The Rai family is without a doubt one of East Africa’s wealthiest families with major business interests spread across the region.
The family owns a successful business empire whose operations include-but not limited to-cement, edible oils and soaps, sawmilling, sugar, horticulture and real estate with presence in East Africa, Malawi, London and India. The family has close ties with the Moi and Kenyatta families.
In this article, WoK looks at multi-billion enterprises owned and controlled by the Rai family across different sectors of the economy.
Where and How it all started
The family’s entrepreneurial presence and large market dominance has been in existence for decades and their fortune’s origins can be traced and credited to the patriarch, Tarlochan Singh Rai, who ventured in agriculture in Kenya where he owned Rai Agricultural Estates which would later be sold in 1969.
Around the same time, Singh Rai had seized the opportunity left behind by the exit of the Belgians in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1963 where he bought vast tea and coffee estates.
This was where the family’s journey to a multi-billion business empire started.
The Rai Group
Rai Group is a close knit family conglomerate that was founded by the Rai Family’s patriarch, Tarlochan Singh Rai alongside his wife.
The group consists of Rai Plywoods (K) Ltd, Rai Produces Ltd, Rai Holdings Ltd, Rai Agriculture Enterprises Ltd, Rai Investments Ltd, Rai Ceramics Ltd, Tulip Properties Ltd, Rai Expo Park Ltd and Tarlochan Singh Rai Limited among others.
Rai Group, Kenya’s second-largest sugar miller, also has a significant real estate market share by owning houses in Kampala, Runda in Nairobi and in Canada.
Inside the Rai Group’s Leadership
- The late Tarlochan Singh Rai: The founder who incorporated Rai Timber into RaiPly with his four sons Jaswant, Jasbir, Sarbjit and Iqbal Rai in 1971. He died on 28th December 2010 at Mumbai in India.
- Sarjit Kaur Rai: Tarlochan wife who owns 25 per cent stake in Lukenya Flowers who once sued her husband over fortunes alongside sons Jasbir, Iqbal and daughter Daljit Kaur Hans
- Jaswant Rai: The chairperson of Rai Group, and Rai Products, who was a majority shareholder of Rai Products and Rai Investments.
- Jasbir Rai: Founded Wood Panels Ltd to market RaiPly products in 1993. Together with Sarjit, they co-own Nile Plywoods Uganda Ltd, a Sh 250 million venture and half of the Polypack Ltd,Kenya, a Sh 350 million business.
- Tejveer Rai and Onkar Rai: The two sons too hold business interests in the multi-billion empire and participants in the Safari Rallies.
Cement production- Rai Cement Limited
Rai Cement Limited is a modern technology cement manufacturing facility situated along the Kericho-Kisumu Road, in Muhoroni, Awasi, Nyanza Province, Kenya.
The company is one of the biggest players in cement in Kenya and boasts providing the best quality cement of all variants in the market.
According to the company’s website, Rai Cement has the vision to support the construction industry with an aim to bridge the demand-supply gap within the shortest time frame whilst ensuring high quality standards and ethical business practices.
Rai cement started commercial production in January 2017 and their main clients are masons, engineers, architects, and over 250 individual traders are in North Rift, South Rift, Nyanza and Western regions.
Rai Cement is a major competitive force to reckon with for player firms such as Bamburi Cement and Savannah Cement.
Saw-milling – Timsales, RaiPly and Webuye Panpaper
Timber is among Rai Family’s biggest investments owning controlling stake in Timsales – one of the biggest timber product suppliers in the region.
The sawmilling firm is based in Nakuru and has been in business since 1932 when it was formed by seven saw millers who pooled their resources and marketing efforts to revive the industry that had been hard-hit by the great depression of 1929-1932.
They named it East African Timber Cooperative Society Limited, later rebranded to Timsales Ltd.
Timsales was in 2020 awarded a Ksh 112.87 million tender to supply wooden poles alongside Rai Cement which was awarded a Ksh 70.13 million tender to supply concrete poles.
Tarlochan Singh Rai spotted opportunities in timber and agroforestry and incorporated RaiPly in 1971 together with his sons Jasbir, Sarbjit, Jaswant, and Iqbal Rai.
In 2016, the family acquired the collapsed Webuye Panpaper Mills at a record ksh900 million agreeing to pump Ksh6 billion into the paper mill for a period of over five to ten years to revive it.
Speaking amidst the acquisition process, former president Uhuru expressed his optimism in job creation owing to the rejuvenation of the mills that closed shop in 2009 saying, ”We have agreed with the Rai family that by June next year, they will have doubled the capacity and the number of people employed here.”
According to a profile by NCBA, the president’s brother Muhoho Kenyatta was named as one of the directors of the multibillion company, “Mr. Kenyatta is a leading entrepreneur, businessman and director of several companies within the Eastern Africa region including Brookside Dairy Ltd, Heritage Holdings Ltd, Kenya Dairy Board and Timsales Holding Ltd,” the profile read in part.
Wheat farming, Horticulture, Sugar industry- West Kenya: Kabras Sugar, Sukari Industries, Olepito and Naitiri Sugar plant
The Rai family is said to control over 45% of the Kenyan sugar market in the first six months of 2020 and 41% in 2019 according to data from the Sugar Directorate.
This was achieved through the three sugar miller subsidiaries the family owns – West Kenya Sugar, Sukari Industries in Homa Bay, and Olepito.
The family is also Uganda’s second largest miller through Kinyara Sugar Works.
In a failed bid, The Rai Group in 2021 tried to acquire and revive the ailing state-owned miller, Mumias Sugar Company, through its Ugandan subsidiary Sarrai Group.
Notably, Sarrai Group owns plywood and sugar businesses in Uganda and Malawi. Soon afterwards, the family would hint on the launching of its own USD 44 million Naitiri Sugar plant, as an extension of West Kenya Sugar Company, in 2022 to help address the cheap sugar imports flooding the Kenyan market.
The family recently acquired Dominion Farms in Siaya County’s Yala Swamp owing to the pulling out of the former American in controversial circumstances.
- Oils and Soaps – Menengai Oil Refineries Ltd (MORL)
Menengai Group was started in 1988 by Mr P.D. Shah and his father D.K. Shah in the upholstery business working under the name Menengai Drapers Ltd.
Two years later, P.D. Shah, K.D. Shah and A.D. Shah registered it as the Menengai Soap Factory Limited and in four years, the soap-manufacturing business proved to be very successful.
This propelled the entry into manufacturing edible cooking oil marking the start of Menengai Oil Refineries Limited in 1994.
The Rai family bought out the company in 2011 making heavy machinery input, product rebranding, and capacity building investments in the company.
It was a successful venture that has today grown to become the leading home care product provider in East Africa manufacturing brands such as Top Fry Vegetable Cooking Oil, Menengai Cream Bar Soap, Karibu and Somo Vegetable Cooking Fats, Menendazi Baking Powder, Menengai Milking Jelly, and Menengai Kibuyu Bar Soaps.
The firm formed a subsidiary – Aquapani – to acquire full share capital of water bottler and beverages firm Aquamist in 2019.
Aquamist is vested in water bottling and distribution, Vital Juices, branded iced teas and flavored water.
The deal is expected to boost Aquamist’s business, growing its market share against competing rivals such as Ketepa’s Maisha drinking water and Coca Cola’s Dasani.
- Real Estate – Tulip Properties
The Rai family also owns property holdings in land and real estate under Tulip Properties. Tulip Properties was involved in a Ksh 1.6 billion Southern bypass land fraud case.
Tulip Properties, represented by lawyer George Oraro claimed to be the rightful owners of the 16 acre piece of land against Messrs Mohammed Koriow Nur, Simon Kiprono Laboso, Macdonald Lijoodi Makaka and Noor Mohammed Hassan.
The partners battling against Tulip Properties claimed that the land had been sold to them by the late President Moi. The team’s lawyer produced land documentation showing that the land had been registered under their names.
Eyeing the Ksh 400,755,150 in compensation by the National Lands Commission (NLC) and Kenya Urban Roads Authority (KURA), the court ordered that the money not should not be released to either parties until the issue was fully determined.
Apart from business, the Rai family has interest in Safari rallies. Onkari Rai and Raveejer Rai participated in the 2021 Safari Rally held between 24th and 27th June.