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Uber finally comes to Kenya, African expansion to be tested

It was only a matter of time before Uber unleashed its East African chapter.

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The US$40-billion worth taxi company is finally about to show face in Kenya’s Nairobi. After first touching down in Johannesburg, South Africa and then Lagos, Nigeria, the popular Uber is definitely clear about making inroads into Africa’s fast-expanding cities — and the whole world for that matter.

So far, the San Francisco-based hotshot is operating in over 250 cities across the globe. That’s 190 more than it had in 2013. Of course, as most Burn readers will know, this high growth doesn’t come without its fair share of growth pains.

Some of these aches include the vetting process of Uber-related drivers, user privacy infringements, alleged harassment of journalists and the general unwelcoming laws of certain traditional taxi industries. The latter saw recent upsets in Cape Town where over 30 cars were impounded for not abiding by the city’s taxi laws.

The questions now is whether or not Uber’s ride will be smooth going into Nairobi. As nicely demonstrated by mentor and entrepreneur Malaika Judd in a blog post, the Kenyan taxi environment has a unique set of dynamics which will make the roll-out (and traction) a very interesting one to witness going forward.

As apposed to Uber’s universal time-plus-distance price formula, Nairobi taxis rely on zone pricing where traveling within a specific zone has its own fixed price. Judd also points out to the intense traffic within the city which could also complicate Uber’s pricing formula. Then there’s the city’s unique payment demographics.

Read more: Cape Town’s new by-laws challenge Uber operations, 33 cars impounded

Whereas Uber generally relies on automatic credit card payments, Kenyan taxi startups such as Maramoja and the Rocket Internet-backed, EasyTaxi, have all adapted to include the acceptance of cash or M-Pesa. Could we see an M-Pesa integration with Uber in the near future? That would be really interesting.

In a partnership with restaurant discovery platform EatOut, Uber is launching its service during Nairobi Restaurant Week with a promotion running between 22 January and 1 February. Uber’s already has 30 cars registered in the city.

Given these obstacles, Uber’s expansion dreams in Africa will now be dearly tested in Nairobi.

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