Kenya experienced a particularly turbulent 2017. Two general elections accompanied by pockets of unrest and violence may have caused jitters among some international investors. But there are many in the country who say the changing skyline of its capital, Nairobi, points to a confidence in Kenya and the rest of east Africa.
One of the latest constructions is One Africa Place, an oval-shaped building in the heart of the upmarket Westlands neighbourhood. When completed, its backers say it will deliver 13,000 square metres of grade A office space over 21 floors, plus four basements.
The development manager of One Africa Place is Andrey Lyubimov, development manager at Imaran Group. He says: “We’ve introduced features that have never been seen here before. For example, we’re the first to have multi-level automated hydraulic parking. We’ve implemented the first proper double-glazed efficient façade in the country and the whole building will be based on biometric access control.”
The company broke ground on the project in 2015 and says it is targeting completion in August 2018. “This project shows what can be achieved when we combine local capabilities with international technology and best practice,” says Mr Lyubimov. “We’ve involved a Kenyan developer and a façade consultant from South Africa. The profile comes from Italy. The glass is made by a French company in its factory in India, and then it all gets assembled here by a Dubai-based contractor.”
He adds that it has been easy to achieve sustainability on this project and implement green construction. “Luckily, we don’t have as much of a built environment as in developed countries, so we don’t have to redo many things. It’s much easier to start building proper, sustainable and eco-friendly buildings on a greenfield site,” says Mr Lyubimov.
Mr Lyubimov explains that as this is the first grade A project in east Africa, Imaran Group has had to rely on its in-house expertise. Another challenge has been completing the building within budget. “We were bringing in so many trades that local cost consultants didn’t really know how to cost, so we used our knowledge to estimate the cost impact and then tried really hard to keep it to budget,” says Mr Lyubimov.
He says that, compared with other countries, it has been easy to get the required permissions and permits for the development. “For example, getting planning permission for the same building in Russia would take anywhere between two and three years, but here we got it within several months,” he adds.
Last year’s elections had no real impact on the project, according to Mr Lyubimov. “The elections had a very short-term effect on the economy. Long term, we are very optimistic about the country and the region. It has all the right fundamentals – a high level of democracy and separation of powers, a very hard-working and ambitious population and a diversified economy – so fundamentally, in the long term, there’s very little to concern us," he says.
“We’re very optimistic. Developments such as this send an important message: things are happening in east Africa. We’re open for business and we’re aiming high. We believe Nairobi’s skyline will be unrecognisable in 10 to 15 years time, if not before.”
Mr Lyubimov believes Nairobi is ready for continued construction innovation. “We see east Africa as one of the most optimistic and economically wise regions in the world. Nairobi is the main hub that links the Far East, the Indian sub-continent and the Middle East to Africa and South America and the US.”