In recent years, East Africa has become an attractive investment destination. The region’s investment status has obviously been boosted by good business environment fuelled by economic reforms as well as political stability of member states. The formation of the East African Community (EAC), the regional block made up of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi is an added feather to this as it brings in a combined 150 million population, vast resources and potential that has captivated foreign investors.

While individual countries like Kenya have made great strides in mobile money transfer, banking, the financial sector as well as attracting major global investment from firms like Google, who set up a base in its capital Nairobi, other East African states have also proved to be alluring to investors.  Rwanda for instance, has continuously undertaken key reforms as evidenced by its impressive rankings by the World Bank’s annual Doing Business Report, changing the fortunes of the small nation whose image was marred by the 1994 genocide.

Last year, the EAC region grew by more than five per cent making it one of the fastest growing regions globally. The expected entry of oil rich South Sudan, which has vast unexploited resources into the EAC mix will only emphasizes the region’s market potential. Coupled with widespread infrastructural development involving construction, upgrading and modernization of roads, ports, laying of undersea fibre optic cables and rail networks linking EAC countries, they stand as key pillars that would spur economic returns for investors. The ports of Mombasa and Dar-es saleem and the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Kenya, are also major links for the region to the outside world.

Trade reforms are now under way to harmonise the legal frameworks to ensure seamless cross border trade between the five countries. This includes removal of non-tariff barriers, allowing duty-free regional trade and harmonizing tax regimes. The growing pool of highly educated information technology savvy, multi-skilled, English-speaking youthful population is also a big plus for the region.

The proposed EAC single currency cross listing of blue chip firms in regional securities market and local banks expanding their presence across the region as well as wide penetration of access to mobile phones and use of mobile money transfer also attests to the regions rich financial services and communication linkages.

The EAC has also forged partnership with the Common Markets for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) facilitating greater market integration. In infrastructure, the trading blocs have joined the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) to incorporate the horn of Africa region in the development of the US$1 trillion Tripartite Free Trade Area (FTA) across 27 member states. This will help in breaking trade barriers in nearly half of the continent opening access to a strong 600 million population.

EAC countries are also implementing individual 20 to 30 years economic blue prints that seek to propel individual states to industrialized middleincome status. This has opened doors for immense opportunities in various sectors like energy, infrastructure, mining, agriculture and technology which will play a central role in transforming these economies making the region the San Tropez of the emerging African market (maybe West Africa can borrow a leave or two from that).

In this special feature, the top eight sectors bustling with opportunities and the major players within them will be explored:


Manufacturing is one of the most crucial sectors for each of the Eastern Africa states. Other than income generation, the sector is a leading employer in the region creating jobs for both skilled and unskilled labourers.

While the blue bloods of manufacturing in the region, such as Unilever, Sara Lee and Procter & Gamble East Africa, are mostly subsidiaries of multinational corporations’ local firms have also made a mark of their own: Kenya’s Bidco Oil Refineries, which has presence in the region, manufactures processed food items and soap. Other indigenous manufacturing bumble bees include:  SULFO Rwanda Industries, Mabati Rolling Mills Ltd, Interconsumer Products Limited a Kenyan manufacturer of beauty products.

Kenya’s billionaires Chris Kirubi and Dr. Manu Chandaria have made part of their fortunes from the manufacturing industry.

Dr. Chandaria through Comcraft Group of Companies, a multi-billion dollar conglomerate, runs several manufacturing firms involved in metal and metal works such as Mabati Rolling Mills Ltd (MRM) in Kenya, Uganda Baati Ltd, and Aluminium Africa Ltd in Tanzania among many others.  Kirubi partly owns Haco Tiger Brands, which manufactures fast moving consumer goods such as personal and household care products.

Opportunities in the region’s manufacturing sector also lie in agro-processing, assembly of automotive components and electronics, oil refining, pharmaceuticals, textiles and leather products, plastics, paper, metal and metal products chemicals, steel, lead, cement, small scale consumer goods, vehicle assembling and engineering products.

According to the Bank of Tanzania, the value of manufactured goods in 2010 stood at US$994 million. In Kenya alone there are over 700 established manufacturing firms with about 200 multinational firms from Europe, China, the US, India and Asia that operate across the region.

Foreign investors have shown keen interest in the sector. For instance, Chinese motor vehicle maker Foton Motors Ltd is expected to begin operations by the end of June at its newly established assembly plant in Nairobi, Kenya.  Indian Tata Motors International, through its subsidiary Tata Africa Holdings, is also setting up a vehicle assembly plant in Kenya.

Inflation, low rainfall and unreliable energy have however clouded the sun in the region’s manufacturing potential.


There is not a doubt that the energy sector in East Africa holds a lot of opportunities. The region’s ambition to become industrialized would be an exercise in futility unless a constant and reliable energy source is put in place. At the moment, East Africa is highly dependent on hydroelectric power which has proved to be unreliable due to drought and erratic rainfall leading to power shortages and rationing, which has had an adverse effect on the manufacturing sector.

However, renewable energy stands as a glimmer of hope. The Lake Turkana Wind Power project (LTWP), expected to kick off in June, in the semi-arid northwest part of Kenya, is an ambitious project deemed to be the biggest wind power project in Sub-Saharan Africa. The 40,000 acres wind farm should begin production by December 2013 and be fully operational in 2014.  The US $756 million project will supply 300MW of reliable, low cost wind power to the national grid and is expected to end Kenya’s reliance on hydroelectric power.

Rwanda too is pursuing prospects of wind energy and geothermal power generation in Gisenyi and Karisimbi Volcano and Bugarama areas. The Belgian Development Agency will spend US $74 million to explore Rwanda’s geothermal power potential. The country’s Ministry of Energy announced last year it was targeting 310 MW which would cost US$935 million over a period of seven years.

The country is also rich with methane gas in Lake Kivu on the border between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo believed to have the potential to support a 700MW power plant. New York based power Supply Company ContourGlobal is undertaking extraction of methane gas through its subsidiary KivuWatt project.

Opportunities also lie in funding of energy projects. For example, Kenya’s electricity producer Kenya Electricity Generating Company Limited (KenGen) announced plans early this year to raise US$12 billion which will go towards the construction of six geothermal power plants.

Tanzania last year issued a first provisional license to Wind East Africa Ltd (Wind EA) for investment in wind power in the Singida region with the potential of injecting 100MW in the national grid by 2014.  To finance the project, Wind EA is seeking approximately US$250 million.

Uganda also has potential of wind and solar energy. The country’s energy shortage is set to ease once the Bujagali Hydropower Project, a 250-megawatt project by Bujagali Energy Limited, becomes fully operational by June 2012.

Not to be left behind in the quest for a reliable and constant energy source, Kenya is also prospecting geothermal power in the Rift Valley with 10,000MW potential. It hopes to get half of its electricity from geothermal sources by 2018 and is set to begin drilling at a 585MW project in Olkaria later this year.

There are also opportunities in supplying equipment and appliances for renewable energy like solar and bio gas.


Agriculture is the back bone of East African economies contributing significantly to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) For instance, PricewaterhouseCoopers Kenya (PwC) estimates that the agricultural sector contributes about 30 per cent of Kenya’s GDP and more than 60 per cent of the country’s total export earnings. Agriculture is also the biggest driver of employment with more than 75 percent of population engaged in the sector directly or indirectly.

Coffee is one of the major export earners for countries in East Africa with exports being made to the US, Europe, Japan and South Korea.

In 2011, data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics show that Kenya’s coffee earnings rose to US$200 Million in 2010. According to the Uganda Coffee Development Authority the country earned US$36.2 million from 244,319 bags of coffee exported in February.

Coffee is Burundi’s top foreign exchange earner employing ten percent of its entire population. The country earned US$2.4 million in the month of January 2012 in coffee exports.

Tea, another major foreign earner, brought in approximately Ksh. 109 billion (US $1.3 billion) last year for Kenya which is the world’s largest exporter of black tea. United Kingdom, Egypt, Sudan, Afghanistan Pakistan and China are Kenya’s major markets for tea.  Burundi earned $1.41 million last year from the export of 560,353 kg of tea.

Data from USAID Kenya Horticulture Competitiveness Project (KHCP) show that horticulture which is Kenya’s leading source of foreign exchange brought in US$905.2 million last year in export earnings.  In Rwanda horticulture export earnings for 2011 hit US$3 million.

Key investors in the sector include Uganda’s Madhvani Group of Companies which has several businesses in tea and horticulture, fruit processor Del Monte Kenya Ltd, dairy experts New Kenya Cooperative Creameries, and Brookside Limited, Tanzania Tea Packers Limited,  Afri Tea and Coffee Blenders( Tanzania), Uganda Tea Corporation Limited,  Sasini Tea (Kenya), Unilever Tea Kenya (UTK) Williamson Fine Teas Limited (Kenya), and Farmer’s Choice which specializes in pork,  beef, lamb and processed poultry product.  Indian firm Jay Shree Tea & Industries (JTIL) is in advanced stages of acquiring tea estates in Rwanda and Uganda.

There are existing opportunities in agriculture especially in financing of agricultural projects, value addition of farm produce, machinery and farm equipment and organic farming. With more than half of the regions arable land still unutilized, investors can make huge gains by tackling the major challenge of unreliable rain through the use of irrigation and water harvesting methods among other new farming technologies.


Poor infrastructure has for years stood on the way of development of most countries in East Africa.  Perhaps the biggest project in Kenya and the region is the multi-billion dollar Lamu Port South Sudan Ethiopia Transport Corridor (Lapsset). The U$23bn port and oil refinery project in Kenya’s coast linking Lamu to South Sudan and Ethiopia was launched this year and will be completed in four years.

The biggest beneficiaries of the wave of new infrastructure in the region of course are Chinese firms contracted to construct roads and rail networks across the region. Lately, Chinese investment in the region has been immense. For instance,  one of the major construction projects in Kenya is the 30 km Greater Southern Bypass being undertaken by the China Road and Bridge Company (CRBC) at a cost of approximately Ksh. 17 billion funded in part by the Government of Kenya and a concessional loan by the Chinese Government.  The CRBC has also been contracted for the construction of the Ksh. 8.5 billion 39-km Eastern bypass and the 31-km Northern bypass expected to make Kenya a regional commercial hub.  CRBC will also undertake most of the construction of the Northern Corridor Transport Improvement Project (NCTIP) funded by the World Bank Group’s International Development Agency (IDA) covering road and air transport which will link Kenya to the rest of the region.

In Sudan, Sino Hydro Corporation is undertaking a US$300 million contract to construct a 486 kilometre road. Uganda has also in recent years put efforts to improve its national road network and transit corridors. After all, Uganda’s infrastructure is critical not just to its people but also to neighboring states, Rwanda, Burundi and southern Sudan which are landlocked.

Rwanda’s infrastructure was shattered by the 1994 genocide but the country has since undertaken projects to improve its infrastructure network.  Last year, the Government kicked off the construction of a five kilometres roads in Rubavu town expected to improve trade with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) which will be financed by the European Union.

Whilst CRBC has clinched most of the contracts, some of the other firms active in infrastructure in the region include Chian Wuyi Co Ltd and Shengli Engineering Construction Group Company.

There are more opportunities in the construction, upgrading and modernisation of roads, air, electricity, and rail networks in the region.

Telecommunications /Technology

While mobile technology has brought many gains for East Africans in money transfer, communication and increasing access to the internet, the competition amongst telecommunication operators can only be described as cut-throat.

One of the most vibrant markets is Kenya where one of the operators Safaricom Ltd. revolutionized money transfer with its mobile money transfer service M-Pesa which has since been replicated across the world.  Safaricom has 17.95 million subscribers while its competition Airtel Kenya has 4.17 million, Telkom Orange commands 2.75 million and yuMobile holds 1.63 million subscribers. The four operators are constantly engaging on price wars to grow their market share in the country which has 26.49 million subscribers. Money is big in telecoms as was proved by safaricom in 2009 with its record Ksh. 21 billion pre-tax profits.

In Tanzania, South African owned company Vodacom Tanzania faces off with Zanzibar Telecommunications Corporation (Zantel), Bharti Airtel, MIC Tanzania Limited (Tigo) and fixed line operator Tanzania Telecommunications Company (TTCL) being the major players.

With increased competition in voice, telecoms are shifting focus to data, mobile money, m-commerce and other value add services to attract customers.

In Uganda, six operators namely, Mobile Telecommunications Network (MTN) – a South Africa led consortium, Uganda Telecom Limited (UTL), Orange Telecom Uganda, Airtel Network Uganda, Waridi Telecom and ITelecom run the show in the market which had 14 million mobile phone users as at  June.

South Africa’s MTN Rwandacell and TIGO Rwanda Ltd were the main players in the sector, which is among the fastest growing in Africa, until Bharti Airtel Rwanda broke the duopoly with its launch in March. Rwanda has about 4 million mobile phone subscribers with projections of hitting 6 million subscribers by 2015.

Since 2009, when the first of four undersea fibre optic cables went live in Kenya bringing broadband Internet connectivity  to the region,  communication and business transactions have changed with growth of e-commerce.

Kenya’s ambitious Konza Technology City, a 20-year US$14.5-billion project of what will be become the “Silicon Savannah” is set to create numerous opportunities.  The project to be established on 5,000 acres in Machakos County, 60km from Nairobi, which will comprise of a technology park, university campus, international business district Science Park, and residential properties is bound to open a plethora of opportunities.


The land of the Safari – East Africa has always proven its tourist magnet status.  Thanks to the regions sandy beaches along the Kenyan Coast, favorable weather patterns, game parks that are home to different species of wild animals and birds, rich history, diverse culture and exotic islands like  Tanzania’s Zanzibar and Kenya’s Lamu and Malindi. All these and more have been the major factors ensuring a constant tourist throng to the horn of Africa.

Kenya earned Ksh. 98 billion (US$11 billion) from tourism revenues last year after attracting 1.26 million tourists. In Uganda, the sector, which contributes nearly 26 per cent of the country’s total exports earnings, brought in US$600 million in 2010. By the end of the third quarter of 2011 tourism earnings in Rwanda was estimated to be about US$183 million while in Tanzania, the sector brought in US$1.3 billion in 2010.

Some of the leading investors in the region include The Serena Group of Hotels which has more than 25 establishments and the Sarova Hotels which boasts of eight facilities across the region. Private Safaris (E.A), Somak Safaris and Pollmans Tours & Safaris lead the pack among tour operators.

One of the key opportunities in the tourism industry is accommodation. Business and conference tourism has been growing steadily over the years as more investors set base in East Africa creating more demand for accommodation facilities.

Italian billionaire Flavio Briatore is establishing a five star hotel at the coastal resort of Malindi in Kenya while Richard Branson last year announced he will be opening a luxury safari lodge in the Masai Mara.

Oil and Gas

The announcement of oil discovery in Kenya after exploratory drilling by Anglo-Irish firm Tullow Oil is expected to spark off scramble for oil blocks in the country and the rest of East Africa.  Early this year, NewYork Stock Exchange listed independent oil firm, Camac announced it had acquired a 90 per cent stake in three oil blocks in Kenya.

Also the discovery of oil reserves in the Lake Albert region of Uganda in July 2009 heated up the scramble for Ugandan oil.  Tullow Oil Plc has indicated it will start oil production in Uganda this year. The explorer expects to increase its US$800 million spent so far on oil exploration in Uganda to about US$10 billion in the next ten years. The oil reserves in Uganda could catapult the country to the list of top 50 biggest oil producers in the world.

In neighboring Tanzania, oil and gas explorer Jacka Resources Ltd has shown interest in exploration in Ruhuhu Basin in South West Tanzania and expects to begin work by mid-2012. This cements Tanzania’s potential as a gas and oil exploration hot spot especially following the 2011 discoveries of offshore gas by an Ophir Energy-led Joint Venture. The BG Group and the Ophir Energy venture recently announced it had discovered 55 per cent more gas than earlier estimated.

Even with the many discoveries, there are still more exploration opportunities in the region. Ophir Energy Plc has said it will be drilling three exploratory wells on blocks in Tanzania and Kenya while Uganda is also expected to auction 4 oil blocks next year. Tanzania, which currently has an estimated 10 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, will begin issuing licenses for oil exploration in 16 offshore blocks. Kenya is reviewing its Petroleum Exploration and Production Act, which is expected to promote exploration of petroleum resources.



East Africa has not always been a mining hot spot. However, the tide have  changed the last few years. Other than oil, the region also boasts of other mineral resources like gemstones, gold, coal, iron, diamonds, limestone, flouspar, and natural gas.

In Rwanda, tin, tantalum and tungsten deposits abound. Rutongo Mines Ltd, which is the country’s biggest miner of the tin ore cassiterite, and Wolfram Mining & Processing Ltd, a Kigali-based miner of tungsten are amongst the biggest players.

Base Resources Limited is also a major player, with its US 256 US million investment in extracting titanium deposits in Kwale, along Kenya’s coastline. Cortec Mining Kenya Company 250 million US dollars investment in the sector also makes it a Vassal in the sector.

Goldpat Plc is one of several multinationals that have shown interest in gold deposits in Kenya. The firm which was last year issued a 21-year mining lease is projecting making production of 10,000oz/y and scaling this later to 500,000oz. Other firms pursuing extraction of gold in various areas across Kenya include Red Rock Resources, Linear Metals, Afri-All Company Aviva Mining and Abba Mining.

Also, Canadian-based rare earths miner Pacific Wildcat Resources Corp is expected to begin drilling high grade rare earths deposits in Kiruku Hill in coastal Kenya. Just as the appetite of investors keeps soaring so has their expectation on return on investment.  For instance, Kenya’s cement manufacturer Athi River Mining Limited is projecting a 30 percent sales and profit growth for 2012. The firm is planning to also begin operations in Tanzania by June with expected production of 2,500 tonnes cement per day.


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