Category Archives: Kenya motoring

M&A Moment: March 2018

Various merger/acquisition (M&A) deals in the last few weeks and months in East Africa since the last update.

Banking and Finance: Finance, Law, & Insurance M&A

Centum Investments is selling its shareholding in GenAfrica Asset Managers to Kuramo Capital LLC, an independent investment management firm based in New York City with offices in Nairobi and Lagos, and registered as an investment advisor by the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”).

Centum sold 25% of Platcorp Holdings to  Suzerian Investments a consortium of the Platcorp management team (platinum credit and premier credit) which provides emergency loans to individuals in  Kenya Uganda Tanzania while Premier offers working capital loans to companies – at a 31% return.

AfricInvest, a leading pan-African mid-cap-focused private equity firm invested in Britam Holdings Plc (Britam),  taking up a 14.3% stake. The investment was made in partnership with DEG-Deutsche Investitions- und Entwicklungsgesellschaft mbH (DEG), The Dutch Development Bank FMO, and Proparco, a subsidiary of Agence Française de Développement (AFD), focused on private sector development.

Hamilton Harrison & Mathews Advocates (HH&M), one of Kenya’s oldest and largest law firm has entered into an agreement to combine with Dentons, the world’s largest law firm. Upon regulatory approval, HH&M will become part of Dentons, which is combining with seven elite firms in Africa, the Caribbean and South East Asia.

The Competition Authority of Kenya has authorized the proposed acquisition of control in AON Kenya Insurance Brokers by Extologix Proprietary through Heartland Holdings.

BitPesa, the first and largest blockchain payments platform for Africa and Europe, announced their acquisition of TransferZero, an international, online money transfer platform that specializes in sending money to consumers and companies in 200 countries using over 50 different currencies.

Mastercard has completed its acquisition of mobile payments technology company Oltio from Standard Bank Group. The acquisition builds on Mastercard’s longstanding relationship with Oltio’s technology enables consumers to authenticate Masterpass digital wallet purchases in South Africa using their bank PIN and mobile phone.

DEG – Deutsche Investitions- und Entwicklungsgesellschaft mbH, is investing EUR 4 million in M-BIRR, a cashless money transfer and payment service in Ethiopia to improved access to banking services in Ethiopia on a wide scale. Other investors include the European Investment Bank (EIB). The Finnish development finance company Finnfund has been a shareholder in M-BIRR since as early as 2012 which is inspired by the success story of the Kenyan provider M-PESA.

The Competition Authority authorized the proposed acquisition of 100% of the issued share capital of Youjay’s Insurance Brokers by I & M Insurance Agency.  I&M Bank, through its subsidiary, I&M Insurance Agency, has completed the acquisition of Youjays Insurance Brokers. Founded in 1987, Youjays deals in life and non-life products and has 400 customers and has an insurance premium portfolio of Kshs 400 million.

Customers of Chase Bank were given an update by the Central Bank (CBK) and the Kenya Deposit Insurance Corporation (KDIC) on the ongoing takeover of selected assets and liabilities of their  bank by State Bank of Mauritius (SBM).

 

Food & Beverage M&A

A South-African based private equity fund has invested Sh404 million ($4 million) to acquire an undisclosed stake in Kenyan fast food chain Big Square. Uqalo says its investment will expand its footprint from the current nine stores to 30 over the next four years. Uqalo, which targets investments located in Kenya, Ethiopia and Nigeria, is primarily funded by Hong Kong-based supply chain and logistics conglomerate Fung Group and its strategy is to acquire minority stakes by investing between Sh202m and Sh506m ($2m and $5m) in “mature businesses” through equity or convertible debt (via Business Daily).

The Competition Authority approved the proposed acquisition of 100% shareholding in Nairobi Java House limited by Star Foods Holding

Wow Beverages  has made an application to enter into exclusive import arrangements with specified international and local manufacturers and suppliers of ‘premium’ wines and spirits in Kenya – from Gallo Vineyards Inc. trading as E&J Gallow Winery Europe, Vina San Pedro Tarapasca S.A, Felix Solis Avantis S.A, Afrique Interlink (PTY), Interlink (PTY) Limited, Edrington Group Limited and Tradall S.A (Bacardi-Martini Group).

Seaboard has made a low offer to buy out other minority shareholders of Unga.

The Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) Chebut factory is set to take over management of 260 acres of mature tea owned by the Nandi county government after the conclusion of ongoing negotiations.

Kenyan billionaire David Langat has acquired one of the largest tea farm in Tanzania in a deal that puts his company as one of the single largest tea producers in East Africa. Langat is thought to have paid a British firm, Rift Valley Corporation, close to Sh6 billion ($60 million) for a controlling stake, 99 per cent, in Mufindi Tea and Coffee Limited, Rift Valley Tea Solutions Limited and Kibena Tea Limited. The businessman owns Koisagat Tea Estate in Nandi and Kapchepet tea factory that processes CTC tea for export under his company D L Koisagat. He also runs Selenkei Investments Ltd, a company that generates electricity from solar energy plus the imposing Nyali Centre in Mombasa County as well as the Sunrise Resort in the same county.

Carnivore owner Tamarind acquires Kengeles: The Competition Authority has approved the deal with a notice that “The merger will not affect competition negatively; and the combined turnover of the parties for the preceding year, 2016, was Sh1,224,757,242. However, the target had a turnover of Sh94,067,983, which is less than Sh100 million, and therefore, the transaction meets the threshold for exclusion under the Merger Threshold Guidelines” (via the Business Daily).

Logistics, Engineering, & Agri-Biz M&A

Ascent Rift Valley Fund (ARVF), a leading SME Private Equity Fund investor will acquire a majority stake in Auto Springs East Africa, a Limuru-based factory that produces a wide range of products for the motor assembly and vehicle spare parts industry. It will be done in a partnership deal with SFC Finance.

Sendy, an app-based on-demand delivery services platform operating across Kenya, has completed a Series A investment round, led by DOB Equity. DOB Equity will invest alongside CFAO, member of the Toyota Group, and other private investors. DOB Equity says that the new funds will enable Sendy to increase their platforms’ service offering. This includes adding more delivery vehicles to their platform, increasing their coverage area, expanding the sales and technology team, and preparing for future expansion into neighboring countries in East Africa.

The owners of flower farm Karuturi Limited have secured an investor to inject fund into their business as they fight to save their priced asset from being auctioned by CfC Stanbic over Sh1.8 billion loan default. The firm in a statement said that it has reached an agreement with Phoenix Group for a ‘blend of debt and equity’ which will help it to meet its current debt obligations and restart its operations (Via Business Daily)

Ethiopia acquires 19% in Berbera Port becoming a strategic shareholder; UAE’s DP World has 51% while Somaliland gets 30% following the agreement being signed.

Trading on Express Kenya shares has resumed at the Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE) after a three-month suspension following a takeover bid by the firm’s CEO Hector Diniz. Diniz Holdings, an investment firm, has bid to acquire the 38.36% stake held by other shareholders other than its affiliates for Sh5.50 a share. (Via Business Daily).

The Competition Authority authorized the proposed acquisition of the entire issued share capital of Trillvane Ltd by Kuehne+ Nagel limited.

The Competition Authority authorized the proposed acquisition of Carzan Flowers (Kenya) limited by Star Bright Holdings.

The Competition Authority authorized the proposed acquisition by Diamond (bc) b.v. of the Diversey Care division of Sealed Air corporation (“sealed air”) and of Sealed Air’s food hygiene and cleaning business within its food care division.

The Competition Authority authorizes the proposed acquisition of 51% shareholding in Mavuno Fertilizers Limited by Omya (Schweiz) Ag.

Trans Miller Limited carrying on the business of food processing, packaging and distribution and other related agri-business activities, situate at L.R. No. 4953/1185, Thika, have been sold and transferred by the transferor to Tahuna Limited, who will carry on the said business of manufacturing under the name and style of Tahuna Limited.

Funguo Investments Limited has acquired a majority – 51% stake in Feastfoods Processors Limited, a food processing company that has been set up to manufacture fruit juice puree and concentrates in Kwale County (via Business Today)

The Competition Authority of Kenya excludes the proposed acquisition of 51% of the issued share capital of Ess Equipment Kenya Limited by Vronbisman Limited from the provisions of Part IV of the Act due to the following reasons as the acquirer does not operate in Kenya and the targets turnover for the preceding year 2017 was KSh. 79,314,330 and therefore, meets the threshold for exclusion under the merger threshold guidelines.

Airline/ Oil/Energy/Mining M&A

Kenya Airways PLC, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines (KLM) and Societe Air France S.A (Air France) have made an application under section 25 (1) of the Act for the exemption of their proposed Agreement of Accession and Amendment to Joint Venture Agreement (proposed Amended JV) from the provisions of section• A of Part III of the Act. The application for exemption is for an indefinite period (as long as the amended N Agreement remains in force).1. The proposed Amended N agreement provides as follows —(a) the inclusion of Air France as a party to the Joint Venture Agreement (original JV agreement) between Kenya Airways and KU* and(b) that all references to KLM in the original JV be construed as a reference to both KLM and Air France.

There has been an ownership change at Safarilink as ALS Limited, one of the shareholders of the firm, sold its entire to Bridges Limited, a Ramco Group affiliate, and an existing shareholder. As a result of this private transaction, Captain Aslam Khan of ALS relinquished his position of chairman with Safarilink’s owners settling on Mr. Ngunze to steer the airline’s board (via Business Daily)

Ethiopian Airlines, the largest Aviation Group in Africa announced that it has finalized shareholders agreement with the Government of Zambia for the re-launch of Zambia Airways. The Government of Zambia will be the majority shareholder with 55% and Ethiopian will have 45% stakes in the airline – and this comes after another consolidation at Ethiopian.

Base Resources announced that it reached  agreement with World Titane Holdings whereby Base Resources will acquire an initial 85% interest in the wholly owned Mauritian subsidiaries of World Titane, which between them hold a 100% interest in the Toliara Sands Project in Madagascar. Base Resources will acquire the remaining 15% interest, with a further US$17 million payable on achievement of key milestones, as the project advances to mine development. The acquisition is to be funded by the A$100 million share offer currently underway, refer below for further details. Completion of the acquisition is expected to occur in late January 2018.

Investec Asset Management through its Africa Private Equity increased its investment in Mobisol with consortium partners the IFC and FMO. Mobisol, headquartered in Berlin deals with the energy demand from off-grid households and has operations in Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda where it has sold 110,000 systems benefiting over 550,000 people.

Following Total SA’s commitment, the Government has consented to a proposed acquisition of the issued and to-be-issued share capital of Maersk Oil Exploration International (Mogas Kenya) in respect of Blocks 10BA, 10BB and 13T. Earlier, Total had acquired Maersk Oil for $7.45 billion in a share and debt transaction.

Africa Finance Corporation and Harith General Partners (Aldwych Holdings) have merged their electricity generation assets into a new company – Anergi Holdings (includes Lake Turkana Wind Farm and Rabai Heavy Fuel plant in Kenya.

The competition Authority approved the proposed acquisition of indirect control of Savannah Cement by Benson Sande Ndeta. 

The Competition Authority approved the proposed acquisition of Associated Vehicle Assemblers by Simba corporation. 

Real Estate & Supermarkets M&A

Actis has agreed to sell its 79.5% majority stake in Mentor Management Limited a Kenyan project management company, to Turner & Townsend, a global construction and management consultant. The management team of MML will retain its minority stake. Actis acquired a controlling stake in MML in 2011 (Via Business Daily).

Mr. Price franchised business carried on by Deacons (East Africa) PLC will be transferred on or after 1st April, 2018 to MIRP Retail Kenya Limited  which will carry on the business.

Nakumatt Holdings and Tusker Mattresses have made an application under section 25 of the Act for the exemption of their proposed management services and loan Agreement for a period of three years.1. The terms of the agreement are that: Tuskys shall provide management services to Nakumatt including procurement and inventory management; Tuskys shall advance a loan to Nakumatt to provide it with emergency funding which shall be used to pay some of the outstanding amounts to employees and landlords; Tuskys shall provide recurring payment guarantees to the suppliers of the target to ensure the suppliers supply stocks to the following Nakumatt’s outlets: Village Market, Galleria, tikay Center, Lavington, Prestige, Mega, Highridge, Karen Crossoads, Ridgeways, Lifestyle, Embakasi, Garden City.

After 40 years, Makini Schools are being old to Schole Ltd, who will acquire all shares of Makini, and who will work with ADvTECH to enhance the quality of education as Makini continues with the Kenyan curriculum.

Telecommunications, Media & Publishing M&A

Kwesé has acquired a significant stake in iflix Africa, which will now form part of Kwesé’s diverse broadcast offering, as the core vehicle to deliver seamless mobile experiences to millions of viewers in Africa. Having set up operations in Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana and South Africa, iflix offers users the region’s most extensive collection of highly acclaimed local African and international series and movies, including first-to-market exclusive programming. This, in partnership with Kwesé’s broadcast operations and footprint, will create an exceptional mobile offering for consumers on the continent.

TPG Growth, the middle market and growth equity investment platform of global alternative asset firm TPG, announced today that it has signed a definitive agreement to acquire a majority stake in TRACE, the market leader in afro-urban music and entertainment. The remaining stake will be owned by TRACE’s co-founder and management team. TPG Growth will invest alongside Evolution Media and Satya Capital. As part of the transaction, MTG, a leading international digital entertainment group that invested in TRACE in 2014, will sell its stake in the company.

International Paper and Board Supplies carrying on the business of trading in printing and packaging materials and consumables at L.R. No. 209/11066, will transfer all its business, stocks and assets to The Print Store who intends to carry on the business from the aforesaid premises.

The Competition Authority authorizes the proposed acquisition of the entire issued share capital of Alldean Networks limited, Simbanet com limited and Wananchi telecom limited by Synergy.

Pressmaster carrying on the business of trading in printing and packaging materials and consumables at L.R. No. 209/12156, will transfer all its business, stocks and assets to Pressmaster Africa Ltd.

The Competition Authority authorized the proposed acquisition of the assets and business of International Paper and Board Supplies Limited by the Print Stores Limited, on condition that the acquirer absorbs not less than 45 out of the current 78 employees in the target business.

The Competition Authority authorizes the proposed acquisition of the entire issued share capital of Pressmaster Africa Limited by Ramco Plexus.

Other M&A

The Competition Authority authorized the proposed acquisition of 40% of the ordinary shares in AAH (BVI) limited by Oman Trading International with certain veto rights.

Nairobi-Mombasa Highway Transforms

For a long time, motorists on the road trip to Mombasa had endless savannah and semi-arid brush-land as their only view, with few sizeable towns and centres along the highway. Many travelers would drive the long stretch between Nairobi-Mtito Andei or even up to Voi, before deigning to stop for refreshments and use of sanitation facilities at what were mostly only petrol station joints. Many of the Colonial era taverns and Inns along the Highway had fallen either into disrepair or closed completely. And a night in Voi meant accessing the adjacent Tsavo East National Park to stay in Voi Safari Lodge.

Not anymore. Recent events have led to a great change in the landscape along the Highway. Sure the great vast ranches of Konza are still largely intact but urban development has become a major feature of the highway with numerous new centres expanding and what were once junction centres now turning into overnight stop points or places of bustling with 24-hour economic activity. A number of factors have contributed to these developments and are manifested in some of the features observed.

Konza City: Previously tiny centres such as Kyumvi (Chumvi) or the Machakos turnoff have now become major truck stops. Investors have established vehicle sales centres nearby and the price of land is sky rocketing going by rough quotations one receives. Further along is Malili centre which sprung up once news of the plan publicized by the grand coalition government about a new Technological (ICT) city to be built at Konza, that was meant to take away pressure of land and space from Nairobi. The city was touted as a Kenya’s Silicon Valley and out of nowhere, Malili town sprung up right next to the borders of the proposed, but yet to be built, Techno-City.

Standard Gauge Railway (SGR):  This is Kenya’s single largest investment in infrastructure. As is widely known, the project replaces the old Uganda Railway (also known as the Lunatic Line) from Mombasa to Uganda. The first phase starts from Mombasa to Nairobi with advanced plans to extend it first to Naivasha and then to Kisumu and Malaba. When the SGR is done, the railway will need return cargo i.e from Western Kenya or Nairobi to Mombasa to be viable, and to get more trucks off the road.

Whatever the merits or demerits of this project is not for debate here but what must be stated are the numerous economic activities and developments that have been brought about by this project.

As the SGR is constructed, groups of the thousands of workers involved must be watered, fed, housed, clothed, transported, treated and entertained along the route. This direct and multiplier effect of the project is an indication of heavy spending. Elevated sections of the railway are a sight to behold especially for one who has not travelled the route for a long time. Major site stations chosen include Makindu, a town whose most distinct feature is the Sikh Temple. A Skygo motor cycle assembly factory is one of the new investments set up by a local born and bred entrepreneur, while new entertainment joints such as Shushan Place and Oasis have emerged. emali

At Emali, Nakumatt, Kenya’s largest Supermarket chain by sales volume, products variety and retail outlets has deigned it fit to set up shop. The petrol station eateries of Mtito Andei which marks the half way stop between Nairobi and Mombasa have changed tremendously. Weary travellers alighting from luxury coaches can now relax in massage chairs. Voi town has also enjoyed a boom in construction of residential and commercial real estate that as previously unimaginable. These are all visible signs that there is money along the highway.

Oil Pipeline: Kenya is replacing its over 40-year-old Mombasa to Nairobi oil pipeline. This project has also attracted huge groups of workers contributing to the activity along the highways in camps and sections nearby.

Concrete Poles Not to be forgotten as a major activity is the replacement of old wooden electricity poles by the Kenya Power & Lighting Company with heavier concrete ones.Poles

Devolution: It is indeed true that devolution has brought major developments and investments in the towns along the highway. The County Governments have spent on setting up their structures and attempting to deliver services to their people; the heavy spending has indeed yielded change, and this has attracted new players even in the tourist sector at Tsavo. One such establishment is the Zomeni Lion Hill Lodge in Voi, 6 km outside town along the road to the Tsavo East National Park Gate which is run by the knowledgeable father and son duo of Basil and Agam. The lodge features 8 rooms and 4 tented rooms with delightful views of the vast Tsavo park. It is secured from wild animals by electric fence, and is one of the new joints that offer real variety to local and international tourists. There are two air strips ay Voi, one by KWS in the park

Lion Hill Conclusion: This article is not intended as a feel good piece but an appreciation of tremendous changes that have taken place along the highway. The writer has not spent time in many of the centres and towns to appreciate other factors such as the availability or lack of water, sanitation, waste management or security among others let alone whether much of this development is affordable, planned or sustainable.

But for long time travelers, it may be worth it skipping that flight to Mombasa and instead taking a day long drive and appreciate the changes that have taken place along the highway. Although the Mariakani Weighbridge headache is ever-present, newer routes into Mombasa or the South Coast are opening up. Both County and National Government are endeavoring to create alternatives through Kaloleni to the North Coast and Samburu to the South Coast.

Today’s children will never know what the old highway looked like before, e.g why Man-Eaters was named so, or appreciate that the drive down to the Coast used to be about five hours only (it now takes about 10 hours to drive between Nairobi and Mombasa)  or why is the lane going towards Mombasa is smoother than the uneven lane climbing towards Nairobi. But who else to tell the story than their parents when caught for speeding between Mtito-Andei and Voi by the NTSA?

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 on both sides of the highway.  The first stop was at a petrol station in Emali town at 530 a.m. for 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 sped 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 use 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 avoid the 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 there 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 3:30 PM, completing the 570 kilometer journey in about  9 hours (after excluding the 2 hours of stops).