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East Africa’s top business leaders

In depth
This article is part of the dossier: Challenging the East African Community

By Honoré Banda
Posted on Friday, 8 March 2019 17:10, updated on Friday, 3 May 2019 17:30

Mohammed "MO" Gulamabbas Dewji. Bruno Levy for JA

East Africa has dynamic economies. Here are a few of the business leaders with big ideas for their home markets and the wider region

Mohammed Dewji
Baron on the back foot

A string of troubles have hurt the Tanzanian magnate, who is keeping a lower profile after his kidnapping from Dar es Salaam under mysterious circumstances in October last year. In February, the MeTL chief executive was in the crosshairs of President John Magufuli’s government for not developing his company’s farmland. The government took some land back last year and threatened similar actions in February. Magufuli’s administration has been taking a tough stance on businesses through its anti-­corruption campaign and other policies.

Mohammed Hamid
Pearl picker

With interests in agribusiness and transport, the Sudan-born and Uganda-based businessman has made a big move into tourism. The 20-storey luxury Pearl of Africa Hotel, opened in 2017 at a cost of $320m and managed by the US firm Wyndham Hotels since October 2018, takes pride of place in Hamid’s Aya group of companies. Next on his list of projects is an industrial park.

Tabitha Karanja. Noor Khamis/Reuters

Tabitha Karanja
Bullish beer brewer keen to expand

The chief executive of Kenya’s only locally owned brewery, Keroche Breweries, has her eyes on the region. In November 2018, Karanja announced that the firm is interested in expanding its operations to Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda. Global giant AB InBev announced plans for a $100m plant in Tanzania in March 2018, so the competition is set to be tough.

Ally Edha Awadh
Smooth growth trajectory

Young businessman Awadh’s Lake Oil Group, based in Tanzania, is making moves to become a bigger player in the petrol and lubricants market in East Africa. It agreed a deal in 2017 to take over the retail operations of Kenya’s Hashi Energy and set up a $20m lubricants factory in Dar es Salaam in October 2018.

Tribert Rujugiro Ayabatwa
Up in smoke

With Pan African Tobacco Group, Ayabatwa is one of the few big Rwandan private-sector business leaders to have a strong presence outside of his home country. Pan African, which celebrated 40 years of operations late last year, launched a $20m processing project in Uganda through its Meridian Tobacco subsidiary in 2017. It is also active in Angola, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Patrick Bitature
Roaring opinions

Bitature, owner of Uganda’s Simba Group, may not be winning friends in the Kampala government due to his outspoken positions. He told a conference there in February: “Corruption and weak institutions are killing our economies.” He leads the Private Sector Foundation Uganda and has been encouraging the government to get all major multi­nationals to list on the stock exchange to promote local ownership and make sure profits are not disbursed to other jurisdictions.

Juliana Rotich, Country Cluster Head for BASF East Africa. BASF

Juliana Rotich
At the Kenyan tech forefront

Having co-founded crowdsourcing platform Ushahidi and router company BRCK, Rotich remains focused on innovation. Her day job since May 2018 is as the boss of giant German chemical company BASF’s East Africa office, which is located in Nairobi. The firm focuses its activities there on sectors like agriculture, construction and plastics. But Rotich keeps busy. She was a member of Kenya’s Distributed Ledgers and Artificial Intelligence Task Force last year and serves on the government’s 2030 Vision Delivery Board to help to plan a developmental strategy for the country. Her interests and skills are not limited to tech and science, as she serves on the board of the Standard Group media house since March 2018.

Vimal Shah
Dual-paced developments

Shah is the chairman of top Kenyan fast-moving consumer goods company Bidco Africa, which is trying to convince governments in the East African Community to focus on key business problems like non-tariff barriers (see page 59), the lack of cheap electricity and poor infrastructure. One of Bidco’s main focuses since 2018 has been in improving its logistics supply chains. Elsewhere, Shah is fighting with other investors in the Tatu City development, and legal proceedings have stopped the big urban development project outside of Nairobi from advancing.

James Mwangi
Change-maker with an eye on digitisation

Kenya’s Equity Bank, the country’s largest bank by market value, continues to innovate under Mwangi’s leadership. The bank is embracing agency banking and mobile banking, reporting 108m transactions outside of its branch activity in the first quarter of 2018. Mwangi wants the bank to dive deeper into digitisation. While Mwangi has been vocal in his opposition to Kenya’s cap on interest rates on loans because it depresses lending, the bank recorded an 8.1% rise in profits over the first three quarters of 2018, hitting KSh15.8bn ($158m).

James Mworia
Power player

Under the leadership of chief executive Mworia – who has been in the position for nearly a decade – Kenya’s Centum Investment wants to invest in big infrastructure projects, especially in the power sector. Centum is going ahead with testing of geothermal sites in Naivasha after years of delays, and is shopping around for the finance for a $2bn coal-fired plant due to be built by General Electric in Lamu. Centum turned a healthy profit of $24m in the first half of 2018.

Also in this in Depth:

East African Community: The trade ties that bind

The East Africa region has a long agenda for cooperation in the years ahead, but policymakers are not yet looking at the many concerns of business and ordinary citizens in order to avoid the pitfalls that have hobbled other integration projects

Clare Akamanzi: ‘We have made it easier to do business’

The CEO of Rwanda's Development Board says the government-run agency is a key tool in Kigali’s drive to boost manufacturing and exports in order to reduce the country's import bill

Kagame’s games of chess

Rwanda’s president tried to shake up the African Union. He is now head of the East African Community at a time of heightened tensions in the region

Patrick Njoroge: ‘For every Japan, there is a mistake’

The governor of Kenya’s central bank is wary of state-led drives for economic growth, preferring to nudge the private sector towards better business models

Diane Karusisi: ‘We still have the country to serve’

The CEO of Bank of Kigali, Rwanda’s biggest bank by assets and market share, says the bank has been raising funds to expand at home, eschewing the East African Community-focused plans of some of its regional competitors

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