Through Vision 2030, Kenya is looking to boost its economic development and position itself as a regional hub in all manner of sectors. Yet some Kenyan firms have already become major players with pan-African reputations. Tom Jackson looks at the six biggest firms the country has to offer.
Founded in 1977 after the ungainly collapse of the East African Community (EAC ) – which is only now looking to reinvent itself – Kenya Airways has established itself as one of the biggest national carriers in Africa. CEO Titus Naikuni is overseeing an ongoing expansion, with the airline commonly known as the “Pride of Africa” now flying to more than 100 destinations worldwide and earning an international reputation. The company listed over one billion new shares on the Nairobi Securities Exchange in April and plans to launch a new, low-cost domestic airline in the future. It also plans to grow its fleet from 34 to 119 by 2021. KLM is the largest shareholder, with 26 percent, while the Kenyan government retains 23 percent in the public-private partnership.
The dominant mobile phone and communications provider in Kenya, with over 18 million subscribers, Safaricom hit worldwide attention with the launch of its innovative M-Pesa mobile money transfer service in 2007. This has helped further establish the company as the biggest not only in Kenya but in the whole East and Central Africa region. Though other providers, such as Airtel and Orange, has tried undercutting Bob Collymore’s telecoms giant, the success of M-Pesa and a reputation for reliability have kept Safaricom ahead of the competition, though their market share has been slightly eaten into. The company has over 20,000 agent outlets across the country. UK teleco Vodafone owns 40 per cent of Safaricom, with the remaining 60 per cent owned by individual and corporate investors.
Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB)
Just as Safaricom is the telco of choice in Kenya, KCB has established itself as the primary player in the banking and finance sector. Under CEO Martin Otieno, KCB has assets of over $2.65 billion and over 170 branches in Kenya alone. KCB lists its shares on stock exchanges in Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania, though with 26 per cent of shares the government of Kenya remains the primary shareholder.
Nation Media Group
The undisputed leader in the media sector in East and Central Africa, with region-defining products such as the Kenyan Nation and Business Daily newspapers, Uganda’s Monitor, the East African, TV station NTV and radio stations Easy and Q. Nation Media Group is a project of the Aga Khan, who is believed to be the majority shareholder.
East African Breweries
Founded back in 1922, East African Breweries has become one of the biggest companies in Kenya and indeed the whole of East Africa. The manufacturer of alcoholic beverages, including the nation’s beloved Tusker beer, produces some of the biggest beer and wine brands in Kenya and features prominently in every Kenyan bar. UK firm Diageo is the biggest shareholder with 42.82 per cent, while Guinness and Barclays also have shares.
Another indigenous Kenyan bank, Equity started as a building society in 1984. Today its assets total $1.7 billion and it has over six million customers, establishing CEO James Mwangi as one of the richest bankers in the country. This success has largely been based on a policy of targeting low income earners in Kenya. The bank provides customers in this income bracket with cheap loans and mortgages, enabling poorer people easier access to credit. This policy has won the bank awards both locally and internationally. It was named best performing company in Africa in 2009 and voted best bank in Kenya by Euromoney in 2008. Again the primary shareholders are foreign-based, in this case the British American Investment Company with 14.75 percent, though current CEO Mwangi has 7.32 percent.