PASTURES NEW
Business Traveler|December 2019/January 2020
Nairobi is branching out of the city center and into new industries
JENNI REID

It’s rush hour but nobody’s rushing,” chuckles Godfrey, a Nairobi-based Uber driver, as we sit static at a roundabout on a Wednesday morning, only motorbikes managing to wind their way through. On either side of us, the brightly decorated matatu buses each filled with dozens of commuters certainly aren’t going anywhere fast.

Gridlocked roads are a stereotype that still rings true about the Kenyan capital, although Godfrey insists – perhaps a touch optimistically – that in five years’ time the jams will be a thing of the past. He says that the past halfdecade has seen a big improvement thanks to new roads and bypasses. Out of 17 years as a driver, he’s spent the last one working for Uber and is full of praise for the company.

It’s standard back-of-the-taxi chat, but as such conversations are prone to do, it reveals a lot about the changes this city of 4.5 million people is in the midst of. For one, there’s the rise of ride-hailing. Ubiquitous mobile phones and fast Internet speeds make this a big convenience for many in Nairobi. For foreigners, it negates the need to carry extra cash or haggle prices. Uber has been in the market since 2015, and in 2018 had 216,000 active riders and 6,000 drivers split between the capital and the coastal city of Mombasa.

Alon Lits, Uber’s general manager for sub-Saharan Africa, says the company has found that Kenyan cities are “defined by agility, creativity and adaptability.” It has introduced features such as Uber Chapchap, a lowerpriced option served by a fleet of budget vehicles, and Uber Lite, a simpler version of the app designed to work in low-connectivity areas and on any Android model. It’s competing with local players such as Bebabeba, which was launched last year by an association of drivers, and Little, which is backed by Kenyan telecoms giant Safaricom.

“Then there’s the technology factor. Kenya has its own version of the overused “Silicon” moniker, in this case Silicon Savannah, and national statistics put the ICT sector’s contribution to the economy at $1 billion in 2017. Nairobi’s popularity as a regional base for international firms is well established, with high-rise offices housing world-renowned multinationals such as IBM, Cisco, Oracle, Google and Visa.

The country has long been a leader in mobile payments thanks to the popularity of M-Pesa, a money transfer and microfinancing service run by Safaricom, which is used by tens of millions to pay for everything from cars to morning coffees. Kenyans moved the equivalent of almost half of the country’s GDP through their smartphones last year.

The start-up and SME scene is also vibrant. “Agri-tech” is one notable sub-sector – news site Disrupt Africa says the number of start-ups in the market has increased by 110 percent over the past two years, with apps such as Farmers Pride, M-shamba and Taimba finding innovative ways to connect farmers with agricultural suppliers and use data to improve their yields. Other start-ups attracting international attention include BRCK, which makes solarpowered, waterproof modems and routers; AB3D, which uses waste electronics to build 3D printers; and Twiga, a food delivery app that raised more than $10 million in seed funding last year.

This culture has led to a rise in the number of innovation labs and incubators here, such as i-Hub, FabLab and NaiLab, as well as co-working spaces, some of which look like they’ve come straight out of Brooklyn or San Diego. Their numbers are “growing rapidly,” according to Nyambura Gichohi, who set up office brand Ikigai with her sister Wachuka in 2016. They currently have two venues in the leafy suburbs of Westlands and Lavington, and have had little issue filling more than 100 desks as well as several private higher-end offices in each.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM BUSINESS TRAVELERView All

TESTING 1-2 -3

For now, COVID-19 tests are likely to be part of your travel experience. Here’s your guide to what to look for and where to find it

7 mins read
Business Traveler
June/July 2021

ROI FROM THE ROAD

As business travel resets, maximizing value of each trip is a bigger question than go-or-no-go

6 mins read
Business Traveler
June/July 2021

New World Travel Order

Your voice today can help shape the journeys of the future

3 mins read
Business Traveler
June/July 2021

MIXED MESSAGES

Hybrid meetings are likely here to stay, but are already morphing into something more

6 mins read
Business Traveler
June/July 2021

RETURN TO TRAVEL

Travelers and the industry both ask: Are we there yet?

8 mins read
Business Traveler
June/July 2021

REMOTE POSSIBILITIES

Digital nomads are being inspired to imagine themselves working from – just about everywhere

6 mins read
Business Traveler
June/July 2021

Points of Interest

As post-pandemic travel restarts, your loyalty may be more valuable than ever

4 mins read
Business Traveler
June/July 2021

LEAN MACHINES

The latest laptops combine power and portability, with all of the features you need for work and play both at home or on the move

7 mins read
Business Traveler
June/July 2021

Hospitality Redefined

In a post-pandemic world, the hotel business is learning to speak a different language

8 mins read
Business Traveler
June/July 2021

Grand Hotel, Mackinac Island, MI

BACKGROUND Situated on Michigan’s historic Mackinac Island (pronounced Mackinaw Island), this is perhaps the region’s most iconic hotel drawing devotees season after season since 1887. This resort is a registered National Historic Landmark and member of the Historic Hotels of America. Movie buffs might recognize the hotel from the 1980 film Somewhere in Time.

2 mins read
Business Traveler
June/July 2021
RELATED STORIES

KENYA FINDS DREW HARD TO STOMACH

CATTY Kenya Moore was chewing the fat about Real Housewives of Atlanta castmate Drew Sidora and tweeted, “She needs to pay for a tummy tuck!”

1 min read
Globe
April 19, 2021

UN PASO HACIA ADELANTE EN EL SERVICIO

Desde sus inicios, servir a la humanidad es la misión y el valor central adoptado por la gran comisión de la Iglesia de Dios de la Profecía de Rongai-Tuala, Kenia.

2 mins read
Mensajero Ala Blanca
Sep-Oct 2020

How a Philanthropic Darling Became Political Scandal

A Canadian development charity courted celebrities, enlisted legions of schoolchildren to raise funds, and built a new, commerce-fueled model of philanthropy. Then a Covid relief deal got people asking who was benefiting most

10+ mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
January 11, 2021

2020 schedule, former No. 1 picks

The unveiling of the regular season schedule always is a highly anticipated event, but it came with a little bit of apprehension this year because of the restrictions currently in place because of the coronavirus pandemic.

3 mins read
Dolphin Digest
June/July 2020

Charitable Causes

We want to hear about your charitable efforts. Send your information to Judy at judy@primitivequiltsandprojects.com.

3 mins read
Primitive Quilts and Projects
Winter 2019

How to tackle a Giraffe

The planet’s tallest animal is in far greater danger than people might think. Saving it begins with a daunting act of physical courage.

10+ mins read
The Atlantic
April 2020

From Micro- Credit To Major Debt

Tala and other startups are flooding Kenya with apps offering high-interest loans. Are they empowering the poor or profiting from desperation?

10+ mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
February 17 - 24, 2020

BRIT-BASHING BARACK HATES MALIA FIANCÉ!

Ex-prez incensed over their wedding plans!

2 mins read
Globe
December 9, 2019

How Nike Started a Sneaker Arms Race

Its high-tech running shoe, used to break two marathon records, raises concerns that technology may have trumped ability

5 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
November 18, 2019

7 Child-Friendly Travel Suprises

Looking for a less obvious family destination, but not sure where’s suitable? Read Surpriseson for these luxurious getaway suggestions from Lightfoot Travel that are beautiful, fun, safe and geared up for children.

3 mins read
EL Hong Kong
October-November 2019