By all measures, David Langat plays in the billionaire’s league. And if the 52-year old is not in the league of the super rich, then his current plan to build a Sh200 billion industrial park in Eldoret town will certainly catapult him to the exclusive club.
But history will not pay homage to Langat for simply being filthy rich. The Chairman and founder of the DL Group of Companies would like to be remembered for having helped retrace China’s path to industrial greatness in Kenya. If he fails in this mission, then he will be remembered for at least having tried.
Langat himself takes exception to the manner in which the media has labeled him a “multi-billionaire.” Perhaps he is just trying to be modest about his wealth. He sees himself as a simple man who grew up in the village, herding cows, walking barefoot to a village school and whom through hard work and entrepreneurship, has built a business empire.
Instead, he wants to be remembered for what he did for the country, rather than what he did for himself. With interests spanning real estate, agriculture, and energy, Langat might have done a lot for himself already. He owns Koisagat Tea Estate in Nandi County and Kapchepet Tea Factory in Kericho County. He also runs Selenkei Investments Ltd, a company that generates electricity from solar energy.
He also owns the imposing Nyali Centre in Mombasa County as well as the Sunrise Resort in the same county. But Africa Economic Zones (AEZ) Pearl River Industrial Park, a project he started in partnership with Guangdong New South Group Ltd is special to him. Not only will it add more digits to the money in his bank account, but he also believes it will revolutionise the country’s manufacturing stature.
Langat, a shy man who has avoided cameras since 2013 when he started working on the industrial park hopes the project which sits on a 700 acre piece of land will be the spark that will set off the industrial fireworks in the country. AEZ is the first privately owned special economic zone (SEZ) – a departure from most industrial parks which by their huge capital outlays, are normally financed by Government.
In fact, ever since President Uhuru Kenyatta tweeted about the project after witnessing the signing between Langat’s Africa Economic Zone and the Chinese firm in China, most media reports have mistakenly construed his project as a Government project. This has incensed Langat and his team. It was not the intention of Langat to start a special economic zone. When he first bought the land in Eldoret’s plateau area, he wanted to help farmers in Uasin Gishu County to earn more from their produce.
His intention was to create an industry that would do value-addition on the agricultural produce coming out of the farms in the country’s food basket. His idea took a turn after the Government came up with the Special Economic Zone Act. “I have travelled quite a lot in terms of doing business in different countries, and have been inspired by the development in other countries. I felt that as a country, we lag behind in industrialisation, and that was when the idea was conceived,” he says. “The best thing I did was to buy land and my main idea then was to do the normal industrial work. My focus was agro-processing,” he reckoned.
Afterwards, he got in touch his consultants to see whether it could fit the requirements of the Special Economic Zone Act. “So I appointed some experts on this special economic zones, we got some consultants who already had some idea what special economic zones, especially the Dongo Kundu,” says Langat. Langat, being a shrewd businessman realised that the magnitude of the project required him to team up with outside partners. “I identified and analysed who has done this in Africa. And I found this company which had done a similar project in Nigeria. I had a meeting with them, and we had quite a number of sessions together to understand the way they work.
That is when we made a decision to develop industrial park,” he said. He admits that the consultations were costly. “There were times I would fly to China with a delegation of 21 consultants. The consultants came from Europe, South Africa and Kenya.” He believes the Government has a role to play in making SEZs successful. Proper planning and support from the Government is critical, he says. “Policies might be put in place, and the Government must not let the market to be over-flooded with SEZs, because then these special zones will lose their meaning,” he adds.
He down plays critics who see industrial park as a conduit for companies to do business without paying taxes, and then exit after the expiry of the grace period. “We don’t see that because the building and the business will remain. So, if they ever leave, will still have benefited from transfer of knowledge and the buildings will also remain here,” he says. Indeed, under the Special Economic Zone Act, enterprises under the zone will enjoy tax incentives, such as reduced corporate tax.
The industrial park is so dear to Langat. It is situated where he was born and grew up. His father used to work on a farm owned by a white settler. No African owned land there. The family would move from the land when Langat was only a year old. About 51 years later, Langat is building a project that is likely to put independent Kenya on a growth trajectory. Coincidentally, the project on the same land that belonged to the white settler his father worked for.