ODM leader Raila Odinga, the Presidential candidate for the Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya Coalition Party in the 2022 General elections, is well-known for his exploits in politics.
The 77-year old former Prime Minister has a storied political career spanning several decades, full of highs and lows – including 9 years behind bars during the struggle for multi-party democracy and serving as Prime Minister in the Grand Coalition Government between 2008 and 2013. However, his exploits in the world of business rarely get as much coverage as his rallies or political chess moves.
Odinga founded EA Spectre Limited while working at the University of Nairobi’s Department of Mechanical Engineering in 1971. According to the LPG cylinder manufacturing and revalidation company’s website, it controls about 20% market share in new LPG cylinders manufacture and over 80% of the revalidation market share.
He sits on the company’s board, as does his spouse Ida Odinga and German-trained engineer Israel O. Agina. Raila’s elder brother Dr. Oburu Odinga chairs EA Spectre’s board of directors.
The Azimio candidate in a May 2022 meeting with the European Business Council opened up on how he established the firm.
He lamented that, nowadays, an influx of cheap imports from China had seen many factories in Nairobi’s Industrial Area – where Spectre set up its first workshop – converted into warehouses. Pushing for local manufacturing to be strengthened, he argued that the warehouses in Industrial Area today employ far less people than the factories in the 70’s did.
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Odinga disclosed that he was able to establish Spectre after a rare opportunity arose. He was informed by a techician at UoN that there was an Indian businessman, formerly based in Jinja, Uganda who was looking to dispose of his equipment as he fled the country at a time when infamous dictator Iddi Amin was hell-bent on kicking the Indian community out of Uganda.
The equipment being stored at a yard in Parklands, Nairobi included welding machines, sheet metal cutting machines and rolling machines.
Raila went and inspected the equipment and found that they were in good shape. The businessman was, however, asking for Ksh12,000 which Odinga couldn’t afford at the time. To fund the acquisition of the equipment, the young Odinga decided to sell his Opel left-hand drive car, which he had brought with him from Germany upon completion of his studies.
Odinga then registered the Standard Processing Equipment Construction & Eréction Ltd (later renamed East African Spectre). He revealed that the firm started out manufacturing casements, steel doors and windows before later venturing into manufacturing LPG cylinders after spotting a gap in the market.
“I went and started a workshop in Industrial Area, on Kingston road, now its called Kampala Road. I got employees also who were kicked out from Uganda, they were doing what they called Ugandanization,” Odinga recalled.
Spectre soon found its niche in LPG cylinder manufacturing as there were no local firms making them at the time. It grew and bagged clients including Total Kenya among other major oil marketing companies.
It also expanded over the years to grow its capacity. In 1988, Spectre entered a financing agreement with Industrial Development Bank Ltd (now IDB Capital) for expansion funding allowing it to put up a new factory along Mombasa Road.
In 2008, East Africa Spectre Ltd embarked on a major upgrade of its factory to strengthen its market position. The firm installed a new state of the art cylinder manufacturing plant.
Old machines were replaced and various processes mechanized. Among machines that were installed as part of the upgrade were a heat treatment furnace, hydrostatic testing rig and spray painting system.