties that build solutions on top of this technology do not act unfairly is needed. Kenya and Africa, once again have the opportunity to lead World in utilizing innovative and disruptive blockchain technologies such as bitcoin.

John Karanja is the Founder of BitHub Africa a Blockchain Accelerator providing Consultancy and Incubation services for individuals and firms interested in Bitcoin and Blockchain Technology. 

EuroBond & Mindspeak with Henry Rotich

Last weekend, the Mindspeak series had National Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich

Treasury Cabinet Secretary . There was a lot of expectation that he was there to talk about Eurobond but that wasn’t the case and it was merely one subject he touched on his talks about his role and functions in the government, and economic outlook for Kenya.

In his intro, host Aly-Khan Satchu said that the Kenya Eurobond which was the perfectly timed and a stunning issue at 6.875%, the largest SSA bond perfectly times. It has helped the shilling  - stunning issue outperform many currencies – only losing 11% against the dollar, compared to the Rand (-39%) , Angola (-50%) and Kwacha (-73). KCB CEO Joshua Oigara noted that people outside Kenya are more confident than people within, and people who are doing great things, should know that a certain percent will not agree with you.

CS Rotich at Mindspeak

Excerpts of the CS presentation, remarks, and Q&A session 

  • Kenya Outlook China slowdown to focus on domestic and US exit from international market will have an impact on the world, but Kenya with a diversified economy and strong private sector should be resilient
  • Challenges include to reduce poverty, and inequality, and also create employment. The economy needs to grow faster than 5-6% and not getting enough innate employment. 1 million a year. 6% will only create 600,000 jobs. so need 10% growth to create jobs 1 million per year. 
  • Agriculture has not been modernized for a long time. these services sector (ICT, financial). manufacturing has been flat for two decades (10% of GDP) – and this needs to be 20%. That’s  why they are support leather & textile, and working to lower energy costs and , improve the business environment through special economic zones.

The Job 

  • He is guided in his job by three measures of economic health – interest rates, exchange rates and inflation (stable, single digits).
  • The ministry has undertaken fiscal reforms, and the budget is more policy-based.They pay suppliers with Gpay and IFMIS, new procurement laws are in place, the auditor general reviews expenditure, and there are quarterly reports on the website and which are submitted to parliament.

Eurobond/Debts:

  • Kenya still has low and sustainable external debt levels. It did not get HIPC debt relief, unlike other countries and has paid debts on time – this was a big selling point when marketing the Eurobond.
  • The current account deficit gone from 10% to 7% of GDP mainly because of lower oil prices, and less thermal energy generation and slowdown of consumer imports  (good, as the focus should be  on investments not consumption)
  • You cannot be a growing economy if you can’t borrow from outside – you need to safeguards.  The bond was oversubscribed and when it traded favorably, they also did a tap sale that picked another $750m. Aly-Khan said the government actually got $815 million and only has to pay back $750 million.
  • Explanations and documentation about the bonds are on the treasury website.
  • Euro bond proceeds received have been spent on 2013-15 budget programs like infrastructure projects. The bond was not specific, and not earmarked to any project. it was for budgetary support of programs, some initiated by the previous government, such as roads and electrification
  • We will remain as participants in the international market and soon intend to borrow more

Savings

  • Need to raise Kenyan savings from 12% to at least 30% of  - perhaps through more innovative finance products to save  from insurers  & capital markets.
  • M-akiba bond launch has been delayed. It was meant to come out last October, but interest rates were still high and volatile.
  • They have also sorted issues with Safaricom and CDSC  – all that’s left is to set the price and launch.
  • Kenyans will be able to buy government bonds of amounts of Kshs 3,000 (~$29) by phone.

Taxes:

  • Wants to raise tax to GDP ratio to 25%, but people say there are too many taxes already
  • Wants to keep government wages below 35% of revenue.
  • New VAT and excise bills have come, but we are yet to modernise income tax. That should happen by the next budget with a view to expanding tax base (very few people pay tax now).
  • They will also support county governments to implement and collect taxes assigned to them like property tax.

Local Banks

  • Wants to reduce bank interest rate spreads from 17% to 8% – we’ve been asking banks what is this 8%? Can they share infrastructure, reduce the cost of perfection securities etc.
  • There are too many banks that are not offering competition;  5 banks control 70-80% – the other 30 are competing for 30% market share. Parliament stalled a move to increase bank capital, but his aim is for 15-20 banks which actually compete.

 Oil & Petrol

  • It’s good that Kenya did not discover oil early – and was thus able to diversify and develop agriculture, and services, and its only now that oil & minerals are being discovered.
  • The petrol pump price would be lower if exchange rate was 88-90. Now the rate at 102 has eaten a lot of  savings.
  • When oil prices fall, we should  actually keep the petrol price the same and transfer the savings to a fund

Privatization

  • There has been no government privatization since Safaricom — the current law is a hindrance rather than  facilitator as there are too many lengthy requirements and safeguards. We may have to amend the law if you wants to see more privatization transactions, and need to trust the government by not requiring too many consultations.
  • There’s a pipeline of projects to sell,  starting with sugar companies, then a few banks (government owns 4 banks), hotels stakes etc.

Node Africa launches

Phares introduces Node Africa

Phares introduces Node Africa

This week saw the unveiling of Node Africa, a new company led by Phares and Brian, the duo who spearheaded Angani before they left the company following a boardroom fallout that rocked the Kenya ICT startup community, late in 2015.

They have moved on from Angani, are now back with Node Africa, an information management company (that uses cloud infrastructure) and who’s tag line is we run your cloud infrastructure  so you can run your enterprises. 

It’s been an impressive turnaround in a few months; and in just six weeks after formal incorporation (in December 2015), they have launched Node Africa company and it’s up and running with a team of six, partnerships with Cisco, VMware, and Microsoft and with customers including Pesapal, Tarpo, Strathmore University, and WhatsApp Africa.

They still believe that Africa will be a cloud-first continent, and that, gmail and popular apps have  shown, companies value well-delivered services, regardless of the location, or infrastructure that’s behind them, or the devices that their customers are using – and that cloud services, backed by a dedicated team like theirs are the way of the future for local and regional companies to scale their growth, customers and services.

#WhatsNextAgTech

Nest Nairobi held its monthly entrepreneurship speaker series in partnership with the  Kenya Climate Innovation Centre (KCIC) on January 27, at the Strathmore Business School.

#WhatsNextAgTech panel

#WhatsNextAgTech panel

Hosted by Zeynab Wandati (business reporter at NTV Kenya), the panel featured Stefano Carcoforo (CEO/Co-Founder of iProcure Africa), Grant Brooke (CEO at Twiga Foods), Marion Moon (Managing Director Wanda Organic), Charles Odida (a farmer), Linda Kwamboka (Co-Founder at MFarm Ltd), Chris Kolenberg (Director Marketing & Sales at Kenya Biologics), and Munyutu Waigi (Co-Founder of Umati Capital)

Excerpts from the event sorted by subject 

Agri-Economy  Agriculture is 26% of Kenya’s GDP and employs 80% of the rural population. It comprises 40% of exports and 45% of govt. revenue and 7% of industrial raw materials – KCIC rep

Government

  • A law is coming in farming which will require all farmers to be members of an organization ,  and through that, they will be taxed  – Marion
  • I’ve no faith in the government to solve small farmer problems e.g. they allow contaminated maize imports, our borders are porous  and farmers get zero protection, just exploitation from the government – Munyutu
  • The support that governments give to farmer has very little to do with farmers interest e.g. in the choice of fertilizers sold – Charles
  • Ultimately you have to work with government. It’s not as bad as it was in the 90′s – Stefano

Cooperatives

  • We work with cooperatives, providing tech to them; while others devalue them by saying they want a cut, and there are many shady ones, cooperatives aggregate demand on behalf of farmers and play an integral role in rural societies – Stefano
  • We don’t work with cooperative, as we want to pay farmers directly. I’ve never seen a successful corporative, they are more like pyramid schemes. They may work when they are 10-15 people, but go bad when they are 200-300 members and become unions  – Grant
  • Cooperatives are very critical but don’t have farmers’ interest at heart. There is an Eldoret dairy cooperative with $10 million revenue, but it’s farmer members remain poor – Munyutu

Maize

  • Maize is a terrible crop – when you have a bumper season, the price goes down. When you have a bad year, the government imports a lot of maize – Stefano
  • Maize is a good crop. Farmers with good storage, and good planning don’t have to sell maize at throwaway prices. Ugali (made from maize meal) is one of the top foods bought in every household. Also there are institutions that buy hundreds of bags of maize every year e.g. schools to fees students – they need quality and villages don’t trust imported maize – talk to them, negotiate sales in advance and they come to check out the farmers fields, and pay more than the government – Charles

Farmers

  • The average of age of a Kenyan farmer is 62 years; they are used to a certain way of doing things right, and it is hard for them to change – Charles
  • Growing a crop does not happen overnight like the Eurobond;  Farming does not produce quick money, and farmers, by nature, are patient – Charles
  • Farmers trust each other, they trust farmers who have tried things e.g. they will try a pest control fertilizer that they are referred to by others – Linda
  • Farmers will adapt when they see something work. So you often have to give them free samples  – Chris

Finance 

  • 98% of produce is sold to the informal markets and there is little formal financing for that. Debt is about 20-30% of the market cost of foods sold as middle men and mama mboga pass on the cost of default risk – Grant
  • Cash flow in key in agriculture. When a crop needs weeding, you have no choice, you have to do it, or you’ll have no harvest. You have to schedule money for from activities. – Charles
  • SACCO’s are good for farmers, but there are also many Kenyans in the US and Dubai (where investments only earn 1-2%), and who are willing, and do lend their idle cash, to farmers they trust to earn much more (some of them are even on @twitter) – Charles
  • The government has many avenues of financing farmers e.g. AFC lends to sugar farmers at 5% – Charles
  • Bank ads for farmer loans look sexy in TV but in reality, they are too slow  for farmers – they don’t disburse money quickly enough – Munyutu

 Local Markets

  • Food is 51% of household spending – Grant
  • Food safety is the driving concern for a mama mboga as she will want to know and tell her customers which farm her produce comes from –Grant
  • Urban young farmers who want to get rich doing passion fruit and strawberry should instead grow things that you can see a market for everyday – Grant
  • It’s crazy that 100% of our local produce would be rejected at the EU – Chris
  • Processors are getting tired of dealing with brokers and aggregators and want to go deal with the farmers directly – e.g. for dairy, fruits (A company called Fresh & Juicy is working with farmer to supply Nakumatt) – Munyutu

 Inputs

  • It took 2 years to get bio-organic fertilizer approved in Kenya – Marion
  • Ultimately, what farmer can produce is declining, and those who are increasing productivity are doing so using chemicals, but that is only a short-term (5 years) measure  – Marion

Export Markets

  • Italian companies that produce canned beans and used to source them from South America,  are now looking to get them in Kenya, but are struggling to find enough farmers – Marion
  • Kenya can compete with Brazil in passion fruit; that market is big – Marion.
  • Kakuzi has 300 small-scale farmers that they used to grow their produce. They know what they spray on their own 6,000 acres, and work with 300 other farmers who they advise, but ultimately, they can’t establish exactly what inputs these farmers are adding to fruits – Chris
  • Small scale farmers wont be able to compete in future – 1st world farmers are 40X more efficient – Chris

 Logistics / Middle Men

  • Kenya is not food insecure,it is logistics insecure. A banana is Kshs 10 (sometimes  20), which is the same price as a banana in London;  that’s because we stopped investing in markets, and there are many bottlenecks, broken links and 5-7 people between the farm and the market  - Grant
  • Supply chains are longer in Kenya that they need to be – there are too many brokers, and the farmer is not visible in the farm to fork story – Charles
  • Middlemen exist because farmers don’t understand what the markets want – Linda
  • Middlemen add zero value, and that’s why the price of food is high – as they hedge against their defaults – Munyutu.

Tech

  • Farming is putting a seed in the soil, nurturing it and harvesting – it’s not phone or apps or tabs – (which only bring in efficiency) – Marion
  • Kenya has been slow to get/adopt farm smart phone apps & software compared to Brazil and South Africa – Charles
  • Kenyans don’t use Kenyan products, but use our apps so we can make them better  – Linda

 Whats the Next Big Thing in AgTech?  

  • Traceability fake products look more real than the original product – so the next big thing in agri-tech will be clever apps to provide assurance through traceability of inputs. There’s now a lack of traceability, farmers will tell you what you want to hear, and counterfeit products are prevalent – Stefano
  • Distributed Commodity Exchanges, which used to be in Chicago and Ethiopia (ECX) are now in the cloud with firms like Twiga that act as warehouses – Grant
  • Mid-size farm management as a career. There are people in this room who inherit 30-40 acres in rural areas, but want other people to profitably manage farms for them – Grant
  • Partnerships – Marion
  • Farmers specializing in certain crops and increasing their yields drastically – Chris
  • Financial capacity building - financial products in simple math, loan calculations in easy language – Munyutu

The outreach manager of KCIC said they provide entrepreneurs with an enabling environment (policy) for innovation, business advisory services and financing opportunities [for (1) proof of concept financing  and (2) a seed facility of climate change venture funding of $100,000-500,000 of  growth capital for entrepreneurs from June 2016]

Almasi Gets Juicy

A year after Centum took control of K-Rep Bank, Almasi Beverages and Genesis Kenya, they are now seeking more shares of Almasi.

In December, they were reported to have made an offer of Kshs 6 per share to minority shareholders of Almasi, a sum that they term as a 20% premium to when the company was formed in 2013. Payment will be within 10 days of the closing date f the offer to shareholders who accept and provide original share  certificates.

This came after Centum shareholders had ratified the acquisition of an additional shareholding of  3% in Almasi (for Kshs 182 million) - resulting in Almasi Beverages becoming a subsidiary in which Centum holds an aggregate of 50.95% of the issued share capital.

$1 = Kshs 102.

Kenya Crackdown on Paper Bag Banking

The Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) has sent out new mandatory guidelines to banks to be on the look out for large volumes of cash being transacted over the counter. The notice targets customers who withdraw or deposit cash amounts of Kshs 1 million (~$10,000) or above.

It requires banks to get more information about why their customers are depositing or withdrawing these large sums of cash and query (among other things):

  • Why can’t the cash deposit or withdrawal be made through electronic means? 
  • What is the money going to be used for?
  • Who will be the direct and indirect beneficiaries of the money and provide the identity of the intended beneficiaries of the money.
Illustrative pic from the Star Newspaper to show what a large sum of cash will look like

Illustrative pic from the Star Newspaper to show what a large sum of bank cash may look like

The guidelines are drawn from existing crime and anti-money laundering regulations, and come after other attempts in the past to target money laundering, corruption, terrorism, or crime funds being transferred through mobile phones or remittances / hawala. But it seems, there’s been a realization, probably after investigations into the NYS saga, that cash was moved between banks in paper bags.

Brown envelope

In Kenya, large sums (over Kshs 1 million)  are meant to be transferred through electronic funds transfers (EFT) and real-time gross settlement (RTGS). Indeed cheques over Kshs 1 million are not accepted unless they are in support of amounts being transferred between account  within the same bank.

Chevrolet Tembea Kenya – Part III

Chevrolet VascoDaGama Pillar

Vasco Da Gama Pillar

The  #TembeaKenya Maina Kageni Road Trip Tour visit to Malindi and Watamu was scheduled to have many interesting things to do over the three-day weekend between Friday and Sunday.

On Friday evening, after a late lunch in Malindi town, there was a visit to the Vasco da Gama Pillar as well as one to Swahili House which showed a lot of history of the people of the coast, and the infrastructure and development of Malindi.

Chevrolet snorkel Watamu

Snorkel at Watamu

Saturday had a full day of activities available to try around Watamu beach, from the Ocean Sports Resort point. This is one of the hotels that faces the  Watamu Marine Park in which tourists can get to try snorkeling, deep-sea diving, Jet-skiing, kite surfing, beach volleyball & rugby among others.  The park is supervised by Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) who have rules that bar fishing, and forbid tourists from stepping on, or removing,  coral pieces, as they dive to see the  hundreds of species or fish or coral in the shallow water.

Chevrolet Biko skydive lesson

Biko gets a skydive lesson

On trips like this, hotels and other tourism operators expect that conference travellers (will) spend more than leisure travellers as often their expenses are paid for by the organisations they represent, leaving the tourists with substantial disposable incomes that they can spend.

One highlight was skydiving, and fellow-blogger Biko Zulu, went for his first ever skydive, along with a few other brave members of the group. See his post on what it feels like to jump from a tiny plane that’s 10,000 feet above the beach, just a few minutes after a brief talk on parachute safety, figuring our how much you weigh and signing an indemnity form.

After  a late lunch on Saturday, we went for a  sunset dhow sail at Mida Creek, which was a few kilometers away.

There wasn’t much to do on Sunday, but watch as Kenya’s Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala also did a skydive down to Watamu Beach. He later went and released a turtle back into the ocean that had been caught in a  fisherman’s net then rehabilitated – see more pics.

We were all staying at Turtle Bay Kenya, a wonderful resort that’s popular as it’s very well-oriented to family relaxation with a dedicated free club for kids with all-day activities for them. It’s an all-inclusive resort (meals & drinks are included in the prices) and get’s a lot of business by word of mouth, and indeed, they reward repeat visitors and people who recommend the resort to new visitors, with even more discounts.

Chevrolet Watamu fleet

Chevrolet Trailblazers at Turtle Bay

We got around to different venues using the Chevrolet Trailblazers which were also available for test drives by potential buyers at the hotels in the daytime.

 Things like sky diving and the sunset dhow sail were new activities from the last time I was in Watamu. It helped that we had an interesting group of people around, and had discussions on different things like the state of the media, road conditions for tourists who try and drive around the country , the recent KDF soldier deaths in Somalia, and how best to revive domestic tourism in Kenya.

Mida creek sunset sail

Sunset at Mida Creek

Other sights we did not get around to, but should see the next time, include Hell’s Kitchen, Mambrui Town, Juma mosque & Pillar tombs, Portugese museum, the Cobra village paddle, and  go boating in search of dolphins in Watamu park.

Meanwhile, the Maina Kageni Road Trip Tour will continue on during Valentine’s Day weekend and visit more local tourist attractions in another county, somewhere in Kenya.

Earlier, along the highway, the Trailblazers attracted a lot of curiosity and different people from truck drivers to policeman would all come up and ask to say hello to Maina Kageni.

Chevrolet Tembea Kenya – Part II

The Chevrolet TrailBlazer that is being used to support for the Tembea Kenya Maina Kageni Road Trip Tour is a 2015 model, new vehicle, that General Motors is showcasing around the country. In line with the current Chevrolet theme of finding new roads, the Trail Blazer caravan has been to many place likes Lamu, Lukenya, Amboseli, Nyeri, Baringo, Nakuru.

Chevrolet Trailblazer in Mbuinzau

And while new highways and roads are built around the Kenya, the reality is that there are many parts of the country still unpaved and road maintenance is poor as it’s only done every few years. This means that drivers  often encounter potholes, mud, wet roads, and high bumps in Nairobi and other towns all the time, and a tough vehicle with a high clearance is ideal.

Chevrolet is a strong brand world-wide for GM which remains the USA’s largest auto maker with 18% in 2015. In Kenya, General Motors East Africa (GMEA), was started in 1975 as a joint venture between the Government of Kenya and General Motors Company, and is one that is currently 18% owned by Centum, and which is a leading exporter of new vehicles to countries in the greater East Africa region.

And while, in Kenya, it seems that every other car is a Toyota, GMEA is actually leading supplier of new vehicles into the Kenya market with about 6,700 new vehicles (33%) supplied in 2015. GMEA  assembles, markets and sells Chevrolet, Opel and Isuzu vehicles and parts in Kenya and the Eastern Africa region. In Kenya, their Isuzu brand is strong, dominating the bus, truck, and pickup market, but they don’t want to rest on their laurels – hence the introduction of the Chevrolet Trailblazer in the growing SUV category.

 The 2.8 litre diesel, automatic model Chevrolet Trailblazer used in the Tembea Kenya campaign retails for about Kshs 5.1 million ($50,000) [but can be had for much less for embassies and government offices who don't have to pay Kenya's hefty new vehicle taxes].

The Trail Blazer is available in 8 different colours, and has 7 seats spread over three rows. Some of the nice features it has include individual overhead lights & A/C setting for each row, side steps, leather seats, rearview view camera with parking assist (useful at Nairobi malls), anti-theft /  immobilizer system,  a touch screen infotainment system that links to the phones via bluetooth or USB,  multiple, charing ports, steering wheel controls, and two setting of four-wheels drive (4WD) that the driver can adjust by simply twisting a knob.

Chevrolet Trailblazer in Mbuinzau 2The TrailBlazers come with a 5-year service plan or over the first 90,000 kilometers which is virtually the life of a typical car owner in Kenya. Servicing is set for every 15,000 kilometers, and owners also have the comfort of a warranty and roadside assistance over the first 120,000 kilometres.

Last week, GMEA signed a deal with Kenya’s leading asset financier, NIC Bank, to enable buyers of Chevrolet and Isuzu vehicles to get up to 95%, at an interest rate if 15.5% which can be repaid over 6 years . This promotion lasts till end of March 2016 and is available at all GMEA locations across the country.x

Chevrolet Tembea Kenya – Part I

Tourism in Kenya has taken a beating over the last few years, so the Kenya Tourism Board has launched several #TembeaKenya (i.e. visit Kenya) campaigns to promote domestic tourism.

Last Friday, saw the start of the of the Malindi leg of  the Magical Kenya Maina Kageni Road Trip Tour, which is one of the promotions to highlight local tourist attractions.   Through this one, the popular radio host has visited several counties in a caravan of Chevrolet TrailBlazer vehicles provided by General Motors – East Africa (GMEA) and fueled by Shell fuel (Vivo Energy).

Chevrolet Emali

Emali stop over

The drive to Malindi (and Watamu) started at the GM Nairobi office at about 4 a.m. and the fleet of Chevrolet SUV’s took off on the dark highway towards Mombasa. The early start was to avoid the heavy traffic along the highway, and we met the first signs of that a half-hour later at the Machakos turnoff which was full of trucks parked by both sides of the highway.  The first stop was at a petrol station in Emali town at 530 a.m. for a refreshments.

Soon after, as the sun rose, we had the first view of the construction of the standard gauge railway (SGR). However on the road trip, you don’t see as much of the new railway as you do when you are on the RVR Mombasa train. But we still saw two trains on the new railway, with another near Voi town where the highway is adjacent to the new highway for several kilometers.

Chevrolet trucks SGR

Overtaking trucks near SGR at Voi

We stopped in Mbuinzau for some drone shots and to wait for some late-starting vehicles. This part of the country was very green with fields of banana and maize on different sides of dry river beds. The many small towns we passed through had empty stalls which would likely be busier later with sellers and buyers on the road side.

We stopped at Mtito Andei for almost two hours. This is the traditional mid-point stop between Nairobi and Mombasa, and also the turn-off point for many visitors who would then proceed to either Tsavo East, or Tsavo West,  national parks which have many lodges like Kilaguni, Ngulia, Voyager, Finch Hattons and Severin.

We then continued at a rapid pace, overtaking lots of trucks that speed on the highway in the daytime as well as late night, and , the caravan made good time at speeds of about 120 kilometers an hour.

There are few road signs on the highway to know which town you’re passing, and sometimes they’re confusing e.g in Mackinnon town, where there’s a bridge being built for the new railway to pass over the road, there’s a sign that says “86 kilometers to Mombasa” next to another one that says “96 kilometers to Mombasa”.  This also used to be the first point where you’d spot a coconut tree, but it seems coconut trees are now being grown further away from the coast, to the north-west around Lake Victoria and even near Mount Kenya, where you can find a coconut farm in Meru.

It’s now much warmer here and the road side was dotted with local produce like paw paws, charcoal sacks of charcoal, and sisal.

Chevrolet Taru bypass

Taru diversion

After that we passed the first stretch of bad road after Mackinnon. This is the road under construction with two diversions on both sides of Taru, a mushrooming town with lots of buildings right next to the road. The road is narrow, with bumps, many trucks to overtake as well as impatient drivers. There should be ample space for traffic to pass on the highway, but if there’s any blockage, or it rains, or drivers overlap, then the highway can still easily get blocked.

This happened in October and November last year, and local leaders expressed concern when there were highway delays of several hours that inconvenienced motorists, food supplies and tourist movements.

Hersi FB map bypass to North Coast

Hersi FB map bypass to North Coast

The delays at places like Taru, Mariakani and Likoni got so bad in December, ahead of the busy tourism season, that Mohammed Hersi, who’s the chairman of the Kenya Coast Tourism Association and a veteran hotelier (unofficial ambassador for Mombasa tourism) posted several maps on Facebook of alternate routes that tourists could used to access parts of the South and North coast and avoid these choke points.

We took one of these, turning off at Mariakani about 35 kilometers from Mombasa to proceed toward Kilifi. There’s poor signage marking the turnoff, and we asked for directions and were told to use the bypass, and main highway which had much more traffic, even now.

Chevrolet Kilifi bypass

Kilifi bypass

The bypass was very smooth, and we made good time on it. It has  no lane marking, no signs or bumps, and there kids running next to the road which had many fast stretches.

It went very well, but for the last 12 kilometers to the Takaungu turnoff on the Kilifi highway, which have not been tarmacked. The rough road stretch was okay for the cars, and here was no need to deploy Chevrolet four-wheel drive, but that will probably be a necessity in a few months time when the long rains start, and also on the main highway around Taru, unless the contractor is able to complete his work.

The driver of one Chevrolet TrailBlazer who had earlier made two side-trips around Mtito, was a bit worried about his remaining fuel, but the car computer calculated that, even though the fuel light was now on, the car could still do another 80 kilometers and he was able to arrive in Malindi without making a fuel stop.

We had started at Nairobi at almost 4 a.m. and got to Malindi at 3:30PM, completing the 570 kilometer journey in about  9 hours (after excluding the 2 hours of stops).