Kenya is home to many communities of Asian origin, with Indians being among the most notable group, popularly known as Kenyan Indians and locally referred to as ‘Wahindi’ or ‘Muhindi’ in Swahili.
Since the first group of Indians arrived in Kenya in the 1890s during the pre-independence era, many Indians have continued migrating to Kenya due to a relatively stable political environment and robust economic growth, making it a better place to live and do business.
By 2015, the population of Indians in Kenya was well over 100,000 people, according to World Economic Forum. In 2017, the Kenyan government officially declared Indian communities living in the country as the nation’s 44th tribe.
Wealthy Individuals Transforming Kenya’s Economy
Living in major cities and towns across the country, Kenyans of Indian descent have embraced the entrepreneurial culture, running successful businesses—from startup shops to well-established companies, providing thousands of jobs to Kenyan and revenue to the government.
Although many Kenyans of Indian origin have businesses in specific urban centers, dozens of billionaires have grown their businesses beyond the Kenyan borders, making them household names in Eastern Africa. The businesses not only create thousands of jobs for young Kenyans and Africans at large but also significant revenue for the government through taxes, export duties, and other levies.
With Kenya being among the fastest-growing economies in Africa, India’s businesses have been a lifeline for many households in a country where the rate of unemployment balloons each day due to a few numbers of industries.
Some famous Kenyans of Indian origin who’ve achieved remarkable fete in business include Raval of Devski Group, Manu Chandaria of Comcraft Group, Bhimji Depar Shah of Bidco Africa, Popat of Simba Corporation, Merali family-owned Sameer Africa, and Baloobhai Patel of Transworld Safaris Limited. Below are the most notable business tycoons and their contributions to the Kenyan economy.
Narendra Raval— Devski Group
Narendra Raval EBS, is one of the most successful industrial entrepreneurs whose businesses have contributed significantly to the Kenyan economy and communities. Raval is the founder of Devski Group, a Kenyan conglomerate with an annual revenue of $650 million.
Devski deals in roofing sheets, cement, and steel products, with the company also eyeing the power generation sector with a proposal to develop a 60MW wind farm in Kwale County.
In a live interview with Kenya’s Citizen TV host Jeff Koinange earlier this year, Raval revealed that his group of companies had employed over 11,000 Kenyans, with the number only expected to increase as Devski Group diversifies its line of products by venturing into other businesses.
“We have to pay for 11,000 people. We have to look for money from day one. And we have to pay Kenya Power,” said Raval, adding that his companies pay Ksh.2 billion ($14 million) monthly in salaries and utility bills.
“I’m not working for myself. I’m not working for my family because we already have enough money to sustain this life. But I have to work for 11,000 people. And my dream is to employ at least 50,000 people in Kenya,” Raval said, explaining what motivates him to work harder despite having enough.
“I want to keep on working for the country and remove poverty in my own capacity. And I will continue doing that.”
Besides creating thousands of jobs for Kenyans and expanding the business to neighboring counties, Raval revealed that he gives 50% of his income to charity. Raval is also one of Africa’s leading philanthropists donating millions to help the needy.
In April 2021, when Covid-19 hit the country, the billionaire donated KES 100 million ($70,465) to buy oxygen for covid patients in hospitals. Raval also donated his entire salary to destitute students at Egerton University when President Uhuru Kenyatta appointed him as the Chancellor in 2019.
Manu Chandaria— Comcraft Group
President Ruto shaking hands with a lady standing beside Manu Chandaria
Manu Chandaria, EBS, is Kenyan-born successful business owner and a renowned African philanthropist. Chandaria runs a $2.5-billion Comcraft Group of Companies, a Kenyan-grown conglomerate operating in over 40 countries.
Since its founding, Comcraft has created over 40,000 jobs in 50 countries, with Kenya included and generated revenue for the government.
As an industrial entrepreneur, Chandaria’s businesses in Eastern Africa include Mabati Rolling Mills (MRM), Kalukuworks Limited, and Insteel Limited in Kenya.
The Comcaft Group also operates Uganda Baati Limited, Shumuk Aluminium in Uganda, Metal Products Limited and Aluminium Africa Limited in Tanzania. Combined with other businesses across Africa and Asia, Chandaria’s net worth is estimated to be above $1.7 billion, according to the Wealth & Society 2023 estimates.
As a philanthropist committed to Jainism, Chandaria’s family set up the Chandaria Foundation, a charitable trust in Kenya and 10 other countries where Comcraft Group operates to help the needy. In March 2023, Chandaria Foundation donated KES. 3.9 million in scholarships for needy learners in secondary schools across Kenya.
“The purpose in life is to be useful to others,” Manu Chandaria said during an interview with KTN News host Emannuel Kipkemboi in November 2022.
“I am enjoying my life with purpose. I believe that I need to serve the community, and I’m serving the community,” said Chandaria, urging other billionaires to strive and create impact in everything they do.
Due to his innovative philanthropy, Chandaria received many honors including the Elder of the Burning Spear(EBS) by former president Mwai Kibaki and the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by the late Queen Elizabeth II in 2003. In 2022, he became the first African ever to receive the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy.
Bhimji Depar Shah— Bidco Africa
Former President Uhuru Kenyatta shaking hands with Bhimji Shah
Bhimji Depar Shah is one of the Kenyan billionaires of Indian descent making a significant in Kenyan economy and society as well. Shah established Bidco Industries in 1985, before transforming it over the years to the current Bidco Africa—a leading manufacturer of edible oils in Kenya, with presence in 12 other African countries.
Headquartered in Thika, Nairobi, the company has employed over 25,000 people across its entire value chain spread across 13 countries, earning livelihoods for thousands of Kenyans. Bhimji’s son, Vimal Shah, currently serves as the group’s leader and has an estimated net worth of $750 million.
Besides providing jobs to many Kenyans, Bidco Africa also participates in philanthropic activities across the country, while also generating a significant share of revenue to the government.
Merali family— Sameer Group
The late Naushad Merali, CBS, was a Kenyan-born entrepreneur of Indian descent. He was the chair and founder of Sameer Group, a Nairobi-headquartered conglomerate focusing on information technology, agriculture, finance, construction and property. Merali was the chair of Bharti Airtel’s business operation in Kenya before selling his shares in 2014, and quitting the board.
Sameer Group has over 10,000 employees with its investment in Kenya providing direct and indirect employment to over 30,000 people, according to information published on the company’s profile. Besides creating jobs for Kenyans, his Zarina and Naushad Foundation also donates to needy schools and hospitals.
The author is Daniel Onyango , a freelance journalist with a knack for writing news reports covering a wide range of subjects across industries, including disruptive technology, energy, renewables, sustainability, politics, business, innovations, health, aviation, and IoT. He has worked on long-term projects with Empire Media Group Inc., Magnetic Media, Which-50 Media and is currently a member of the editorial team at Pipeline Technology Journal. As a freelance journalist, he has also written many news articles published in leading news outlet platforms such as the New York Times.