Carpenters and bakers were once listed on NSE

Nairobi securities Exchange (NSE) trading floor. Photo: Beverlyne Musikli

You wouldn’t believe that the Nairobi Securities Exchange once boasted of a bakery, a furniture dealer, a dry cleaner, a sack concern, a timber firm, a milling entity and a road construction company trading their shares there.

It might be inconceivable to fathom it now, but Elliot’s Bakery, whose bread once fed the Indian coolies in 1903 as they built the Uganda Railway over 100 years ago, was once listed at the bourse.

In fact, Elliot’s, the first bread brand in Kenya, also fed soldiers and carrier corps fighting both World Wars and has survived government regulations to date.

Timsales, the saw milling firm co-owned by among others the Rai family, whose flagship brand is Raiply and recently Menengai Oil, was also listed at the NSE alongside gunia and carton maker, East African Packaging Ltd.

Then there was Pearl Dry Cleaners and City Brewery, which manufactured the defunct City Lager beer. Safaricom, now the largest company by market capitalisation, was not even a rumour when Kenya National Mills, East African Road Services Ltd and Theta Group, a tea factory, traded their shares at NSE.

Reasons for delisting ranged from being put under receivership (African Tours and Hotels Ltd in 1998) and later rebranded to Kenya Safari Lodges. Being bought over (Unilever, Access Kenya and CMC Holdings) and falling below trading requirements (furniture dealer Hutchings Beamer). Others had compliance and regulatory issues. Of interest were companies that exited after the collapse of the East African Community like East African Roads Service.

Importation of gunny sacks saw the gradual delisting of East African Bag and Cordage Ltd. These exits have seen the number of firms shrink to 50 down from 72 in the 1970s.

Other companies did not exit, but changed names. Like Firestone East Africa (1969 Ltd) which became Sameer Africa which in 2004 made history by earning the largest profit in the shortest time in Kenya’s business history.

Sameer Africa co-owned telco Kencell with French concern Vivendi, who were exiting the Kenyan market.

But Sameer held the pre-emptive rights in case Vivendi wanted to sell. Vivendi favoured South Africa’s MTN to buy their 60 per cent stake. But Naushad Merali, head of Sameer, named after his son, exercised his pre-emptive rights by buying the 60 per cent stake for Sh18 billion in one room and walking across the corridor in another room where Mo Ibrahim was waiting to buy what he later renamed Celtel for Sh20 billion! In just two hours, Merali made Sh2 billion more, than most of us will make in several lifetimes!

Never mind, he still retained the 40 per cent stake. He sold half of it to Zain Africa in 2008 before offloading his entire interest to Bharti Airtel in 2010.

Did you know that Kenyans once framed share certificates and hanged them on the walls of their living rooms alongside family photos?