Foreign Billionaires Join Battle for Kenyan Market

Italian billionaire Flavio Briatore (left) with former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi at the Malindi Airport. FILE

Italian billionaire Flavio Briatore (left) with former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi at the Malindi Airport. FILE

  • Englishman Richard Branson, Nigerian Aliko Dangote, Italian Flavio Briatore, Indian Mukesh Ambani and Thai Suparat Chirathivat have made or are planning multi-million-shilling projects in Kenya’s hospitality and commodities markets.
  • The ventures come on the back of increased economic growth in the country that has boosted demand for goods and services.

Five foreign billionaires have made large investments in Kenya this year, underlining the growing confidence in the country by international investors.

Englishman Richard Branson, Nigerian Aliko Dangote, Italian Flavio Briatore, Indian Mukesh Ambani and Thai Suparat Chirathivat have made or are planning multi-million-shilling projects in Kenya’s hospitality and commodities markets.

The ventures come on the back of increased economic growth in the country that has boosted demand for goods and services, especially from existing businesses and the growing middle class.

It is this outlook that has drawn the interest of the billionaire investors seeking growth in high-return frontier economies such as Kenya amid marginal profitability in developed countries.

Mr Dangote, Africa’s richest man, has announced plans to build a $400 million (Sh34 billion) cement factory in Kenya in what would be the biggest foreign investment in recent years. The plant, expected to be set up in limestone-rich Kitui, will have a capacity of about 5,500 tonnes per day.

The Kenyan operation will expand Mr Dangote’s interests in the continent after the businessman dominated his home country’s commodities market, including flour, sugar and cement, maintaining a near-monopoly status.

Mr Dangote was the only foreign billionaire to target the local commodities market, with other wealthy investors showing a greater attraction to the tourism and real estate sector.

Mr Branson recently opened a luxury tented camp in Masai Mara, making a comeback after ending his Virgin Atlantic flights on the Nairobi-London route last year on low business.

Named Mahali Mzuri, Kiswahili for nice place, the luxurious tented camp in Olare Otorogi Conservancy, is one of the latest investments in the local tourism industry. The camp has rate card of Sh50,000 per night, signaling its intention  to cater to wealthy holidaymakers.

Mr Branson teamed up with the Gehlot family — which operates Intex Group of companies in the country— to launch the Mara camp.

Thailand’s second-richest family — the Chirathivats — was recently represented in Kenya by their kin Suparat Chirathivat who announced plans to put up a hotel in the country.

He said the family, with a net worth of $12.3 billion, is already in talks with a Nairobi property developer to manage the planned hotel under their Centara Hotels & Resorts brand.

The company is also looking for a property at the Coast as it eyes to grow its portfolio in the region.

Italian Briatore earlier this year splashed Sh500 million on a luxury resort in Malindi that specifically targets billionaires who will sample activities such as gambling at a casino.

The resort is billed as one of the most luxurious on the continent and has expanded the Italian billionaire’s interest in the local hospitality industry. Mr Briatore also owns the exclusive Lion in the Sun Resort, which is his residence.

Indian tycoon Ambani this year continued with his large real estate projects in Kenya with the start of construction of another multi-million-shilling office block in Nairobi.

The billionaire behind the industrial conglomerate Reliance Industries is constructing a six-storey building on Waiyaki Way, next to the Deloitte office block.

– Business Daily