Category Archives: Kenya motoring

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).

The Total Motor Show 2011 in Nairobi

The Total Motor show took place this last weekend in Nairobi (Friday 9th to Sunday, September 11, 2011). It was interesting as usual, but this time it was at KICC unlike the last one that was at the Ngong Racecourse. With the weaker shilling, and higher petrol prices, there was a noted change in some vehicle prices and more companies offering more efficient vehicle management solutions.

Some notable moments:

Companies like CMC (Ford, Jaguar, Volkswagen) and Toyota did not display prices, but it was a shock to hear that a Toyota Corolla 1.8, cost Kshs 3.3M ($36,000) which is about three times the price people pay for used import models.

Public Service Vehicles: Companies like General Motors have their Isuzu’s ready to ride on the Government’s plans for larger PSV vehicles and they had a pimped out matatu – the NPR that costs Kshs 4M ($43,000), and an Isuzu FRR model (Used by many Citi Hoppa’s operators and which costs Kshs 5.8M ($63,000) and a 62- seat bus that was Kshs 9.4M

Trucks: These were a plenty, but the trucking “king of the road” is the Mercedes Actros; new models of these can be bought via D.T. Dobie at a cost of €93,500 (~Kshs 12.2 million) and each order is customized to the buyer’s requirements before it is built. The popular Mitsubishi FH215 is Kshs. 5.1M

Luxury: Head to head in the luxury department were BMW (from Simba Colt) and perennial market leader Mercedes (from DT Dobie) who had a range of cars, priced with and without duty/tax (an option for diplomat’s, Government and NGO buyers). BMW had the X3 at €60,000 )Kshs 7.8M) while Mercedes had the ML350 for €110,000 (kshs 14.3M). BMW had the 3-series for €47,000 (~Kshs. 6.1M) while the C200 Mercedes was €60,000 (or €34,000 duty free), and BMW also had the 5-series on show for €60,000 while Mercedes had the E200 for €78,000 (~Kshs 10.1M) or duty free for €48,000 (~Kshs 6.25M)

Pick-Up/SUV: DT Dobie has the Nissan NP 200, launched at the 2009 motor show at Kshs 1.2 million, but which now costs Kshs 1.87 million and CMC had a new Volkswagen pickup that was not priced. Mitsubishi had an L200 double cab at Kshs 4.1 million, an update of the popular Pajero at Kshs 6.5 million, while Mahindra had pickups ranging between Kshs 2.4 – 2.9 million.

With rising fuel-prices, fuel saving solutions on offer include Stoic (touting to save up to 40% on fuel prices) and Fuel max (sold by Kiprin Enterprises – and enticing with savings of up to 50%). Other energy savers were Solar-powered lanterns called Total Sola from sponsor Total. Better driving solutions were offered by Glen Edmunds driving school for defensive driving while Scania had one for long distance truck drivers that are purported to save 6 litres per 100 kilometers driven (from the current average of 40 litres over 100 kilometers) and which also brings better tyre and break wear

Other: Toyota also sell Yamaha motor bikes including a 106CC model which comes with a free helmet, reflect jacket, registration and one year warranty (or 6,000 km)

Car Tracking: Companies included Rivercross tracking (who also install a fuel monitor that warns when truck drivers may be selling diesel from their trucks) as were other companies like Retriever, and Cyber Trace.

Online Classifieds: Car buyers and sellers had cheki and dealfish (which is free for buyers & sellers)

Banks: Banks in the auto finance sector were represented at the show including NIC, KCB, Equity, Imperial, Co-Op, Chase and CFCStanbic. Co-op have PSV financing (aimed at Sacco’s) and school bus financing (unique application requirement are board of governor approval and minutes, and ID, fees structure of school.

Apprentice: A motor show surprise was a twitter conversation with @karuoro and @mediamk on the prevalence of former D.T. Dobie mechanics who are specialists in Mercedes.

– @bankelele: I know about 3 garages run by ex-DT Dobie mechs (it’s like a badge of honour)
– @mediamk: those mechs are amazing, I wish this was the case across different industries (as) apprenticeship is a good way to grow an industry.
– @karuoro: “The industry leader is obliged to be a net supplier of talent to the industry” – Linus Gitahi (@LGTwits) …I think quite a number are licensees.

The D T Dobie apprenticeship mechanic program is open to all Kenyans, male & female, who are less than 22 years and obtained KCSE C+ in English physics and mathematics. Though subsidized it will cost Kshs 50,000 ($550)per year for three years after which staff will be bonded for 3 years. They also accept self-sponsored applicants who will pay Kshs 140,000, and the application deadline is 30 April 2012.