Chinese wares offer thriving business amid Kenyan construction peak

By Xinhua - Global Times Source:Xinhua-Global Times Published: 2019/9/2 19:33:40

Plastic water pipes, bags of cement, floor and wall tiles, kitchen sinks and wooden doors are some of the items displayed outside shops in Kitengela, a fast-growing suburb south of Kenya's capital Nairobi. Looking at the array of items flaunted in the suburb, one might think the whole area is under construction.    

Yet this is the norm in most suburbs across Nairobi and the east African nation. Such business has become very popular in Kenya, including in rural areas, fanned by a thriving construction sector and readily-imported items from China.    

Imports from China have injected new life into a business that in the past was in the hands of a few individuals.    

The affordable, Chinese-made construction materials have enabled many to join the trade amid a booming real estate sector.     

Taps, hammers, saws, tiles, water pipes, sinks, doors, locks, ceiling boards, nails and electrical materials are some of the popular items sourced from China.    

"This is a good business because the market is there and affordable prices of the Chinese wares make the goods move faster," Edward Mugo, who owns a construction items shop in Kitengela, said in a recent interview.

Mugo sources the items for sale from shops in Nairobi's Industrial Area, where there are several dealers who import them from China.    

"The Chinese items have really revolutionized this industry and brought business in our hands," said Mugo, who has been in the business for four years.    

Initially, most of the items were imported from Europe and India. "But we never had plastic water pipes, for instance. The plastic pipes from China have now taken over the market because they are not only affordable but also long-lasting and are not prone to rust," he said. He sells a five-meter water pipe at 650 shillings ($6.30), around half the cost of steel water pipes of the same length.    

Besides the pipes, he identifies plastic taps as another product from China that has addressed the realities of local Kenyan life.    

"Residents in this area and many others in Nairobi use saline water from boreholes which corrodes metal taps over time. Plastic taps, gate valves and other related items from China are therefore very popular with home owners," he said.    

One needs between $3,500 and $5,000 to start a construction items shop, noted Mugo, but he also acknowledged competition is tough in the sector.    

"With so many shops around, you really need to stand out by selling diversified items to attract customers," he said.    

Joseph Kitilu, who sells only bathroom and kitchen construction wares, noted the affordable, imported items helped him specialize his sales.  

"There are people who have specialized in tiles, others on doors and locks, while [I specialized] on pipes and taps and related items. The business opportunities are huge," he said in phone interview.    

Kenya's construction sector grew by 5.6 percent in the first quarter of this year, a slight decline compared to a growth of 6.6 percent in the corresponding quarter of 2018, according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS).    

However, the value of imported, construction-related materials rose to $122 million in the first three months of this year, up from $70 million in the same quarter of 2018, KNBS data showed.    

Ernest Manuyo, a business management lecturer at the Pioneer Institute in Nairobi, observed that the affordable items from China now drive Kenya's construction sector.


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