Category Archives: European Union

Guide to Baku, Azerbaijan

Getting There: Qatar Air was the best, and the only real option picked by our travel agent. We booked tickets early and they cost about $1,000 for a round trip. The flights are Nairobi-Doha and Doha-Baku and total time and the total journey time was about eight hours. Our layover in Doha was short and we had to sprint through the airport to get our connecting flight. Fortunately, we had received boarding passes for the Baku-leg in Nairobi, but in the rush, we lost some documents.

In the weeks prior to departure, there was some confusion about how to obtain a visa to enter Azerbaijan. The country has an e-visa page, but the pull-down menu of country choices does not list Kenya. Some other travellers going for the race chose South Africa as the nearest country to complete the e-visa application but we chose to wing it.

The Formula One race is a big business deal in Baku, and there was a Presidential directive on the internet that the Government of Azerbaijan would offer visas on arrival for F1 fans coming to attend the race. We had arrived early for check-in for our flight in Nairobi which was a good thing as we had to haggle with the Qatar Air staff and make some calls as they checked a book register of passengers. Eventually, they allowed us to proceed and board. There was no issue in Doha, other than the sprint across to catch the connecting flight.

On arrival at Heydar Aliyev International Airport (GYD) in Baku, there was a special desk section for F1 fans with special ushers around, dressed in F1 garb, ready to assist. You showed your ticket, paid a $26 fee and were issued with a 30-day single-entry visa. Note: We had bought our tickets through the official F1.com site and they arrived two weeks before the race, delivered from the UK by DHL to Nairobi.  

For other fans who already had applied for and got e-visas online, they could walk up to airport machines and get served.

After getting an e-visa, you then proceed to the immigration area.  There, they ask a few questions about the purpose of your trip and you also have to provide an email and phone number (we gave Kenyan ones).

if you intend to stay for more days in the country, you have to register online within 10 days of arrival and even the hotel you are staying at can process this

Getting Around: Baku is a small city and we walked end-to-end across it on different days. There was no need for taxis as it’s a very walkable city with lots of sights. We took a taxi from the airport that cost 50 Manat for a distance of about 40 kilometers using an unofficial cab (the official airport ones charge 70 Manat) and that was the only ride we hailed. All cabs are old Mercedes cars. As you walk around, note that weather changes were quite abrupt from sunny to cloudy. days were ok, but the nights were chilly.

Where to Stay: We had made a reservation at the Viva Boutique using Booking.com which we had made a while back and the rate was about $120 (200 Manat). They cost much more if you have booked late. Hotels tend to block off and charge higher fees for Grand Prix weekends. This room which would now be about  400 Manat on race day while other hotels would charge about 800 Manat. 

The hotel is not far from the track and we walked to different events of the race weekend.

We had arrived a few days before the race and had made an Airbnb reservation for the first few days. The homeowner had offered to pick us from the airport, and we had even negotiated an amount for this. But after clearing immigration, the Airbnb host was not answering his phone and we got worried. So we went to the hotel and negotiated for extra nights.

What to Eat: Restaurants are many, from local ones to others serving common international cuisines such as London Pub, McDonald’s and Starbucks.  Local restaurants had many dishes which we did not try. They have chicken served in many different styles and we ate a lot of chips and bacon.

Staying in Touch: It’s usually advisable, when visiting a new country, to get a local phone SIM card, in order to avoid roaming rates that are very expensive. We got Azercell lines from a booth at the airport that cost about $20, and which came with lots of minutes, SMS and 10GB data bundle that lasted the whole trip. This enabled lots of phone chats, browsing, and sharing of images and videos from the Baku trip with friends. However, like in a few other countries, you can’t make phone calls on WhatsApp – a VPN is advisable for that.

Shopping & Sight-Seeing: The local currency is called the Manat. It’s quite strong $1 = 1.70 Manat (so a Manat is ~$0.6 or ~EUR 0.5). Credit cards work well here for most purchases, but it is always a good idea to call your bank before you travel to any country.

Sights to see on the streets of Baku are the full-grown trees, especially in the old city section. The buildings also have interesting architectural designs, walling and engineering of tiles on newer buildings.

Baku is a small town. Malls are modest in size. There are kiosks that are rather expensive, compared to the supermarkets.  By Monday, after the race, malls were quite empty.

One popular tourism attraction is Yanar Dağ, (“burning mountain”), a natural gas fire which blazes continuously on a hillside on the Absheron Peninsula on the Caspian Sea near Baku. Tourist charges to visit are 2 Manat each.

Race Day:  The race is at 4:10 PM, which is late compared to other F1 races, and Baku is an hour ahead of Nairobi. 

We had great seats across the pit lane that cost about $500 and it was a fun vantage point. The race itself was kind of anti-climatic given the dominance of the Mercedes team who recorded their fourth consecutive 1-2 finish in 2019, and pre-race favourites Ferrari again seemed lost. The stage was set on Friday, during practice, when one of the cars from team Williams ran over a manhole cover which had come loose. This cause extensive damage to the car and the session had to be stopped. Other teams, including Ferrari, had their practice time limited as a result and this may have contributed to their Sunday pace.

During the weekend, we did the pit-walk to view cars up close in the garages. Many F1 races now put on huge musical concerts to entertain fans from across the world who have come to attend, and this year Baku had American rap star Cardi B performing on Sunday night, after the race.

Odd Points: You can exchange foreign currency with no questions asked and no need to show any identification (ID) in Baku.

A guest post by @asemutwa who travelled to watch the Formula 1 Socar Azerbaijan Grand Prix 2019 race in Baku.

Also see this other race trip report.- Guide to Abu Dhabi.

Banking News

ADB: The New head of the African Development bank ADB will be elected on 22. This was after USA and France combined to scuttle Nigeria’s bid for the presidency – according to the Business Day (SA) newspaper. Donors threw their weight behind the Rwandan candidate, Donald Kaberuka. Kaberuka met the criteria on total votes polled but did not meet the regional vote percentage required, while Bisi Ogunjobi, the Nigerian candidate, likewise met the criteria on regional votes but missed that of the total votes polled. According to the East African (Kenya), most countries are determined that the president should not be from a French-speaking country.

KCB: Kenya Commercial Bank will begin offering Western Union services at all branches soon.

EIB: The European Investment Bank (EIB) has opened the first of three first regional office in Sub-Saharan Africa in Nairobi – to cover Central And East Africa.

NBK: National Bank of Kenya is carrying out a retrenchment package that will cost over 80 million shillings ($1m). It is being done in three phases: employees who are over 50 years, followed by non-performing staff. After that, it will be voluntary retirement for anyone wishing to leave the Bank.

Executive Changes: 

  • NIC Bank has a new Managing Director James Macharia.
  • Robert Barry, the CFC Group MD has resigned for personal reasons.
  • Mr Albert Ruturi, the Chief operating officer at KCB is retiring. The Bank, which is searching for a deputy CEO, has placed an advertisement in the Economist magazine, leading to the possibility that a non-Kenyan will be picked.

More Aid to Kenya

From Norway (a GJLOS Project)
Through the World Bank, Norway is funding a pilot project for the recording of court proceedings. Firms with extensive experience are invited to supply and install digital voice processing systems in some courts by applying electronically from johnson.weru@legalsector.or.ke by 27th May 2005.

From EU for Kenyan Roads
European Union support to Kenya roads i.e the Northern Corridor Rehabilitation Programme include:
– Sultan Hamud to Mtito Andei (131 km) at a cost of Kshs. 4.6 billion began in April 2003, and 72km are complete. – the rest should be done by January 2006
– Mai Mahiu – Naivasha – Lanet 95 km road section at a cost of Kshs 4.6 billion – to commence in May 2005 and end in September 2007 urgently needs to be done
– 150km of rural roads in Eastern province at a cost of Kshs. 300 million (complete)
– EUR 35 million to rehabilitate Westlands– Limuru and Timoboroa-Eldoret-Malaba highways urgently needs to be done
– Rural roads in tea & coffee producing areas of Central Kenya

From Japan
The Government of Japan has provided a grant of 1 billion yen (¥) (Kshs 720 million) in an import support program to finance import of raw materials and finished goods. Goods purchased don’t have to be of Japanese origin, but the funds may not be used for project funding. The minimum loan amount is ¥ 14.4m (Kshs 10.4 million), and the maximum is ¥108m (Kshs 77.8 million). Other terms are: payment in Kshs, 10% deposit to treasury on approval of application, balance (90%) payable within one year from date of shipment of goods, secured by bank guarantee. Apply at crownagents@ke.crownagents.com

Banking News

International

Riggs Bank will pay a $16 million fine (1.3 billion shillings) to avoid being prosecuted for failing to monitor suspicious financial transactions. The settlement will enable the Bank to complete a merger with PNF financial services, but will also sacrifice Kenyan banker Simon Kareri in the process. “Riggs will continue to cooperate with investigators as they pursue some former executives, and the agreement allows federal prosecutors to bring separate criminal charges against them.” The agreement will include descriptions of several transactions involving Equatorial Guinea (Kareri’s portfolio) and officials of that West African country, including its president, a dictator accused by human rights advocates of pocketing much of that nation’s $500 million a year in oil revenue, sources said.

The guilty plea is a rare one for a commercial bank. In recent cases of criminal settlements with the Department of Justice, banks have agreed to what is known as a deferred prosecution. That means the bank pays a fine but does not technically plead guilty — agreeing instead to certain facts that could result in a prosecution in a period of one or more years if the bank fails to make good on its commitments to clean up its act.

Local

Following in the successful steps of Equity Bank, Family Finance Building Society announced plans to convert into a bank. They have a customer base of 60,000 and 12 branches, and will become the third microfinance institution after Equity and K-Rep to become a full commercial bank.

The European Investment Bank will open a regional representation office in Nairobi by April 2005. It will be third such office on the continent, after Senegal and South Africa, and will serve East and & Central Africa – giving potential investors a point of contact and advice on EIB operations and financing availability within the region.

Standard Chartered Bank has raised its base-lending rate to 13.75%

Coming soon: Green cards to Europe

The European Union is considering introducing a U.S.-style green card system to attract immigrants with special skills, a leading commissioner said. Permanent work visas based “on the American model” is one of the options the EU is mulling as it faces a shortage of skilled labour and an aging population, Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner Franco Frattini told reporters.