Uber, the world’s largest online taxi hailing platform, is finally available in Kenya. The service will hit Nairobi’s streets next week, and is typically offering first time users free rides via a promo, in concert with a local restaurant discovery platform.
Update, 20/01/15: Uber has officially launched, according to an emailed statement
Uber apparently showed interest in Kenya after encouraging pilots in South Africa, but eventually made a sharp detour west to touch down in Lagos, and even Cairo, before finally wending its way back to East Africa. It is said that there are approximately 30 cabs signed up to the service, in anticipation of the launch in Nairobi.
Except for a recent spat in Cape Town — a licensing altercation with the local regulatory body, Africa has been a relatively smooth ride for the Silicon Valley startup. A few impounded cars are nothing compared to the Uber’s travails in other markets like India and Europe where it has met a harsh reception by regulators, and its home market of the United States where it has been the butt of media criticism and political scrutiny over its ethics and business practices.
In a related development, the Uber’s envoys to Nairobi were unable to secure the @Uber_Nairobi handle on Twitter Someone got to it first. The launch team were left with no other option but to break convention and use @Uber_Kenya instead. Uber typically uses city names in its handles.
When asked why they did not just create the single-word version, @ubernairobi, a spokesperson told TechCabal that the underscore has become the official way to mark their profiles.
In the race for Kenya’s online taxi market, Uber is cruising up behind a number of incumbents. Rocket Internet’s Easy Taxi is obviously the biggest contender, with over 600 taxis signed up as at September 2014. Still, if this were an arm wrestling contest with valuations for biceps, Uber’s $40 billion would thump Rocket’s $8 billion. But from what we can see of the situation playing out in the analogous taxi hailing space in Lagos, the peculiarities of African cities may level things out a bit, such that it will take time for a clear winner to emerge.