Kenya in flux: periods of good and bad weather in constant change

Monopol Colors produces metallic facade paints, industrial paints and corrosion protection systems for the highest demands. They are used worldwide in architecture, construction and industry.

In 2009, the Swiss medium-sized company expanded to Mumbai (India) and founded Monopol Colors India. And it is also thanks to India that the paint and coating manufacturer came to Kenya.

For as early as the 19th century, many Indians – mainly from the north-western Indian state of Gujarat – emigrated to East Africa, where they worked as traders and laborers in the port cities. To this day, they play a significant role in the economy of this region.

Monopol India was soon able to establish its first customer relationships in East Africa and make deliveries to Tanzania and Uganda. It became important for Monopol to be able to secure these business relationships in the long term and to establish a new foothold in the East African market. Consequently, Monopol Colors East Africa Ltd. was founded in Nairobi in 2015.

Africa is always described as a market of the future. It is therefore not surprising that the Chinese are particularly omnipresent on this continent. Unfortunately, European companies have concentrated exclusively on South Africa or countries with oil deposits (Nigeria, Angola, etc.) for far too long instead of looking after other African countries. Even the EU’s charm offensive on the occasion of the summit with the African Union, in early 2022, has regrettably brought little relevant progress in this regard.

“One Kenya – one Nation” was once the slogan of Kenya’s first president. That was in the sixties. But the dream of a united country is still not a reality today. Since independence, Kenya has suffered from ethnic rivalries. Moreover, corruption is omnipresent. In December, for example, it is normal for police officers to want to increase their budget and to check more not only on the roads but also in the shops. And they always find what they are looking for. But this is only a small pocket money that has to be paid, compared to the huge sums of bribe money for infrastructure projects that are distributed to politicians. Kenyans know it and have come to terms with it. Shockingly, it is now only the Chinese companies that finance, build and, more recently, levy important infrastructure projects, such as the recently opened expressway from the airport to the Westlands in Nairobi. As a result, the public debt to GDP ratio is now close to 69% and the ever increasing interest payments mean that the Kenyan state is neither releasing more funds for the local economy nor meeting its payment obligations. Every company feels this every day: orders are postponed or only delivered against credit. Deliveries against credit are dangerous because most of the time the debt is paid only after 180 or even later, namely after 360 days. And sometimes not at all.

Despite all this, Kenya is the strongest economy in East Africa and thus plays a leading role. Therefore, it makes sense for us to be on the ground. Nevertheless, for an SME like ours, this means first and foremost being prepared for anything and not being too optimistic about economic development expectations. If someone says to me today: “In three years I will make a profit in Africa”, I reply with full conviction and my own experience: “Forget it, you will need at least twice as long! You have to fight extremely hard and show perseverance to succeed in a region dominated by tribes, where, moreover, most African states are at enmity with each other. This leads, for example, to the absurd situation that we cannot supply neighbouring countries in Kenya from our local factory because of the sometimes obscure and complicated customs laws, but from India. According to the motto: it’s easier, it’s quicker, it’s cheaper.

Despite all of the above, I am sticking to the Nairobi location. I firmly believe that East Africa can look forward to a prosperous future if the unspeakable corruption can finally be curbed. The most important prerequisites are provided by the people who want to achieve something. And when I say people, I mean women in particular. It is women who take on responsibility, both in the family and at work. Since we have had women in key positions such as sales, quality control and development, Monopol Colors East Africa has consistently developed positively. I am also not surprised that micro-credits granted to women are often the best development aid.

In Africa, fine weather alternates with thunderstorms at a rapid pace. If you are or want to be active in Africa, you have to have staying power and be prepared for all weather conditions. But it is worth it, not only because of the rich culture and beautiful landscapes. It is worth it because of the people who, with their positive attitude to life and their confidence, can give us Europeans new perspectives and hope for the future.

published in the Swiss Export Journal 2/23

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