The Big Takeover – Somalis dominate restaurant ownership in Nairobi

Inside one of the many Somali owned restaurants now dotting Nairobi's CBD

By Ken Wafula in Nairobi

A source at the Kenya Chamber of Commerce and Industry has expressed growing concerns among Kenyans that one community is slowly taking over ownership and the running of many of the high-end restaurants in the CBD, blaming “greedy locals” keen on making quick money.

This writer established that hefty sums of money linked to pirate activities in the Indian Ocean could be the driving force behind the massive Somali ‘buy out” of restaurants with a source claiming some Islamist investors are determined to “drive bars” out of Kenya’s capital city, and not just hotels and restaurants, even bars and other alcohol selling outlets.

Investigations by this writer established that many of the so-called Somali “Investors” buy these businesses in cash to eliminate any paper trail

Somali investors have bought and refurbished restaurants right from the former Uchumi supermarket on Aga Khan Walk to Nation Centre, City hall, National Archives, Jamia Mosque and 20th-Century Cinema plaza, and the once world famous Simmers Bar and Restaurant on Kenyatta avenue, the story is the same that of the Somali restaurant revolution in the city centre.

Investigations by this writer established that many of the so-called Somali “Investors” buy these businesses in cash to eliminate any paper trail; the money, sources say is linked to huge ransoms money paid at sea to Somali pirates.

At record speed, many eating houses in Nairobi’s CBD have become upscale, refurbished into 3-4 star status changing the hospitality industry drastically from what we have always known them to be. The chamber said it was probing claims that some employees in the Somali owned restaurants could neither speak Swahili nor English yet had Kenyan IDs and passports. “This may be a case for immigration and registration of persons to look into,” he said.

The Somalis came in dangling millions of shillings at Kenyan owners most of whom were already battling to cope with tight competition. Even those in downtown Nairobi are not spared either, millions of shillings are further dangled and deals sealed at record speed.

Another source at the Kenya Chamber of Commerce and Industry dismissed claims of “money laundering” from high seas pirated ransom saying the transactions are on a “willing buyer, willing seller” basis. But many Kenyans claim the hotels prefer employing their own in senior positions and pay low salaries for working several hours a day.

Kenyans in the hotel industry have accused the COTU boss Francis Atwoli of doing nothing as “foreigners” take over most of Nairobi eating houses. There are claims that a veteran Somali lawyer in the city is the key frontman for “laundering pirated cash” money is then used to buy and renovate restaurants and other properties all around the CBD.

“Unless something is done these people will soon own the whole country,” a source at the department of immigration who sort anonymity, claimed that even some of Somalia’s ministers in Mogadishu hold Kenyan IDs.

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