Category Archives: Mombasa

Oman Air launches Nairobi flights

Product launches seem to follow an established template: bright flashy lights, cakes, and ribbons, and occasionally a tame wild animal, concluded by a rehashed speech from a government functionary. But no wildlife was present as Oman Air officially launched their four times a week flight to Nairobi at the Kempinski Villa Rosa Hotel on 29th March 2017. The inaugural flight to Nairobi had arrived the previous day and it was received by local Kenya airport and Government authorities.

Importantly, however, was the interest generated of Oman as a destination and indeed a hub for travelers to the Middle East and beyond. The airline’s Deputy CEO and VP –Commercial, Abdulrahman Al Busaidy proved not only an eloquent spokesman for his company but a worthy ambassador of The Sultanate of Oman. The interest of those present at the launch was piqued as few had ever thought of Oman as a holiday destination let alone a hub. Most travelers from Kenya have traditionally chosen the Arab carriers that utilize Dubai (Emirates), Doha (Qatar), Abu Dhabi (Etihad) as well as Sharjah (Air Arabia) which all market themselves’ as glitzy shopping and commercial destinations.

Oman Air doesn’t pretend to be a Gulf Major carrier. Currently Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways are the undisputed ME3 giants who are now subject to what has been perceived by many to be protectionist measures from the USA and the UK in the guise of the ‘laptop ban’. Al Busaidy attributes such measures to the incapability of carriers from those countries to compete on services available at their fantastic airports and modern fleet and services. While no US carrier serves the Middle East, the Gulf carriers operate multiple flights to any of the major hubs in the Middle East.

Oman Air is leveraging the long historical ties between Kenya and Oman which date back to the days when the Portuguese ruled much of the East Coast of Africa. Indeed the Sultan of Oman’s army flushed out the Portuguese from Fort Jesus in the 17th Century and the cultural exchanges and inter-marriage with the local coastal people gave rise to Africa’s most widely spoken language, Kiswahili.

Currently, the airline flies to Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar with Nairobi being the 55th destination of the airline’s growing route development. With a popular in-flight entertainment and free Wi-Fi service on most of its aircraft, Oman Air now has a fleet of 47 aircraft with a mix of Embraer Regional Jets (ERJ) for local and regional flights, Boeing 737s for short-haul routes and Airbus A330’s and now the Boeing 787 Dreamliners for the long haul flights.

Indeed two of the Dreamliners were leased from Kenya’s national carrier Kenya Airways (KQ’s) as part of fleet rationalization of KQ’s ongoing Operation Pride restructuring. Both airlines are expected to conclude a code-share agreement by mid-April 2017. Oman Air has also chosen not to align itself with any of the major airline alliances such as Sky Team, Star Alliance or One World but instead code shares flights with Emirates, Ethiopian, Garuda Indonesia, KLM, Royal Jordanian, Saudia, Sri Lankan Airlines, Thai Airways and Turkish Airlines.

Muscat as a base for Oman Air provides the entry point to this traditional conservative Sultanate which has a rich history in preserving its culture (Islamic architecture, all-white buildings, Dhow making, Painting shows, the Muscat Festival and the Khareef Festival held in Salalah in July and August annually) and environment punctuated with over a 100km coastline.

Nairobi will serve as the entry point to popular tourist destinations at the Kenyan Coast and the wildlife marvels of the national parks in the Mara, Tsavo, and Amboseli. Tourism between Kenya and Oman is expected to grow as the airline also envisages Mombasa as a future destination. Coupled with a fairly liberal visa regime (Note that Dubai visa holders get automatic entry into Oman), Oman Air is hoping to prise away traffic from the other carriers especially to the big hubs of the Middle East, India, and China. With introductory fares of $350 to Muscat and $485 to Guangzhou return, this could prove to make for interesting times for travelers to and from Nairobi.

Oman Air indeed epitomizes Oman as a country, its aspirations, culture, history and modernity and its approach to tying itself to both its past and the future as it opens up new destinations. The Nairobi route will be operated by a Boeing 737-800 and the airline’s growth and development strategy plans for 70 aircraft (currently they are 47) and 75 destinations by the year 2020. The four times a week flight (WY722) )leaves Nairobi at 00:45 (on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday) and operates non-stop and is designed for an early morning arrival in Muscat that enables connections to other 50 destinations.

Oman’s currency is the Rial and OMR 1 = ~$ 2.6, and OMR 1 is ~Kshs 267.

Kenya Community Currencies

This morning at a session on currencies and value I got re-introduced to community currencies. Two years ago there was a mini storm about the legality of  a currency called Bangla-pesa that has since quieten down.

There are five Kenyan community currencies that circulate mainly in slum areas of Nairobi and Mombasa.

Community currencies in Kenya

Community currencies in Kenya

Community currencies in Kenya

Community currencies in Kenya

Nairobi:

  • Gatina
  • Kangemi
  • Lindi

 

Mombasa:

  • Bangladesh
  • Mikindani

The papers notes are by the Grassroots Economic Foundation.  They are not backed by local currency but have the same value as Kenya shilling notes. Member of groups which have constitutions and rules before they join, each gets currency worth 400. They actually only get 200, and 200 from each member goes to a community fund – to carry out community projects such as trash cleaning and hosting sports events.

The lesson today showed how hawala, bitcoin, mpesa had different applications in communities, with a focus on uses away from the formal sector. Also that 10 years after formal  financial inclusion, there is still a lot of money being handled through informal sectors.

Passenger Train to Mombasa in 2015

What if the sales person, at a company you want to buy from, tells you not to buy their  products and you still  go ahead to, because of nostalgia and history?

Train front

The legendary iron snake

What if, despite being routinely behind schedule, the staff go out of their way to ensure that you’re comfortable? What if despite being inconvenienced by half a day, you still consider it worthwhile? And after all this, and understanding all the circumstances they are in, would you still recommend the service to your friends?
That’s the situation with the passenger train between Nairobi and Mombasa. Many people used to take the Kenya Railways train to Mombasa and for school trips elsewhere. But not many do these days, and many more are not aware that the passenger train still runs to and from Mombasa.

It’s been eight years since this last review and there are some major differences

  • There used to be two trains per days, now there is one train, that makes numerous stops
  • The train runs to Mombasa three times a week (M, W, F), and the same to Nairobi on alternate days (T, R, S)
  • The meals are done by Pride Inn hotel group
  • The train is usually late
Train late lunch

Late lunch at Kenya Railways

The train was meant to leave at 7 p.m., and get to Mombasa at 10 a.m. the following day. But we got called at 10 a.m. the day of the trip to be told that the night train was late, and to come in at 10 p.m.

This we did, and there was still no train at the station, just the night managers who said this does happen a lot. There were other passengers waiting, and it was clear that they would take the train no matter what time it came, as it was their only transport from Nairobi to whatever town they were heading on the route. The station master said that when the train came, it would take more than an hour to clean and ‘fill the water’ before the return journey.

We left a phone number with the station master and went back home and kept calling every half hour back to check if the train had come. It did come in at about 3 a.m. and we went back to the station. At about 4 a.m. the train pulled up from the yards, and after showing our receipts, we were issued with boarding cards for the first class cabins. A first class ticket is   Kshs 4,505 ($45) for adults and 2,795 ($28)  for children for full board travel which is dinner, breakfast and beddings for the cabin for each person.

Train cabin beds

1st class cabin with upper and lower beds made

Dinner was served at 5 a.m., and shortly afterwards, the train departed Nairobi for what turned out to be an interesting, and very long day trip. When we got back to the rooms, the beds had been made up by the train staff and we went to slept for a few hours, till the bell rang again to announce breakfast was served. This was at about 10 a.m. and it was back to the dining car that seats about 40, in tables of 4.

The train made many stops in places such as Konza, Sultan Hamud, Makindu, and Ulu, and it got to Mtito Andei which is the mid-point of the journey at about 2 P.M. At these small town stations, passengers in the third class cabins would get on or off the train with their luggage.

That should have been it for meals, but at about 5 p.m. the crew again to summoned first class passengers for an unexpected late lunch meal. After that, it was back to either watching the afternoon views or taking another sleep break in the cabins

The delayed train afforded some unusual daytime views not seen on past trips. Two particular new sights were views of the SGR, the new China-built standard gauge railway which for many kilometers, runs parallel to the old railway. Also after Mtito Andei, and once the train was passing the Tsavo Park, there were also sighting of wildlife including several giraffe and elephant herds in the evening.

Train speed

Speeding through Tsavo

The train is able to attain a decent  speed of almost 60 kilometers per hour when the railway is straight and there are no slopes to navigate or stops to make.

But cargo is clearly the priority for the Rift Valley Railways consortium who run the railway (it is said that 99% of their revenue is from cargo, with just 1% from the passenger trains) – and on at least three occasions, our passenger train had to stop for 10-30 minutes at a station, to wait for a heavy cargo train to pass on the way to Nairobi. The trains had wagons go goods or fuel for Uganda, or wagons for the Magadi soda ash factory.

The train eventually got to Mombasa at  1 a.m., having left Nairobi at 5 a.m. the day before. Mombasa station seems to have lost or leased some space in its front yard to a private developer and there’s now a lorry sales lot  where cars used to park.

Some other advice;

  • Carry extra snack foods, and soft or hard drinks of choice.
  • Carry wipes, toilet paper, bug spray.
  • Have reading material and fully charged devices

East Africa Property Expo

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This weekend, there is an East Africa Property Expo at the Sarit Centre in Nairobi – and what was interesting to see the presentation of several of properties being developed at the Kenya Coast for investors to sign up. Some noted, include:

The African Collection introducing fractional ownership with 1 and 2 bedroom houses in Malindi at Kshs 12.7 million (~$150,000) and Kshs 17.7 million respectively is now 60% sold.
Cowrie Shell  Beach apartments  in Bamburi are expected to be completed in November 2012 
Golden Sand Resort from Elegant Properties will have  1, 2,3  bedroom apartments, hotel and shopping mall in Diani Beach. 
 Milele Luxury Apartments is a development by the Presbyterian foundation (PCEA) near Haller Park, Bamburi, and it has fully furnished apartments including 2 bedroom ones for  sale at Kshs 21 million (~$247,000) 
Ocean 7 developer drawing
Ocean7Kenya is a massive Miami-style development in Mtwapa by the Sun N Sand Group and 3 bedroom apartments are on sale for Kshs 30 million ($352,000).
  
Willow Creek Ranches  are selling 5, 25, 50, and 100 acre land parcels at Kshs 90,000 (~$1,060) per acre for development. The property has  18KM of River Galana running through and other developments like an airstrip and University property nearby.
For more Mombasa and coast area property listings, check out MySpacePropertiesKenya.
The next edition of the expo will be held in Kigali, Rwanda.

Ship Repair in East Africa

There’s an old company located near the port of Mombasa called the African Marine and General Engineering Company Limited – (AMGECO) which is a dry dock ship repair facility, and one of its kind on the East Coast of Africa.

The company has a long history in East Africa, and has gone through ownership and management changes over several decades, but the core investment is the Lloyd’s certified giant facility & dry dock which carries out all manner of ship repairs including steel & metalwork, engine servicing, mechanical, electrical, cabin/woodwork, refrigeration/air conditioning and hull-cleaning among others. They also re-stock ships with provisions like food and water.

pic from their website

The facility can handle repairs of various ships including cruise liners, military , cargo, tankers and others in its 40 metre wide berth, and currently they are repairing one of the old Kenya Likoni ferries.

The skilled work and scope of repairs is fascinating, and ranges from light repairs of lifeboats to heavy ship re-building in their dry dock – and it makes for an interesting place to visit in Mombasa if you get the chance