Category Archives: Middle East

Guide to Abu Dhabi

Getting There: There are direct flights from Nairobi to Abu Dhabi on both Kenya Airways and Etihad that cost $600-700. There’s also Qatar Air with a stop-over in Doha and   Emirates Air to Dubai, but which ends with a bus ride to Abu Dhabi City (it’s about a 150KM drive, and rather too short for a jet flight).

Sunset at the Yas Marina F1 track

Prior to departure, your airline would usually have arranged for a visa in Nairobi which is emailed ahead of the trip. The costs of the visa may vary depending on who’s doing your booking, and it can sometimes be free if you pay for a full holiday package. Mine cost $82 and  included (a surprise) medical insurance that covered the trip.

On arrival. Clearance from the airport would have been quite fast, but it took about 1.5 hours as most people had to have an eye scan (picture) taken first and the queue was very long. Many tourists were arriving for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix) and there were long queues for the scan, and for a rubber stamp after from a very tired official who was taking many cigarette breaks.

Getting Around: One company operates all the taxis you see around Abu Dhabi. Their website advises passengers of their rights such to see driver’s ID, have the electronic trip meter running, have the air conditioner on in the car, and they can refuse to  share the taxis with other passengers – sometimes there’s a shortage of cars at busy times, and the in-car computer advises taxi drivers to go to certain points where there are many people waiting for rides.

The computer also cautions taxi drivers if they exceed the speed limit. The city is a marvel of wide highways, with fast moving traffic, and a level of orderliness that will be shocking to Kenyans. Traffic lights are strictly observed and it’s rare to find a traffic jam in the city.

The taxi journey from the airport to the hotel was about 50 Dirhams (AED) while a trip to a mall or office will be about 20 Dirhams. If staying longer than a week, one should learn to use the city bus system. With the heat and large spread of the city, walking long distances is not feasible.

Roaming Rates

Staying in Touch: Roaming rates are atrocious so get a local SIM card such as from Qtel or Du. This can be obtained at the airport in the case of Du and a line costa AED 100 (about Kshs 2,500) for a combination of call minutes and data that can also be topped up. Also, Wi-Fi is standard at many hotels as there are a lot of intentional business visitors.

Where to Stay: There are many international hotel brands in Abu Dhabi such as Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn, Rotanna, Ritz Carlton, Westin, Intercontinental, Hyatt, Sofitel, Fairmont, and Radisson. Some of these are located at Yas Island which overlooks the formula one track that has a race in November each year.

The National  newspaper was available in the hotel lobby for all guests free every day, and most hotels have discrete bars on the top floors serve alcohol to guests. Standard rooms with bed & breakfast go for about $100-250, and this comes with the standard international breakfast buffet, along with a touch of local foods like porridge, humus, sticky rice, seaweed soup etc.

Gold Souk

Shopping & Sight-Seeing: Abu Dhabi is considered one of the more expensive cities for visitors and it will cost an equivalent of about $50-100 per day for 2 to 3 taxi rides and meals around the city. (Excluding hotel costs). 

Credit cards are widely accepted in most places, except in taxis which only take cash in local currency. The UAE Dirham can be exchanged into about a dozen other currencies (Singapore, India, Euro) and the  dollars (fixed at about $1 = 3.6 AED) at forex bureaus in malls and the airport. 

There are a few large shopping malls (Marina mall, Abu Dhabi mall) and Souks (markets) like the gold souk that is located in the Madinat Zayed shopping centre. For transit flyers (using Abu Dhabi airport), the duty free section there is rather tiny, and pricey,  compared to the selection at Dubai airport. But if you fly in with the Eihad, the national carrier, showing your boarding pass around town may entitle you to discounts at some hotels, restaurants, car rental, and recreation sites.

Practice your pit stops at Ferrari World

Sights to see include the  Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, and lot’s of unique architectural towers. Others popular with tourists include the Corniche which is a 6 KM long  park where you can cycle, jog, even swim in the heat, and another is Yas Water World. But one of the most unique sites here is Ferrari World Abu Dhabi on Yas Island where adults and kids can can spend hours on a variety of motor stuff – roller coasters, virtual reality tours of the Ferrari factory, view the history of Ferrari racing, race karts, eat, shop for merchandise, and still not cover the entire complex. 

With more time, you can do other stuff like take a desert drive, boat ride (from Yas Marina), or go to other cities like Al Ain and Dubai which is about 1.5 hours max away on a ‘real’ super highway. 

Odd Points: Abu Dhabi is a Muslim country, but one that’s quite moderate in terms of what’s forbidden. Still there are signs cautioning visitors to dress modestly, and not to engage in public displays of affection, or consume alcohol in public.

Also the taxi drivers who are an international mix from many countries like India, Pakistan, Philippines, Algeria etc. are the people you are most likely to have a long conversation with during a brief stay. You encounter foreigners at almost all service points – with hotels, shops, malls, restaurants all staffed by a similar mix of foreigners, that you will wonder where the local Abu Dhabi residents are!

Bank Review ’07 Part II

Small banks, range from $40 to $100 million

Showed an inability to grow as faster as the bigger bank, with few exceptions. Yet they are still profitable and reluctant to merge

The banks got a temporary reprieve when parliament shot down the government’s proposal that banks should have a minimum capital of 1 billion ($15 million) 3 years from the current 250 million shilling minimum’ but that proposal is likely to be revisited by future finance ministers.

35. (38) Fidelity Bank: Estimated assets 3.2 billion ($45.7M), profit of 45 million ($0.7 million) shillings for this quiet bank with little marketing activity but which was able to grow 40% during 2007.

34. (36) Credit Bank: Estimated assets of 3,300 million and profit of 120 million, for another quiet bank which grew about 15% in 2007.

33. (33) Middle East: Estimated 3.2 billion assets and profit of 80 million in 2007. However deposits and loans are down 6% from a year ago.

32. (35) Habib Bank: Estimated 3.5 billion assets and profit of 90 million, with growth of 12% from a year ago. Participated in the first Diamond trust rights first issue as a possible merger step.

31. (29) Victoria: Estimated 4.2 billion assets 140m in profit. Flat growth expect in loans and deposits (1%), but great in profitability which is improved by over 40% in 2007.

30. (32) Consolidated Bank: Estimated 4.5 billion assets, 20 million profit with the 30% growth from a year ago. There was public fallout between the MD and the board resulting in the board being fired by the Finance Minister. The Deposit protection fund (DPF) of the Central Bank plans to sell its 51% stake to private sector, and is likely to be found next year by private sale. A loss in 2005 makes the bank ineligible for an NSE listing and the owners the collapsed banks that form Consolidated Bank are likely to figure in as potential buyers.

30. (31) Equatorial: 4.7 billion assets and 90m in profit. The Sameer group bank Out-performed corporate big sister CBA growing by about 15% in 2007.

29. (34) Development Bank of Kenya: Estimated 4.8 billion and 200m in profit. Remarkable growth fro a development finance institution to record 45% growth in loans & deposits. Part of ICDC’s (Government) 90% stake in the bank is up for sale in 2008.

28. (28) Southern Credit: Estimated 4.9 billion assets, 80m in profit. 10% growth in loans and deposits, with about 40% growth in profits in 2007. Bank with a lady MD focus on cards

27. (30) Chase Bank: Estimated assets of 5.0 billion, and profit of 130 million. The winner of small bank awards, will open new branches next year and has set about achieveing a recapitalization target of 1 billion, through retained earnings.

26. (26) Giro: Estimated 5.3 billion assets, 70m in profit. With 7% growth in the year, It was supposed to be sold to state bank of India, but the deal is yet to be approved by regulators.

25. (27) Guardian: Estimated 5.8 billion assets, 45 million profit. Growth of about 15%

24. (23) ABC: Estimated 5.8 billion assets, 170 million in profits. With 12% growth from a year ago, ABC was one of the few ‘small’ banks that had a marketing push to target new customers in 2007 in addition to a recapitalization drive. Launched ‘kisima’ a flat fee account and has new branches.

23. (24) Habib AG Zurich: Estimated 6.1 billion assets, 200 million profit for another quiet bank which grew about 15% in 2007.

22. (25) K-Rep: Estimated 7.2 billion assets, 200 million profit . With international shareholding and micro-finance expertise is an natural candidate for a merger Was 29th two years ago and recorded about 60% growth in 2007.

21. (21) Bank of Africa 7.2 billion ($103 million) assets 160 million shillings ($2.3 million) profit in 2007. What is hopefully the first of many West African banks spreading eastwards has opened new branches and targeted growth of new business like asset finance.

Mid East Careers

Companies this week looking for Kenyans to go work abroad

KBR, the global engineering & and construction subsidiary of the Haliburton Corporation, is seeking people to go work in the Middle East & Central Asia for a variety of positions including transport & maintenance, craft & trades, logistics, and management & administration. Apply online.

Cabin crew at Qatar Airways. Apply online by January 12.