Yaya Centre.

The iconic Yaya Centre shopping complex located in Kilimani, Nairobi.

| Pool I Nation Media Group

Biwott family sells iconic Yaya Centre mall to wealthy Kantaria family

What you need to know:

  • The sale price of Yaya, one of Nairobi’s pioneering shopping complexes, is in billions of shillings.
  • The private transaction saw the Kantaria consortium take over both the Yaya Centre shopping mall as well as the high-end Yaya Apartments and Hotel.

The family of the late former powerful Cabinet Minister Nicholas Biwott has sold the iconic Yaya Centre shopping complex in Nairobi to a consortium of investors in a private transaction said to be valued at billions of shillings.

Located in Kilimani, Yaya Centre is one of the oldest premium shopping malls in Kenya, and has for decades been associated with Mr Biwott, the late billionaire politician and businessman who was a close confidant of former President Daniel Moi.

Mr Biwott passed on in July 2017 after a long illness, leaving behind prime property in the country.

The wealthy Rasik Kantaria family is among the new owners of Yaya Centre, which deepens their investment in the hospitality industry.

“Commercial details of the purchase are bound by confidentiality agreements,” the Yaya Centre property manager Edna Fernandes said in response to the Sunday Nation’s queries.

The private transaction saw the Kantaria consortium take over both the Yaya Centre shopping mall as well as the high-end Yaya Apartments and Hotel.

Sources familiar with the transaction as well as publicly available information indicate the Yaya Centre transaction was valued at billions of shillings, even though parties in the deal remained tight-lipped on the amount.

In 1997, the High Court granted H.Z. Engineering and Construction Company, owned by Mr Biwott, ownership of the Yaya Centre after a court battle in which the company sought possession of the shopping complex from the Central Bank of Kenya’s Deposit Protection Fund Board.

The court case, which at the time valued Yaya Centre at Sh3 billion, emanated from the collapse of Trade Bank.

A source familiar with the deal, but who spoke in confidence, told the Sunday Nation: “The transaction was valued not just on the basis of the land but on the worth of the running business which has recorded a high occupancy rate for many years and is therefore priced at a premium, certainly in the billions of shillings.”

Ms Fernandes says Yaya Centre’s occupancy has held constant at about 95 per cent, indicating that its business proposition of proximity to Nairobi’s central business district holds sway over the average economic performance.

The Kenyan shopping malls market has relatively few and far between takeover transactions, which makes it difficult to estimate the comparative value of the buyout.

Yaya Centre is among pioneer shopping complexes in Nairobi, only comparable in longevity and prime location to the Sarit Centre and The Mall in Wetlands.

Its sale marks a significant wealth distribution to the Biwott family heirs, who in 2020 also liquidated the former minister’s shareholding in oil marketing company KenolKobil to French multinational Rubis, in yet another multi-billion-shilling transaction.

The Biwott estate, through Wells Petroleum Holdings Limited, earned Sh8.4 billion from sale of their 24.99 per cent shares in KenolKobil.

The Kantarias, headed by family patriarch Rasik Kantaria, are best known for their ownership of Prime Bank that mostly serves a loyal niche of medium-sized to large enterprises.

The Yaya Centre acquisition, which was executed quietly from 2020 amid the Covid-19 pandemic, deepened their foray into the hospitality business, having also teamed up with three other investor families to open Radisson Blu Arboretum Hotel in February of the same year.

Radisson Blu Arboretum’s location right opposite State House Nairobi gives it the advantage of an added layer of security by the ubiquitous presidential guards for sensitive international clientele, helping it attract business conferences.

The Kantarias also own the Capital Centre mall along Mombasa Road, a middle-class targeted shopping complex that houses more than 60 stores and restaurants including Absa Bank, Artcaffe, Bata, Java and Urban.

They also count the plush West End in Nairobi among their high-end investments.

Outside the capital city, the Kantaria family owns the Leisure Lodge Beach and Golf Resort in Diani, recently renamed the Diamonds Leisure Beach and Golf Resort after signing a management contract with the international Diamonds Resorts brand.

Just as they did in the Radisson Blu Arboretum acquisition in 2020, the Kantaria family teamed up with a group of investors to buy out Yaya Centre from the Biwott family.

They tapped the management skills of Ms Fernades, a former Knight Frank executive who brings to the table experience from managing 13 malls in Kenya in addition to mixed-use developments.

Yaya Centre has been a landmark shopping mall for Kenya’s elite over four decades, maintaining a high occupancy rate, thanks to its close proximity to the Nairobi central business district.

Newer, swankier shopping malls have, however, come up in recent years, including The Hub in Karen, The Junction, Westgate and the Two Rivers Mall within the category of malls with 20,000 square metres and above.

The challenge now is for the Kantaria consortium to preserve the Yaya Centre’s prime positioning in the face of increased competition. The Village Market, also among the older premium malls, has lately invested in an expansion and face lift to expand the offering for its rich customers.

“Yaya Centre is a landmark which has been a popular shopping and hospitality destination for over 40 years, and we’re excited about its future,” says Ms Fernandes.

She adds that Yaya has undertaken renovation of its hotel, which has 70 serviced apartments, to make it stand out among the competition of five-star residences in the market.

“We will be making announcements in due course about our additional plans for Yaya and how they will expand and spur more economic growth,” says Ms Fernandes.

Among the new investors’ headache is the Yaya Centre “West Wing” construction, which has stalled for over three decades following a reported fallout with the contractor.

Ms Fernandes says the new management is “reviewing plans” to make the towers commercially viable.

There is also talk of a new franchise agreement with the global hotel brand, Courtyard by Marriott, but Ms Fernandes also chooses to be guarded on the details.

“No franchise agreement has been signed with Marriott or any other brand yet” she says.