Thursday, July 31, 2008

Celtel / Zain vs. Safaricom

This morning, I received the following sms: "A wonderful world coming your way on August 1st 2008. Stay connected." Then I checked the sender of this stupid message. Sender: 254733100111. Oh, so this must be coming from Celtel. This must have something to do with the launch of their Zain brand.

Also this morning, I received an invitation from Safaricom: "Come Experience Safaricom's Open Day". Saturday August 2nd to Sunday 3rd 2008. Venue: Westlands Car Park (next to Pizza Garden). Time: 10:00am - 5:00 pm, Entry: FREE. It is probably not a coincidence that Safaricom organizes this at the time that Celtel is launching its Zain brand, so competition seems to be heating up again. But Safaricom should have realized that this is actually an Open Week-End rather than an Open Day... A day usually just lasts a day, while a week-end is usually two days. Saturday August 2nd to Sunday 3rd 2008 is in fact a week-end!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Revisioning Kenya

Mark your calendars:
Revisioning Kenya:
An interesting symposium featuring visionaries drawn from Kenya and abroad.
Date: 8th August 2008
Ramoma Art Gallery, Parklands, Nairobi
2-6 pm
KSh 3,500 (including Kwanini book), Concessions: KSh 900

The symposium is one of several exciting activities at this year's Kwani? Litfest (KLF). Apparently, the idea for this symposium was inspired by the famous TED conferences. Slum TV will film the speeches of the symposium, which will be available on the Internet and through established DVD distributors. A Kwanini short story book will also be produced and circulated countrywide. The symposium will close with a sumptuous event where speakers and attendees mingle and network.

A wide variety of brains and skills representing a cross-section of Kenyan society will be participating, mixing young and old, opinion and expertise, radical and innovative ideas. The topics of human rights, gender, social entrepreneurship, citizens activity and good governance will be contained within the discourses.

Invited Speakers:

  • Ambassador Bethuel Kiplagat (Kenya): Africa Peace Forum and a co-convenor of Concerned Citizens for Peace.
  • Dekha Ibrahim Abdi (Kenya): A co-convenor of Concerned Citizens for Peace who was also awarded the alternative peace prize.
  • Kevit Desai (Kenya): Director of Engineering at Centurion Systems, member of Kepsa who organizes a large competion for university inventors each year and tries to find companies to produce the items commercially. His current focus is uses of ICT in rural areas.
  • John Kiarie (Kenya): Former Reddykulas comedian, their social commentary led to “KJ” standing for Dagoretti. Fresh and untainted, he will speak on his Vijana Tugutuke message.
  • Farming Systems Kenya: They work with 20,000 farmers, and assist small-scale farming by harnessing the power of collective bargaining.
  • Irwin Chen: Expert on new media publishing.
  • Reginald Ihejiahi (Nigeria): Managing director and CEO of Fidelity Bank. He will speak of the importance of merging and supporting art and literature and how words can affect a nation’s thinking.
  • Sarah Simons: Seasoned crime investigator, radio presenter will discuss new procedures and techniques.
  • Professor Moses Kizza Musaazi (Uganda): An inventor with practical solutions to African problems. Prof Musaazi was recently advisor to the TV programme Schools Shape Up, where a number of his solutions are viewed in action. He will discuss inventions and their practical applications.
  • Onesmo Ole Moi Yoi (Kenya): World famous bio genetecist and scientist with a simple, but radical way of thinking different.
  • Rafique Keshavjee: Visionary entrusted with creating the Aga Khan University in Arusha and Nairobi on the creation of entrepreneurial spirit and the way to move Kenya towards self-sufficient income generation.
  • George Gachara (Kenya): A young student who set up an sms distress line in the early days of the post-election violence, which received nearly 2000 messages in a week. George’s work led to him advising mediation on youth attitude and issues. He will reflect on the post-election violence.
  • Rob Burnet: Established the Kuona Trust at Kenya’s National Museum in the 1990’s. From 2000-2006 was the Ford Foundation’s program officer for Media, Arts and Culture in Eastern Africa. He now works with Mediae, the producers of the TV series Makutano Junction and a number of other public communications projects.
  • Joyce Nyairo: Program Officer Media, Arts and Culture at the Ford Foundation Office for Eastern Africa, a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Literature, Theatre & Film Studies, Moi University and Literary Editor for the African Writers Series of Heinemann Publishers.
  • Ishmael Beah (Sierra Leone): His memoir, A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, has sold close to a million copies. He is a UNICEF ambassador and is working on a novel.
  • Caroline Mutoko: Kenya’s foremost radio DJ, who is credited with being part of the glue that held the country together in January during the post election conflict.
  • John Sibi-Okumu (Kenya): A member of the Editorial Board and regular columnist for Awaaz Magazine. He has published Role Play - A Journey into the Kenyan Psyche and will launch, Tom Mboya - Master of Mass Management, a book for children at the Kwani Litfest.
  • Tony Mochama: A poet and journalist. A Law graduate who has a collection of short stories coming out soon titled – The ruins down in Africa. He published his collection of poetry, What if I am a literary gangster? in 2007.
  • Judy Kibinge (Kenya): Wrote the screenplay and directed a short film for MNET entitled The Aftermath. Her film, Dangerous Affair, won the overall prize at the Zanzibar Film Festival in 2003. She has recently started a Multimedia Hotshop company called Seven.
UPDATE (11th August 2008): A report of the event is now available here.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The First Kenyan Amazon

Books First has launched its online bookstore, the first e-commerce website by a local bookshop. The website carries all of Books First's titles currently available in their shop (over 7,000 different titles in 20 categories), and customers can conveniently order over the Internet and pay via Safaricom's M-PESA service. Alternatively, payments can be made by cash on delivery, cheques and bank deposits. Books First is offering free delivery within Nairobi's Central Business District (CBD). They also deliver to other places in Kenya at a small fee, and they even do international deliveries! Hopefully, they will also accept credit cards in the near future, as this would be particularly useful for international customers.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

E-Tourism East Africa conference

The E-Tourism East Africa conference will be held in Nairobi from 13 to 17 October 2008, bringing together experts from leading companies such as Expedia. The conference features presentations and demonstrations on how you can do business in a user controlled environment, and work with social networks, blogs and user reviews, and other new developments in travel distribution, online sales and marketing, revenue management and new media.

Twende and TN merge

East African Magazines Distribution (EAMD) has acquired TN (Travel News & Lifestyle). Articles from TN will be merged into Twende as of the September 2008 issue. They claim they will marry the best of the two magazines, without losing the essence of either: "all your favourite travel articles in one amazing package".

But less competition in the local travel magazine sector (in fact Twende&TN will almost have the monopoly in this segment) may prove not te be so ideal for the readers, who will have less choice when buying travel magazines. Let's wait and see, but imagine that the Daily Nation and The Standard newspapers would merge, would readers be happy or not?

Alvaro: non-alcoholic, but not natural either

Earlier this week, there was some controversy around Alvaro, the popular new malt-based non-alcoholic drink currently being test-marketed in Kenya by Diageo and East African Breweries Ltd (EABL) before going worldwide. A Kenyan MP alleged that the drink contained alcohol and was a major cause of students going on the rampage in secondary schools. But the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) was quick to ascertain that Alvaro doesn't contain any alcohol at all.

Alvaro is branding and marketing itself as "the non-alcoholic, natural alternative". Alvaro is targeted at adult consumers aged 24-35 years and comes in two flavours: pear and pineapple. Yes indeed, flavours. And that's where the problem lies, since there is nothing natural about flavours. I had a look at the ingredients, as stated on the bottle: Carbonated Water, Sugar, Malt Compound, Citric Acid, Pineapple Flavour, Phosphoric Acid, Tri Sodium Citrate, Coloured Malt Extract, Potassium Sorbate, Sodium Benzoate, Quillaja Extract. There is a major difference between Pineapple, Pineapple Juice or Pineapple Pulp on the one hand and Pineapple Flavour on the other hand. The former are originating from the pineapple fruit itself, while the latter is just another chemical. So there is nothing natural about Alvaro. Alvaro: unique, maybe - but natural, surely not.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Tembea Kenya

An interesting campaign - dubbed "Tembea Kenya" - to persuade Kenyans to embark on domestic tourism was recently launched by the Domestic Tourism Council of Kenya. The website (don't expect anything fancy or very much up-to-date with all the latest information...) is expected to bridge existing information gaps from various tourism sub-sectors such as hotels, lodges, travel companies and attractions that can appeal to the domestic tourist market. Tembea Kenya ... Starehe Zetu, Ustawi Wetu.

One Planet, One Tribe? Give me a break!

African Pride Hotels has entered the Kenyan market with the launch of a deluxe city hotel, named Tribe, set to open in August 2008. Situated in Gigiri in Nairobi, the hotel is attached to the Village Market shopping and recreation complex. The hotel claims to offer modern facilities and personal services including wireless internet access, a business center and meeting rooms, a wellness spa, individualized travel services and a well-versed concierge. The design is supposed to be hip and chic, with an emphasis on luxury elements. Rooms feature large LCD TVs, high-speed internet connectivity, open-plan bathrooms with high pressure showers, mood lighting and floor to ceiling mirrors.

The tagline for the hotel "One Planet, One Tribe" looks very inappropriate, given their exorbitant room rates (varying from US$320 per night for a Standard Room to US$990 per night for the Presidential Suite). I mean, how many people from how many tribes on this planet can afford to stay in such an expensive room? One Planet, One Tribe? Give me a break!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

EIU Kenya Country Report

The Economist Intelligence Unit now publishes its Country Report on Kenya on a monthly basis (while previously it was only being published quarterly). I just had a chance to have a look at the July 2008 issue and found that this publication provides very interesting reading if you want to familiarize yourself quickly and accurately with the latest business developments, and economic and political trends and performance. It also contains plently of interesting data and very clear charts on a variety of financial indicators.

This report and others can be viewed by subscribing online at

Friday, July 11, 2008

Know Kenya Course

The Kenya Museum Society’s annual Know Kenya Course will take place from October 28 through November 1, 2008.
The course is an information-rich week designed to help participants discover many of Kenya’s hidden treasures. The course consists of 10 morning lectures, tours of the new museum galleries and different museum departments, films, evening lectures and a sports panel. The last day outing will be held at the National Railway Museum. This year’s topics and presenters offer a diverse look at lesser-known and better-known aspects of Kenya, including:
Sacred Sites and Monuments – Mr. Jacob Mhando
Prehistory in Kenya – Dr. Meave Leakey
Challenges of Nationhood and Identity in Kenya – Mr. John Sibi- Okumu
Urban Culture – Ms. Joyce Nyairo
Human Rights/Gender Issues – Ms. Muthoni Nyeke and the Honourable Njoki Ndung’u
The Media – Mr. Salim Lone
Economic Development in Kenya: The Real Issues – Mr. Sunny Bhindra
Elephant Conservation – Ms. Paula Kahumbu
The Baobob Tree – Mr. Rupert Watson
Kenya: A Country in the Making 1880-1940 – Mr. Nigel Pavitt
Birds in Kenya – Mr. Munir Virani
Sports Panel - Moderated by Martin Keino and featuring Mr. Paul Tergat and Ms. Tecla Laroupe.
The films include ‘Queen of the Trees’ – presented by the film makers Victoria and Mark Deebles and ‘Echo of the Elephants: The Last Chapter’ to be introduced by Dr. Cynthia Moss.
The cost for fulltime participants is Ksh 5,000 (including field trip), students Ksh 2,000 (excluding field trip). Single lectures are Ksh 500. Any two lectures are Ksh 800.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

This is Kenya

Mark your calendars: 16-20 July and 23, 24, 26, 27 July

This is Kenya - an original comedy by: Churchill, a Hearstrings Kenya production
Alliance Francaise auditorium, Nairobi - Entry: 500 KShs
Weekdays: 6.30 PM, Week-end: 3 & 6 PM

A rude but mirthful awakening, through the eyes of Nyake, a man who died in 1900. Strangely he wakes up 100 years later and is shocked to see everything from hawking, elections, coalitions, corruption, carjacking, robberies, poverty, etc etc..., all that he could have lived to see and do. In short Nyake says stop hoping, but amid laughter, the moral of the comedy is that there is still a chance to change.

Sacred Mijikenda Kaya Forests inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List

The sacred Mijikenda Kaya Forests were inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List on 8 July 2008. The Mijikenda Kaya Forests consist of 11 separate forest sites spread over some 200 km along the Kenyan coast containing the remains of numerous fortified villages, known as kayas, of the Mijikenda people. The kayas, created as of the 16th century but abandoned by the 1940s, are now regarded as the abodes of ancestors and are revered as sacred sites and, as such, are maintained as by councils of elders. The site is inscribed as bearing unique testimony to a cultural tradition and for its direct link to a living tradition.

Visitors are not allowed into most of the Mijikenda Kaya Forests, but the Kaya Kinondo Ecotourism Project allows it through a guided walk into the forest during which the community shares information on the Kaya and other aspects of the local culture. The community uses a set of rules both to safeguard the Kaya’s sanctity and to protect their culture. For instance, entry into the Kaya is allowed only on certain days, according to a traditional calendar. More information about this interesting project and contact details can be found here.

Shots of Caffeine: Dormans, Java or... Savanna or Artcaffe?

Over the past few years, trendy coffee shops have been mushrooming all over Nairobi, serving home-grown espressos and cappuccinos to a new generation of Kenyans breaking from the tea-drinking traditions.

Until very recently, our main choices were Dormans and Java, both serving very nice coffees. Dormans was founded in 1950 and has become one of Kenya’s leading coffee roasters and exporters. Dormans currently has 11 branches strategically placed around busy places in and around Nairobi and Mombasa. Nairobi Java House on the other hand claims to be home to some of the finest, fresh roasted gourmet coffees in the world, with currently 8 coffee shops in Nairobi.

Sasini recently ventured into the coffee house business with the opening of Savanna Coffee Lounge on Loita Street in Nairobi in November 2007, and a second outlet at the National Museums of Kenya opened towards the end of April 2008. It is expected that two more outlets will be opened before the end of 2008. A new player, Artcaffe (apparently they don't have a website yet), has just entered the market and we are now really spoilt for choice. Other non-chain coffee shops have also come up in Nairobi. Savanna and Artcaffe have now become my favorite coffee shops. Just because they consistently prepare outstanding espressos, while at Dormans and Java the quality of your coffee can vary a lot and depends mainly on the barrista preparing it... And my first prize goes to the Savanna Coffee Lounge at the National Museums of Kenya, because of the lovely balcony terrace overlooking the snake park and the botanical gardens with its variety of tall trees. Anyone with another top coffee shop in Kenya?

For those of you wondering where your shots of caffeine come from and what it takes to deliver them to your table, Kahawa; Kenya's Black Gold; The Story of Kenya Coffee is an excellent book published by Dormans explaining how coffee came to Kenya, how the unique Kenyan varieties were developed and how a washing process second to none was created. Kahawa; Kenya's Black Gold; The Story of Kenya Coffee shows with understandable text and nice photos why Kenyan coffee is so highly valued around the world.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Images of Kenya - Film Screenings

Mark you calendars: Tuesday 9 September 2008 - Thursday 11 September 2008, 6 PM, Goethe-Institut, Nairobi
This is the 7th edition already of Images of Kenya, an annual showcase for documentary films produced in Kenya. It shows films covering a cross section of Kenya’s cultural and tourism potential, held by the Goethe-Institut Nairobi in conjunction with the Department of Film Services in the Ministry of Information and Communications. One day of the screenings is dedicated to the final works of the film classes at the Kenya Institute of Mass Communication (KIMC), displaying the creative talent of young Kenyan filmmakers.

Google Maps for Kenya

Google Maps for Kenya was launched last month. The maps are dynamic and give a good level of detail. Have a look at the city centre of Nairobi for instance:

Try it out now and locate your favorite spot in Kenya in seconds (or minutes if you have a slow connection).

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Kimunya finally quits over controversial hotel sale

Honourable Amos Kimunya, Minister for Finance has stepped aside to facilitate investigation on the issue of the disposal of Grand Regency Hotel.

UPDATE (11 July 2008): John Michuki appointed acting Minister of Finance.

Monday, July 7, 2008


The Financial Times posted an interesting article today entitled "Kenya’s new consumerism". Barney Jopson accurately describes this new consumerism by referring to the goings-on at Nakumatt, one of Kenya's leading supermarket chains. Nakumatts are "stores that stock everything from maize flour to quad bikes". True, I was at Nakumatt Westgate yesterday, and though I didn't need the maize flour nor a quad bike, I was happy to be able to buy a litre of 'Fresh n Juici' freshly squeezed passion juice and a liter of freshly squeezed tropical mix juice (which included tree tomato!). They taste so yummy and make you feel so healthy, so I finished both of them today, although you can keep them refrigerated for at least another two days (this is the pure stuff, no preservatives or other additives). I am already addicted to shopping at Nakumatt just because of these lovely juices...

But Nakumatt has aficionados as well as enemies, as is vividly shown in the FT article:
The company has “transformed consumerism”, says Wambui Mwangi, assistant professor of political science at the University of Toronto, who divides her time between Canada and Kenya. It has taught people new desires and created new rituals, she says, noting how her friends set the dinner table by simply placing a hub-and-spoke cutlery holder bought from Nakumatt in the centre of it.
“Nakumatt is where you go to show you are educated and prosperous and cognisant of larger affairs,” she adds. “It’s an aspirational space that appeals to everyone, especially the people who can’t really afford to shop there.”
Alfred Omenya, an architect, academic and managing director of Eco-Build Africa, disagrees and sees in Nakumatt the creeping segregation of Kenyan society. “The guy who navigates the city on foot would be out of place there. If you have to walk to Nakumatt it’s very uncomfortable. There’s no pedestrian access and you have to pass through all those cars.”
A small band of anti-Nakumattistas has emerged even within the car-owning classes, including Shalini Gidoomal, director of the Kwani literary festival. In spite of the inconvenience often involved, she prefers to shop in the informal sector and says Nakumatt kills off the variety and pleasures of interacting with people in markets and small stores.

What do you think? Is there life without supermarket chains like Nakumatt?

Friday, July 4, 2008

Welcome to Rafiki Kenya

Welcome to the Rafiki Kenya blog! Rafiki is a Swahili word which means Friend. Hence Rafiki Kenya means something like Friend of Kenya. This Rafiki Kenya blog is for sharing news about Kenya and promoting business, tourism, and friendship between Kenyans and the world.