Category Archives: Nairobi City Council

Water Moment: Understanding Nairobi Water Bills

Have you been getting more and more visits from the water meter crews from Nairobi Water (NCWSC), demanding payment?

For years, I’ve been paying every month the same amount of about Kshs 500 (~$5), without seeing my bill, but of late, the bill has always remained over Kshs 1,000 even when I have paid twice within the month. One day they even came around with a bulldozer which they told area people was to yank out meters from people who have not paid.

So I had some tweet chats and went  to the NCWSC offices and found out some stuff:

  • They no longer send out statements or hardly do. They have cut back on mailing statements via the post office. They won’t even issue you with a bill event at the office
  • They increased their rates at the end of 2015. The guy who came with the bulldozer and another at the NCWSC office said the rates doubled at the beginning of the year.
  • They have instituted a charge of Kshs 1,000 on every unpaid or overdue bill. This means even if you’re late on a Kshs 204 bill (the lowest bill you can get), you get charged Kshs 1,000.
  • You can check your bill via *888# on your phone. Sometimes the SMS comes through without information but you still get charged Kshs 10 for the service.
  • They have an online platform for one to check bills but not ready. Alternately there is a There is a Jambopay Water Bill checker that’s  free to check your bill. It is accurate, but often offline.
  • It costs Kshs 33 to pay your water bill via M-Pesa (assuming Kshs  30 goes to Safaricom and Kshs 3 excise tax charge of the financial service.
  • The due dates for bills vary in the month, depending on when the water readers come round to read or estimate the amounts.
  • Water, electricity and other utility companies can now report customers to credit reference bureaus over unpaid bills.. but who is the customer to be reported? The person who pays the bill? This is often a tenant of a house or building. Or the registered owner of a property with a meter? Sometimes this is the landlord or the contractor who put up the building.

waterOther water tales:

  •  A few years ago, IBM Research in Nairobi gave a talk on the water situation in Nairobi. There are 3,000 known boreholes in Nairobi and it can cost $10,000 to drill one as you have to go deeper than 400 meters instead of 200 in the past.
  • IBM also reported that 40 – 50% of water sourced is lost (just doesn’t get to consumers) AND that 50% of hospital visits in Kenya may be water/sanitation related.
  • A feel good story about water supply and the World Bank in Kenya.
  • Are water charges going up again? – Not sure if these are even more new charges from October 2016
  • Adding value to waterHow the business of bottled water went mad ..How did a substance that falls from the air, springs from the earth and comes out of your tap become a hyperactive multibillion-dollar business? (The Guardian)

Even with the new water rates, getting water from the NCWSC is a lesser evil than paying for your lorries, but…

$ = Kshs 101

Farewell Naked Pizza – Part II

About two weeks ago, we got the unexpected news that the Naked Pizza chain was closing shop. I sought out Ritesh, the owner, and face, of the Naked Pizza Kenya franchise to ask about what happened.

We met for coffee at one Artcaffé, and he spoke about his background as a career investment banker who had lived an “up in the air” lifestyle (see the George Clooney movie) – at Credit Suisse and HSBC. He worked in Africa, Europe, the Middle East and the US.

When he stepped away from banking, he started advising a few companies that were trying to restructure their operations. One of them was in the UK health sector. In the process, he bid alongside other investors and was the top bidder. And just a few months after he restructured and re-launched it, another health company bought him out.

When he first started scouting the food business, no pizza brands were interested in Africa. He convinced Naked Pizza executives to meet him in Dubai when they toured their operation there. He then flew them to Nairobi and won them over and they signed a deal with him for the Kenya franchise.

He then trained for a few weeks at Naked Pizza in Dubai, including in one of their pizza stores. He returned to Kenya and set out to hire a team, for which he paid above market rates for his staff. Some people working at other Nairobi pizza chains also applied, but after interviewing them, he shied away from them, as he felt they had in-built attitudes and practices. He preferred newbies to the food business.

Ragin Cajun at Naked Pizza Kenya

Setting up took longer. They had to import equipment and build a supply chain with companies who would deliver quality cheese, meats, grains, and vegetables to be ever fresh.

The (Westlands) store location was not ideal for some (like me), but it worked – as 85-90% of their pizza business was deliveries. And being in that building was about 1/3 of the cost of setting up in a mall.

They had a soft launch, with a focus on product, customer, and delivery. i.e. to get fast deliveries of great pizza to happy customers.

In the early days, they built their own neighbourhood mapping system to ensure fast deliveries. He also got on the bike and did deliveries with the riders, as the teams noted unique Nairobi details (“e.g. the blue gate on Parklands Road, after three bumps”), which they then added into the ordering system to ensure faster deliveries in the future.

On some days when orders came in, and all the delivery motorbikes were out, he’d sometimes grab a pizza and do the delivery with his car. They started with deliveries near the store, and slowly increased i.e. from a store radius of 5 minutes, then 10, then accepting orders to neighbourhoods within 15 minutes radius of the store. This was a challenge as people from further would call and ask for pizza, and they would have to decline orders, as they were outside the radius.

They had opened shortly before the 2013 Kenya election, and on election day,  they became an object of curiosity with their commitment to remain open and deliver pizza on election day.  They also ensured that all their staff got to vote, by having them take different work shifts.

International media came to cover the pizzeria that vowed it would be open to serve customers, despite the wide international fear that Kenya’s election would again be violent. The Kenya election may also have been a turning point for him in ways that he did not realise till much later. The election news coverage was noticed in the USA – by some pizza managers who did not associate pizza with Africa, but could now see Ritesh on CNN.

They never had to market the chain. They got a lot of mileage from a fun twitter account that he ran himself, before he handed it over to a keen staff member. They would tweet on customers, deliveries, and suppliers, and also when rival pizza owners would come to eat at Naked Pizza and see what was drawing their customers. He resisted doing promotions like the buy one get one free pizza that captivates many in Nairobi.

They had loyal customers who kept ordering more pizza. There were also some awkward moments with the customers – like some who ordered pizza, while they were on a date somewhere, but the pizza was taken to their house (which was listed in Naked Pizza system) – and that was a surprise! Or others who ordered the smallest food item to go along with a large quantity of reasonably priced alcohol to be delivered by Naked Pizza just before 11 .P.M.

Ritesh couldn’t talk about numbers paid for the exit (Pizza Hut bought the restaurant operations of Naked Pizza). One of the things he negotiated for in the deal, was for the buyers’ company to take on all his Naked Pizza staff to work in their different companies.

But the departure was not about the difficulty of the business, which was a success, but one full of battles that were not necessary. He had a whole wall of licenses (as does every Kenyan business, that any government inspector could walk in and ask to see any of a dozen different licenses at any given time), equipment that got stuck at the port with demands for bribes, they did well on tenders that were later canceled and re-advertised, there were phone calls, arrest and harassment of delivery motorcycle riders etc.

The decision to exit was not instant. Soon after he signed on for the franchise, an investor power shift took places at Naked Pizza headquarters that ejected the key partners who he had negotiated with. This left him without crucial mentorship and support that he needed. He got some help in Nairobi – where some food executives such as Kevin Ashley (Java) and Gavin Bell (Kengeles), welcomed him and advised him. But others, especially in the pizza sector were not as welcoming.

As he’d grown the business, he’d scaled back the ambitions he had – his initial plan was for 15 stores, then 10, and then 5. Eventually, they opened three stores in three years. Pizza’s need customers and there are some industry numbers that are true no matter what country you are in the world e.g. one pizza store needs to serve 50,000 households in the area.  Also a new store opening nearby can drop the sales of a pizza restaurant by  30–40% instantly, which they could expect and could build back these numbers over the next few months.

But the more pizza stores that are in an area, the more buyers everyone would have to find. And he really didn’t see the market, that other global brands were now chasing. Nairobi now had Pizza Hut and Domino’s Pizza. The new entrants, inspired by “Africa Rising” statistics (and his CNN and CNBC stories!) were ambitious and opened stores at a rapid clip, and had plans to open many more in locations that did not make apparent sense to him. He own findings did not show that there was a prosperous middle class, ready and able, to buy quality pizza in Nairobi.

So it was time to move on.

Farewell Naked Pizza

Today brought a series of tweets from the fabulous pizza chain, Naked Pizza Kenya that communicated their exit from the pizza business.

  • It’s with sadness that we closed for the final time yesterday & wanted to say a BIG THANKS to our fans, customers, suppliers & Tribe!
  • For 3 years, 6 months, 1 week & 4 days, we had the pleasure of serving over 200,000 pizzas and made more than 100,000 deliveries on time.
  • We’re incredibly touched by the kind words & memories so many of you are sharing about getting Naked*. Asante sana!
  • We’ll miss (most of) you, but all good things must come to an end! 🙂 And for the record, our operations are being taken over by Pizza Hut.

Ragin Cajun at Naked Pizza Kenya

This was bit of a shock, as Naked Pizza was one of my favorites pizza places in Nairobi. They had fresh pizza in which you could taste all the real the ingredients and this was backed by friendly staff and efficient service They employed a super delivery model that promised and delivered pizzas with a target of 15 minutes.

A glance at their witty Twitter account showed a living breathing company in touch with its products, services, and most important, its customers. The tribe (staff) handling it were fluent in pizza, engaging in chats about their pizzas, delivery locations,  ingredients (pineapples from Thika), and health aspects (gluten & fat content, and suitability for people with diabetes). They also celebrated high-profile guests, deliveries to customer offices, and their vendors (kopokopo, safaricom etc.)

  • We don’t deliver to Gigiri – unless you work at the UN or US Embassy! We just can’t get to the rest of it in 15 minutes ( Jul 17, 2013
  • Today we start delivering to State House & Arboretum (in addition to the other areas we get people Naked*)! cc: @sunnysunwords (*Pizza) Aug 23, 2013

They also tweeted their challenges like when police arrested their delivery bike riders, when their generator or phones lines failed, or when armed county health officers raided their restaurant a few weeks after they opened.

But clearly, they had challenges, starting with their location. They had just one location in there first,  horribly situated in an office block with no parking, and far from any other mall. I’d often park at Sarit Center, have errands and meetings, then walk to Fedha Plaza, about 1/2 Km away as the building had no parking. They did well with the site and they later opened a restaurant at  Mombasa Road to serve the other side of town. While right from the start, they had demand from customers, near and far – with requests for pizzas from as far as Kiambu, and (the state of) Rongai, they never got to reach them. If a location did not fit their 15-minute radius, they turned down orders.

They also did not have the discounted or free pizzas that many Nairobians demand and which other chains do on some days (Terrific Tuesday, Pizza Friday), or evenings (happy hour).

When they raised their prices last October, I emailed Naked Pizza and Ritesh Doshi wrote back with some interesting insights about the evolving pizza market in Nairobi, one which he said bigger brands would survive. More on that later ..


JW Marriott to open hotel in Nairobi with AVIC

EDIT August 16, 2018; On his Facebook page, Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko announced that construction work of the AVIC building had been stopped, and Chinese and Kenyan contractors had been arrested for encroaching on a public road.

March 24, 2016: Today, Marriott International and AVIC International signed a partnership agreement which will see Marriott operate a 365-room, 5-star J.W Marriott luxury hotel for AVIC in their Africa headquarters and office complex, in Westlands Nairobi.

AVIC representatives said the company had been in Kenya for the 20 years, engaging in four areas; aviation (built the new JKIA airport terminal, and supplied Y12 aircraft), education (equipment and training for NYS projects), real estate (in which they hope to create 15,000 jobs), and CSR (sponsoring Kenyans to get educated in China). AVIC is a China state-owned company with 60 global offices.

Avic Marriott Nairobi signing

Avic Marriott Nairobi signing

A VP from Marriott said that while they have 110 properties (with 13,000 rooms) in Africa, this was the first J.W Marriott in East Africa and they planned to expand in 5 more countries by 2020 including Rwanda and Zambia. Also that they have 19 global brands, and may open under a different chain in Mombasa, Kenya). He said they have many Kenyans managing and working at their properties in the Middle East, and who were ready to come back home to work. He said that they choose owners and investors carefully to partner with, in China and Africa.

Nairobi County Governor Evans Kidero, who was hailed as a supporter of the project, said that the $400 million AVIC complex with JW Marriott hotel represents 6% of Nairobi’s annual new building space and 8% of the annual build cost. He also said that with 5,000 hotel beds, the city is strained when hosting large summits like the upcoming UNCTAD and TICAD 6, which will both be in Nairobi later in 2016.

Construction of the AVIC complex started in August 2015. It will have 6 towers, with the tallest being 42 storeys. Building works are ongoing, next to the Villa Rosa Kempinski Hotel that has established itself over the last two years and who challenged the construction of the AVIC complex.

IBM Research targets Nairobi Drivers and Telephone Farmers

At the IBM Research Africa Lab in Nairobi today, there was a briefing before a US Trade delegation on the upcoming visit by US President Obama.

Kamal Bhattacharya, the Vice president – IBM research Africa, said the Lab is IBM’s only commercial research lab on the African continent (opened in 2013), and only the 12th research lab (in 70 years). Research has been a part of almost every technology leap and they have 50 researchers in Nairobi (half of who are women), some from diaspora, and some from local top schools, who now make Kenya their home. In two years between 100 and 150 students have passed through the Lab and they plan to create a leadership academy that will have a masters online course in partnership with  Georgia Tech for the top students.

The Lab currently focuses on financial inclusion, energy, water & agriculture, healthcare, and education. Kamal said the biggest opportunity in Africa is around data, and there’s little insight into how things work (or don’t!) because not enough data is collected. There are 15 million farmers in Kenya and still not much is known about their daily work and the challenges they face, so IBM is building tech that can measure these things and engage them with urban entrepreneurs and connect them to market opportunities.

IBMResearchAf Aisha

Nairobi traffic congestion visualization

There were some side demonstrations of some projects that IBM Research teams are working on.

The first was on traffic mobility.  Nairobi loses a colossal amount in traffic per day and an IBM study found it the 4th most-stressful city for drivers (after Mexico City, Shenzhen and Beijing). The team is doing research to sense how drivers react and vehicles behave as they negotiate typical obstacles on a Nairobi street such as potholes, and bumps of varying sizes.

Also, the Nairobi City County Government is working with IBM Research Africa to improve the efficiency of their solid waste collection fleet. Some trucks were fitted with smart devices and officials are able to monitor, in real-time, speed, location, fuel consumption etc. Since the partnership started, the government has gone from collecting 800 tons to 1,400 tons of solid waste a day and they have learn a lot more about their vehicle operation, traffic patterns, and the state of the roads.

IBMResearchAf Kala

EZ-farm demo

Another research project was on Ez-Farm water management for agriculture. Many of today’s farmers are people, called telephone farmerswho are motivated, moneyed, and keen people (like bank managers or teachers) who want to invest and succeed in agriculture, but who reside in cities (not on their farms) and need better reports on inputs & operations – and water usage is one of the most important elements in a farms’ success.

The Lab is running a pilot program with several farmers (there’s a long list of people want to sign up with IBM). Ultimately, when there’s a poor harvest or crops failure at a farm, or other challenges (brown stains on tomato which indicate stress during production), many farmers are not sure if it is due to water, soil, fertilizer, disease or other cause. Some of the sensors they are using on the test farms  are water tank sensors and soil moisture sensors. Later on, they plan to link with Kenya’s Meteorological Service to build in rainfall patterns and predictions into an eventual app.

Asst Sec Kumar at IBMResearchAf

Asst Sec Kumar

The IBM Research demos were done for the delegation led by Assistant Secretary Arun Kumar, that has been to Mozambique, South Africa, and now Kenya. On the upcoming Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES), they couldn’t give much detail, but that it’s going to be big. The genesis of having the GES in Africa actually comes from President Obama’s 2009 speech in Cairo (which may have also triggered other events).

That led to a shifting in the aid to trade paradigm and a push for more regional trade/intra-Africa, and Kenya is leader in the East African Community. The US President will lead a 1,200 strong delegation with the Secretary of Commerce and entrepreneurs, and business leaders in education, government etc.

Kumar said that systems and analytics being developed at IBM Research to drive around potholes will also have uses in many other cities, beyond Nairobi.