Will Two Rivers Survive?


Well, of course it will. What we don’t know yet is whether it will thrive.

More than four months after its Valentine’s Day opening,  I finally deigned to venture down the first time. A friend and I went on a Sunday night.

There was not too much business, but I do remember Nove Coffee was packed. There was a decent crowd  around CK Square (haha!), but they were attracted by the football on the large screen, and below, the fountain lights.

I decided to hold off on an opinion and returned later, this time alone.

It happened to be Idd that night.  You knew right from the main entrance, with the surging throng of excitable Somali boys. For Idd, Two Rivers was the destination,  and the place was heaving.

At the entrance were these two Nissan matatus these young men had rented which couldn’t get any further, because security. Inside was a total bedlam, with one halal restaurant doing a roaring trade by the water. The escalators also got a thorough structural test, with all the children climbing, stamping, hiking up and down.

But what about business on a typical, non-Idd day?  What will happen when the new sheen wears off ? A couple of things.

Right off the bat, a couple of stores showed promise, including LC Waikiki, the Turkish clothing company, Carrefour and Nove Coffee. They did a brisk trade, and I particularly loved Carrefour’s fish selection, including octopus, squid and salmon from Norway. Great stuff.

Anyone who manages to sell both halal meat and pork in the same shop understands what business is about; catering to your customers and giving them choices, not forcing them to live the way you want.

Supermarkets have caught on to this, but restaurants are failing. Going sneaky halal behind your customers’ backs is not giving choice, but dictating. If halal customers are that many, then it’s totally worth your while to set up a separate halal kitchen.  Pizza Inn and Debonairs, I’m looking at you. But I digress.

Some stores weren’t doing too well. Chandarana Food Plus, which can also be found at Rosslyn, was a bit emptier than Carrefour,with some empty shelves and it’s difficult to see how they won’t struggle. They have a good booze section, but they have to compete with Liquor Barrels.

So there are these big name stores that will attract traffic from elsewhere, but then also smaller retailers, who will struggle. I spoke to a retailer with a stall who told me businesses was “alright”, but that their other locations, such Westlands, were more profitable.

The problem at the moment is that Two Rivers has no fixed urban population that depends on it. Before you get there, you must have passed, and passed up, both Village Market and Rosslyn Riviera, which are more immediately accessible to Rosslyn, Runda and Gigiri. Bars, like the Btzek Lounge, which was practically empty when I went will struggle without those resident customers. Banks will survive, since they have customers already.

Then there are threats from neighbours.  Rosslyn Riviera has a screaming Java sign, and will be particularly difficult to ignore. But we know an Artcaffe is coming to Two Rivers so we will watch and wait. Also, with the exception of Carrefour, there is very little signage visible from the road that screams brands people know. The dark cladding  on the outside is boring to look at.

Another reason to worry is that Two Rivers is unfriendly to foot traffic in the extreme, unlike other malls.  There is no proper footpath that acknowledges the pedestrian as a customer, more like “We know you want to come, but we’re cool if you don’t”.  Javs disgorge customers at Village Market and it’s a shorter walk to the shops.

There is just something awkward about a person who arrived on foot entering through an underground parking lot, though that won’t bug most people.

Quite a few stores that remain unopened (with the larger-than-life CK smiling at you), and time will tell with these. The launch of BlackUp is a good sign.

Ultimately, the place needs a captive market, some residents. So we’ll have to wait for Two Rivers Apartments to really see.




The Treasure

Follow  the ‘Countdown to 50’ Campaign!


Every single week of the 50 weeks between January 2013 and the 50th Anniversary of Kenya’s Independence on the 12th of December 2013 we are going to highlight one of the 50 Treasures of Kenya with stunning pictures, practical travel information and personal impressions.

This week we visit  Ukambani: The Mysterious Marvel

Kamba Land or Ukambani is divided in to three administrative county regions namely, Machakos, Makueni and Kitui counties, stretching east of Nairobi along the Mombasa-Nairobi highway towards Tsavo National park and North East to Embu.  It is widely perceived as a region regularly haunted by long drought seasons. Far from this notion, there are green and fertile stretches which make up for a wonderful destination outside Nairobi. Machakos for example, which was actually Kenya’s first inland capital, is surrounded by green hills. The Makongo Valley…

View original post 5,520 more words

Nairobi Westgate Mall Terror Attack, And The Folly Of ‘Otherness’ – What Al-Shabaab Revealed About Us



USE -westgate-shopping-mall_kenya2_mainAROUND noon on Saturday September 21, a group of terrorists believed to number 10 to 18 stormed the Westgate Mall in western Nairobi.

By the third day, 69 had been killed during the attack, or died later in hospital. Another 175 had been injured. Today the crisis entered its fourth day. In the evening a downcast President Uhuru Kenyatta, came on TV to give heartbreaking news. The crisis had come to an end, but the three floors of the mall had collapsed from explosions, and the terrorists and an unknown number of people were trapped in the rubble.

Amidst the tragedy, we are about to forget that the first day of the crisis offered quite troubling insights about how we the media view the world.

Some Kenyan journalists, especially TV presenters, inundated their audiences with references to Westgate mall being popular with “wealthy Kenyans, expatriates and diplomats”. It was also…

View original post 896 more words

Vehicle design will be key to matatu survival


The teachers strike has entered its third week.  KUPPET have taken their winnings and ran, leaving KNUT in the trenches. Civil servants meanwhile have announced their intention to give the government a strike notice.

A search for the keyword “teacher” on the government’s Vision 2030 website turns up 15 results. Clearly, however much grief teachers cause the government, they matter.  Another search on the same website, for the term “bus” finds 4 results, while a search for “matatu”, finds nothing.  Matatus unlike buses, have no place in the developed, resurgent, Kenya of the future, if that document is to be believed. It should worry the matatu industry immensely that policymakers can see a Kenya beyond them.

Let’s get the operators out of the way first. If the bribes police are demanding keep getting bigger, at some point it will be more affordable to repair whatever it is that the police claim to stop matatus for. Matatu crews should also cease dangerous habits like refuelling with the engine running and causing death  by throwing passengers out of moving vehicles, because these exhaust whatever goodwill the public has towards them. In addition to boycotts, it may help for the Matau Welfare Association to create a legal defence fund to discourage petty arrests and reduce the chances of police succeeding with frivolous charges.

Matatus in their current form create as many problems as they solve. Yes, they provide employment, both direct and indirect, in a country where half the labour force cannot find a job. But they do an inefficient job of providing transportation, mainly due to the perception of public transit as a for-profit venture, and how matatus are manufactured and operated. Complaints have been coming  including this one by Magesha Ngwiri. As an aside, If you are interested in the matatu sector, you absolutely have to read Wambururu’s Blog, which is written by a matatu driver.

This country, particularly its larger cities, will need to decide whether the role of buses and matatus is to provide transportation efficiently to the greatest number of people, or to create profit while moving people as an afterthought, because running a proper, responsive public transit service for profit is very difficult indeed.

With the exception of very dense cities like Tokyo and Hong Kong that have well developed rail operations, most public transit authorities either break even or work with a  subsidy from government. The Tube in London and the MTA in New York do not generate profits. Not even the crowded Moscow Metro generates a profit solely from farebox receipts.

Although the transportation authority may not make a profit, connecting millions of workers to jobs and leisure, and reducing the effect of distance on business generates immense economic activity on a regional or even national scale depending on the city. Many local authorities are therefore happy to subsidize transit operations.

Seen in this light, there was nothing much wrong with Kenya Bus even if it did not generate stellar profits. It did what it was supposed to do very well indeed. For details there is a great page on the Kenya Bus website which tells of its decline. A regular, orderly, bus service that carried large numbers of sitting and standing passengers was replaced by inconsistency in fares and timing and varying routes by the hour depending on traffic jam intensity.

Then there is manufacturing. In an accident, injuries can result from sharp edges that should be rounded, protruding pieces of metal that should be made flush, lack of padding and proximity of seating to the door. As matatus grow from 21-seater to 50-seater and beyond, carrying more weight, the wheels they run on remain the same size.

Matatus as they are designed in Kenya reward competitive, or bad, driving over efficiency in carriage. A high ground clearance allows matatus to climb onto the sidewalk and overlap with ease.  The thin, manoeuvrable body able to weave in and out of traffic corresponds to a constricted aisle between seats that limits standing and restricts revenues. Not allowing standing passengers means that matatus never carry large enough numbers to benefit from peak hours. The Michuki Rules, which work on a prudent assumption that buses and matatus will always be dangerously driven, mean that this source of revenue is foreclosed, at least legally.

Contrast this with a public transit bus or train where standing at rush hour effectively doubles the passengers, and therefore the revenues. In such circumstances, the overlapping that a matatu would do in order to squeeze in an extra rush hour trip is just not worth it.

The companies involved in building these matatu bodies, like Banbros, Dodi Autotech , KVM and others, it should be understood, can make better vehicles; many are also in the business of assembling luxury safari vehicles, and buses for companies, schools and government.  Further, the recent decision by Toyota Kenya to appoint Busmark from South Africa to build its HINO bus bodies suggests that foreign competitors may have lessons for our local vehicle manufacturers who have long sold a product aimed at commuters without choices.

To stay in business long term, even before making profits , the matatu industry, both operators and vehicle builders, should be designing vehicles that can carry more commuters in dignity, and running professional operations that are safe and sensitive to development goals in areas such as clean air and accessibility. These new bus designs may not be as effective in a traffic jam as those in service today, but they will give private commuter businesses and locally built buses a fighting chance. The alternative is to lose vehicle orders to foreign companies and passengers to public train and bus services that deliver what people want.