Category Archives: Kenya domestic tourist

Kenya’s Money in the Past: Kenneth Matiba

“Aiming High” is an autobiography of Kenneth Matiba that covers his life as a civil servant, businessman, farmer, corporate leader, member of parliament, cabinet minister, and presidential candidate.

It’s also a good business book that’s well written and detailed.

Excerpts:

Scaling Farming Ventures

  • While exporting beans to Europe, he faced freight challenges. East African Airways (EAA) had no cargo and when BOAC planes landed in Nairobi from South Africa, they were always full. Cargo was doubled booked and often not loaded at Embakasi airport and later thrown away. He decided to start a cargo airline in 1967 and registered African international airways and invited John Michuki and Charles Njonjo to join. At the time EAA’s problem was that Uganda was not remitting revenue and it was serving uneconomic routes in Tanzania. He got the authority to operate a cargo charter flew an old Britannia plane that was on sale for £65,000 to Nairobi to inspect with Michuki and Njonjo. But unhappy EAA staff reported back and the Tanzania Standard had a headline about how Kenya was helping three capitalists to destroy EAA. Michuki and Matiba were PS’s and Njonjo was AG and they decided not to sign the purchase agreement and the plane was flown back to England.
  • Craziest venture: In 1975 during a potato shortage in England, tried to export 6,000 tons. Rounded up all potatoes in Meru and with 290 trucks got them to Mombasa. Managed to load one ship with 1,600 and later another with 1,700. The second broke down, and by the time it reached potato was rotten and the ship was diverted for special cleaning.

Making Transitions

  • Only after he resigned from the government was he able to safeguard his independence through personal business dealings.
  • Radio announcements about cabinet reshuffles were a feature as far back as 1965. He heard he had been transferred from the Ministry of Home Affairs to the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Cooperatives. There was no proper handover and he felt it was wrong to shuffle civil servants (PS) like happened with ministers.

Corporate Life

  • In 1968 he planned to retire as PS and gave a one-year notice. He asked Geoffrey Kariithi to wait till President Kenyatta was in a good mood before telling him. When Kenyatta realized this he asked who authorized Matiba to leave the government and Kariithi reminded him it was he. Matiba later made up – he was arranging for his son Raymond and John Michuki’s two sons to be circumcised and Kenyatta asked that he also rope in his two sons, Uhuru and Muhoho.
  • After he left the government, he had five job offers and chose Kenya Breweries.
  • He refused to become the Chairman of Anglo Kenya investments without equity, so he was offered 26% and he paid for that.

Hoteling & Real Estate

  • Acquired Brunners hotel in 1974, a hotel in the middle of town, that was listed on the Nairobi Stock Exchange. The Brunner family had 65% and Marcel Brunner and his son Derek continued to run it and helped Matiba with Jadini later on. But they closed it in 1978. It had an old interior and its 120 beds could not support the needed renovations. They sold the building in June 1982 and Fedha Towers was later built on the site.
  • George Robinson bought 10 acres in Karen, improved and sold it to buy the Mackinnon Building opposite New Stanley for £50,000.
  • Matiba scouted Jadini Hotel in 1967 which was on sale in £54,000 and recommended Robinson buy it. They sold MacKinnon at a profit and bought Jadini and another 10 acres in Karen.
  • Bought Dacca Road houses in Nairobi West in 1969 and sold them in 1971.
  • They developed Golf Course housing estate but later gave up housing to concentrate on hotels and schools.
  • When Robinson died, Matiba negotiated to purchase his stake and took over Jadini. He had to rush to complete construction and open for tourists while facing down hostile old staff and management.
  • Michael Betrano, a new manager, rescued Jadini when it had 7.5% occupancy in March 1973 and put it on the world map. He later hired Christopher Mogidell who took it further.
  • In 1978, built Africana Sea Lodge in six months and in 1984 built, the 400-bed Safari Beach in 10 months that was opened in 1986.

Tourism Sector

  • Seasonal airlines: For KTDC, Matiba chaired the struggling Air Kenya which only did business from December to March and July to September when tourists visited. It was idle rest of the year and utilization was never above 50%.
  • Difficult Ministers: Tourism Minister Elijah Mwangale saw hotels as swindlers who did nothing but cheat Kenyans out of the foreign exchange. Matiba also held his tongue when Maina Wanjigi set a target of a million hotel beds which he correctly saw as unrealistic as the industry could not build 100,000 beds a year.
  • Matiba argued that tourism was the cheapest for Kenya to earn foreign exchange. To earn $100, you need to invest $40, and gets a net of $60 while to earn $100 from coffee, it costs $68.

Sports involvement

  • Matiba decided to form Kenya Breweries Football Club in 1970 and have all staff stop playing for other teams. They entered the poorly-run Kenya Football Association league that had a lot of frustration. Matiba later formed the Kenya Football Federation to run a 12-team Kenya Football League exclusively as a company that the Sports Minister could not interfere with and invited other clubs to join and though KFA refused to recognize them. But after Gor Mahia agreed to join, other teams followed. All they wanted was to play soccer and entertain fans, not represent Kenya. They were not deterred by a suspension by the KFA and went ahead to draw a league for Nairobi Mombasa Nakuru Kisumu, book and pay for the stadiums on Saturday and Sunday for a year.
  • Clubs got more from gate takings, tickets were printed by security firms which club representatives checked at gates, and complimentary tickets were abolished. While prices went up, they got more fans to come after they eliminated stone-throwing. They ensured clubs showed up ahead of time for matches for inspection and eliminated match delays sometimes caused by witchdoctors and superstitions.
  • In his first year chairing KFF and KFL, Kenya won three East African cups.
  • Matiba was an avid sportsman who climbed Mount Everest when he was a Cabinet Minister.

Giving Back.

  • Matiba worked with Bishop Sospeter Magua who wanted to make the church self-sustaining with permanent income through investments, and not be weak financially by staying dependent on unpredictable charity donations. They organized for three districts – Muranga, Kiambu and Nyeri – to contribute. President Moi chaired the first harambee in Muranga where Kshs 1 million was raised, Mwai Kibaki chaired the next one in Kiambu and Njonjo was invited for the third in Nyeri. They bought a 7-acre plot in Loresho and one acre on Kayahwe Road to build maisonettes. But Bishop Magua died in a road accident in 1982. Is Bishop Magua Centre, home of the first iHub, named after him?
  • Embori farm in Timau was put up for sale in 1977 for Kshs 34 million and Robert Wilson, the European farmer selling it, did not want it to go to a cooperative or large group, preferring it should go to individuals or a public company. Matiba persuaded him that it could remain intact and not be subdivided. The seller also wanted Kshs 20 million of the amount in foreign exchange and Matiba asked Kenyatta who authorized the Central Bank to release this sum which was, the largest amount of forex ever given to purchase a farm. Meanwhile. a cabinet minister who wanted the farm tried to scuttle the deal. Matiba did a prospectus for Kiharu residents that yielded Kshs 6 million from 10,000 shareholders. After taking over, they sold wheat to KFA and barley to Kenya Breweries to meet the interest on overdraft for seven years but the farm did not generate enough to pay back the bank loan and shareholders are not willing to pay more. So Matiba next pushed them to sell some land to local residents, with a bank offering 50% finance and keep the balance for the farm, but after a year, only a handful took the offer. The farm still runs well today.

Business and politics

  • After 3.5 years as MP, he was appointed a Minister of Culture and Social Services in September 1983. He was the Chairman of Kenya Breweries and he made a personal decision to resign and was succeeded by Bryan Hobson. At the time, Alliance had seven hotels and four schools.
  • Matiba resigned from the cabinet in December 1988. After he quit he has no passport and went about his businesses quietly, but Moi never forgot. When he got his passport back in 1989, he made a trip to Rwanda for the wedding of the daughter of President Habyarimana in July 1989. Then in February 1990, he was invited back to Rwanda to explain how that country could expand its tourism and he took five experts from the Alliance group with him. But as soon as he came back, special branch officers started looking for him for interrogation after the death of Minister Robert Ouko.
  • Concern about leadership. The Kenya majority has lost the concept of servanthood. Leaders aspire not to serve citizens but themselves. Many spend only two hours in their offices making personal telephone calls and the rest of their time on their business.

Business Advice

  • The biggest problem African businesses face is a lack of accounting.
  • Africans also treated businesses as hobbies and entrust them to ignorant family members.
  • Business people try to do too much – being butchers, curio sellers and textile dealers all at the same time instead of concentrating on one line.


Matiba was detained in July 1990. The book dwells on his medical treatment after he was poisoned in detention and his preparation to run for the Presidency in 1992 where he came second. It does not go into his later tribulations with banks and businesses that halted the corporate empire he had built. Kenneth Matiba died in April 2018.

Kenya Development Corporations Merged

July 2021 saw the announcement of the conclusion of merger plans for a Kenya Development Bank. In a gazette notice, the Government announced the creation of the Kenya Development Corporation in June 2021, which comprises the Industrial and Commercial Development Corporation (ICDC), the Tourism Finance Corporation (TFC) and IDB Capital (formerly known as the Industrial Development Bank).

Industrial & Commercial Development Corporation:

ICDC owns 89% of Development Bank of Kenya, 27% of East African Fisheries, 17% of Eveready Batteries, 18% of Funguo Investments, 20% of General Motors East Africa, 4% of IDB Capital, 46% of KWA Holdings (KWAL) 27% of Mountain Region Poultry, 28% of Sisibo Tea, 2% of Uchumi Supermarkets, 31% of Almasi Beverages, 20% of Aon Minet Insurance and 23% of Centum Investments. Through a defunct subsidiary also 5% of Panpaper Mills, and 100% of Kenatco Taxis and 100% of Kenatco Transport.

ICDC also owns Uchumi House and Finance House in Nairobi and plots in Mombasa, Eldama Ravine, Eldoret and Embu, with another next to Malindi airport.

Tourism Finance Corporation:

TFC has subsidiaries including the Bomas of Kenya, Kabarnet Hotel (98%), Sunset Hotel at Kisumu (95%). Also Kenya Safari Lodges (82%), Mt Elgon Lodge (73%), Buffalo Springs (41%), Golf Hotel at Kakamega (40%), Mountain Lodge at Nyeri (39%) as well as 9% of Mararal Lodge and 5% of the Ark. Also Kenya Hotel Properties i.e. Nairobi’s InterContinental Hotel (33%) and International Hotels Kenya i.e Nairobi’s Hilton Hotel (41%). It also owns 52% of African Tours & Hotels (in liquidation).

TFC, previously known as the Kenya Tourist Development Corporation, owns Utalii house, a building on Moi Avenue Nairobi and a plot on prime Nkrumah avenue in Mombasa

IDB Capital:

IDB owns 0.3% of Consolidated Bank, 0.9% of Nzoia Sugar and 0.3% of South Nyanza Sugar Company (Sony) and a sliver of the Africa Export-Import Bank (AfrExIm)

Other:

All assets, securities and systems of the three institutions are now vested in the new corporation.

Guide to Monaco

A guest post of a trip to the Principality of Monaco, the city-state on the French Riviera, where the Monaco Grand Prix is taking place tomorrow. It’s a normal, but pricey, place for the rest of the year when Formula One is not having a race weekend.  

Getting There: Fly into Paris or a nearby major European city. You will need to get a connecting flight into Nice. 

Nice Airport is fairly easy to navigate especially coming from Paris. There may be additional customs regulations coming from other European countries though. 

Once you exit baggage claim, you can take a train, bus, taxi or helicopter to Monaco. To truly enjoy the wind-down to the Principality, take the bus or a taxi. A taxi will be +$100 so opt for the buses which leave every hour or so. The train is less than $10 but you miss much of the view. 

Getting Around: You can get along speaking English but please, please learn some French if only to read the signs and communicate politely with vendors. The majority of people here speak English, probably better than you but it would behove you to learn their language. 

Staying in Touch:  Safaricom Welcomes You to France! If you are there for a while longer, you should get a SIM in Paris though. 

Where to Stay: Save money and stay in France. The city of Fontvieille in France surrounds the principality and has several hotels. It’s an easy walk to the harbour and there are parts where you can take an escalator or lift down to the port. Go any time after the summer to get hotel deals that are ‘normal’. There are also several AirBnB options but depending on when you go, prices will be higher than you expect. Some try and stay in Nice and commute in which is fine but if you can, stay in the city. 

Visa, MasterCard are well accepted. In November, you can get a decent hotel rate of about $170 a night. Breakfast and lunch may set you back about $120 but you can budget and meal plan for your mealtimes. If your hotel offers a breakfast deal, take it. 

Eating Out:  Food, France, Immigration. Italy is a short train ride away. For the sake of doing it, get on the metro to the city of Ventimiglia, Italy which is accessible from Monaco. You will pass Menton, France where a good chunk of the people who work in Monaco live and after that, a whole new country.

Lunch is a great way to explore the cuisine. Often enough, you’ll be too full to contemplate dinner. There is one supermarket in Monaco – a Spur that is so hidden, good luck finding it. You can always go to the big Carrefour in Fontvieille, France for a big shop. It’s near the Stade Louis II. 

Odd Points: Tipping. A service charge may already be added to your restaurant meal so if you tip, it will be a tip on top of a tip. Keep an eye out on your bill for service compris

Shopping & Sight-Seeing: Monaco is super safe. It’s hard not to look like a tourist but make sure to map out a plan before you leave your hotel in the morning. It’s a small country so you can’t really get lost but make sure not to look like a complete boob when walking around. Ladies – unless you are stepping out of a car into a restaurant, you do not want to wear heels exploring Monaco. Be sensible yet stylish. See yachts parked for the winter, some on sale, and pricey apartments, with advertisements in Russian.

La Condamine where the locals shop but you will find every single luxury item in the world in this tiny country. Save your money, park yourself at a restaurant outside and gawp at the fabulous beautiful people. Take home gift – a souvenir at a gift shop in Monaco. Include the receipt. 

Seriously, set yourself up for a lazy weekend brunch or a late evening drink and watch the beautiful people in their natural habitat. We spotted Flavio Briatore!

Sights to See: The streets. Do the F1 grid walk! Also, the Oceanography Museum in Monaco is well-curated and a must-visit for its’ exhibits and breathtaking views outside of the principality. Seriously an underrated and affordable highlight! Depending on when you go, see if there are other events ongoing such as a food and wine festival in November. 

Biggest surprise in the country? At the tourist offices, you can get an entry stamp in your passport!

Kenya Tourism Signature Experiences

This week saw the unveiling of the Magical Kenya Signature Experiences collection for 2021-200, by the Ministry of Tourism that is meant to showcase the country’s diverse attractions aside from the traditional wildlife safaris and beaches.

The MKSE program began in 2019 when fifteen experiences were selected. The first group had pricey traditional tourism attraction like the Karen Blixen Museum, Finch Hattons Luxury, the Tamarind Dhow, Il Ngwesi, and helicopter trips to Suguta Valley, which music legend Madonna did a few weeks ago.

MKSE has now added 29 signature experiences in an ongoing process from 59 entries, and the ones that didn’t make it, also get mentorship to improve and qualify. Joining starts with completing an application questionnaire, and one criterion for selection includes that the investor/operator has been offering the experience for over two years. Tourism officials then do a desk audit to shortlist the promising ones, followed by a physical visit to check out the experiences. The Signature Experiences facilities will be marketed by the Kenya Tourism Board at local and international trade fairs.

The second group of MKSE experiences is more diverse and probably more accessible, though price rates were not shared. The big winners on the list are the Watamu coastal area and Nanyuki, with multiple experiences, while operators Watamu Treehouse and Savage Wilderness each feature three unique activities for visitors and tourists to try. 

Some unique additions include: 

  • Bicycling in the Maasai Mara and at Diani.
  • Watersports: Rafting/kayaking at Watamu, Sagana & Tana River and floating adventure at Mida Creek (Watamu).
  • Camel walking safaris with Karisia.
  • El Karama Lodge experience for children. 
  • Warrior Academy with Saruni. 
  • Climbing Mt Kenya and Mt Kilimanjaro with African Ascents. 
  • Golfing at Great Rift, Naivasha. 
  • 16th century stone ruins at Thimlich Ohinga Migori, now a World Heritage site.
  • Interacting with rare rhino: treks at Borana, extravaganza at Solio, tracking at Saruni,
  • Also, two unique experiences are farm ones: At Ololo in Nairobi, there is a farm experience package in which guests can tour and dine on food from the farm. They can partake in picking eggs, vegetables, visit the orchard, milk animals and buy handmade furniture. Then at Olepangi, farm guests can milk cows, make bread, collect vegetables, ride horses, do yoga, and get massages.

The new list also had some of the traditional pricier offerings that draw tourists to Kenya, including Breakfast with Giraffes (sometimes a hot topic), In the footsteps of Elsa (inspired by the story of Joy Adamson’s adopted lioness), and humpback whale watching at Watamu, that controversially featured on CNN recently.

Guide to the Mexican Grand Prix

A guest post by Linda Kamau who has travelled from Nairobi to watch the Formula 1 Gran Premio De Mexico for two years in a row (2018 and 2019).

Getting there: For both trips, I have flown Emirates via Dubai and the USA. A ticket bought early will cost you between $1,200 – $1,500, but if you buy later, it may cost up to $2,500.

For both trips I have gone a week or two early and flown to Cancun then later got into Mexico City the weekend of the Grand Prix, flying on Interjet or JetBlue. In 2018 I did Nairobi – Dubai – New York – Mexico and in 2019, I did Nairobi – Dubai – Florida – Mexico. Using either of the flight legs will take a total of about 30 hours to get to Mexico.

For the visa, if you hold a valid US, UK or Japan visa then you do not need to apply for a Mexican visa. For both trips, I have not had to apply for a Mexican visa, as I hold five-year visas for both the UK and US.

As I always say, if you are transiting through JFK or Heathrow, ensure your flight connection is not less than 2 hours as the immigration queues can get quite long which might cause you to miss your flight.

Arriving at Benito Juárez International Airport, you are welcomed with images of F1 drivers just after baggage pickup. This is a circuit loved by many so there are a lot of people arriving for the race weekend, and immigration can take longer to clear.

An important thing to note, you have to fill in a landing card and once the immigration officer has stamped your passport, they give it back to you with a small part of the landing card that you will need to show when exiting the country. Losing it will cost you 300 Pesos, equivalent to $35.

Getting Around: Uber and Lyft are your friends here. They are way more affordable than regular taxis and can take cash too (Uber cash exists here). Mexico City is big, really big and it is not advisable to just walk around.

The local currency is called the Peso. The exchange rate versus the dollar averages at $1 = 18.10 pesos. Credit cards work but there is a general rule, to not withdraw money from just any ATM. If you have to withdraw, do it at an ATM in the bank. ATM fraud is rampant in Mexico.

Where to Stay: Due to how big the city is, traffic can be crazy. Therefore it is advisable to stay close to the race track (the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez circuit) which is also close to the airport and can save you time for both going for the race and arriving and leaving Mexico city. In 2018, I used booking.com and stayed at Camino Real ($400 for 3 nights). But in 2019, because I was booking late, the same hotel now cost an arm and a leg. So I took a less expensive one – Hotel Hollywood Villas. The cost was $200 for 3 nights, and it was a ten-minute walk to the track.

What to Eat: Tacos, tacos and more tacos. Every corner you turn to, there is a restaurant selling tacos, other Mexican dishes and Tequila. I believe this is taken any time of day as there is no rule to Tequila, Mexicans just love their Tequila. I enjoy Mexican food so I did not get close to any McDonald’s or any other international restaurants, but they are in plenty.

Staying in Touch: As is my rule, immediately I land in a new country, I find the next SIM card store. Data/connectivity comes first even before that vital shower after a long trip. In Mexico, it’s advisable to get Telcel, it’s the largest network and very reliable. It will cost you about 20 pesos with 50 pesos airtime which totals to 70 pesos ($4). You can recharge at a store or you can do that online if you understand the Spanish on the Telcel web page.

Shopping & Sight-Seeing: In the city, you can go see Our Lady of Guadalupe, the largest Cathedral after the one in the Vatican. It’s quite a tourist attraction but also a great marvel of architecture.

With Mexico being so far away from Kenya, it would make sense to add in a vacation and see more of the coastal side. I have spent time in Cancun, Tulum and Playa Del Carmen and if I were to choose I would go back to Playa Del Carmen. It’s calm, less touristy and you are close to both the beach and city life. There is also the Chitchen Iza (pyramid ruins) and all the Cenotes (naturally occurring sinkholes) in the islands.

I did sample the nightlife in Mexico City with local friends I made after the 2018 GP. We are now F1 buddies, and we sync our trips and plan to attend the newly-added Grand Prix in Miami in 2021. We spent a night dancing salsa at a Cuban joint called Mama Rumba. It was fascinating to watch both the old and young dance – salsa is for all and so is the club.

Race Day: The race is at 1:10 p.m. but that is quite late for Kenya as it’s an 8- hour time difference – so adjust your body clock. It can get quite humid even though October is the rainy season in Mexico. It sometimes rains for an hour and then quickly goes back to being humid.

In 2018 I got a seat at the Grada 4 Grandstand; this is in the area where the cars make their second turn and you have a great view of most of the circuit including the Grandstand. The 2018 race saw Lewis Hamilton clinch his fifth title in Mexico and he did some spins in his Mercedes for the crowds after. Grada 4 gives you that thrill and also you get to enjoy the after-party as you can hear and see the DJ.

Race Tickets: For my first visit, I had bought my ticket on the F1 website which cost $460 for the 3-day package. On practice day I went to pick my ticket from the ticket station at the Circuit. It is advisable to attend on all the three days, as you get to familiarize yourself with the location of the track and especially which gate you will use to go in and which side of the circuit you will be sitting on during the race.

In 2019, my Mexican friends bought the tickets and we got to sit on the side where you see the cars as they start the race just before turn 1. It was nice to watch home crowd cheering Sergio Perez ‘Checo’ and he delivered his best race for his fans after a tight fight with Daniel Ricciardo.

In both of these Mexican Grand Prix races, Mercedes were not the favourites even though in 2018 Hamilton just needed to finish top-six to clinch the title, which he did. Ferrari’s strategy got the better of them again in 2019 and Hamilton took advantage and went on to win the race getting him closer to his sixth driver’s championship.

Also, see this other 2019 F1 race trip report – A Guide to Baku, Azerbaijan.