President William Ruto has waded into the saga pitting two billionaire brothers Jaswant Rai and Sarbjit Rai over the control of Mumias Sugar Company ordering them to vacate the miller or face severe consequences.
Jaswant of the Rai Group in Kenya and Sarbjit of Sarrai Group have almost completely monopolised the sugar industry in Kenya and Uganda for the last decade.
Jaswant has four sugar factories in Kenya – West Kenya Sugar/Kabras Millers in Malava sub-county, Kakamega county, Sukari Industries of Ndhiwa in Homabay county, Olepito Sugar at Tangakona in Busia county and the latest entrant Naitiri Sugar in Bungoma county.
Sarbjit on the other hand owns Kinyara Sugar, Kiryandongo Sugar and Hoima — all in Uganda under Sarrai Group and each boasting of success stories.
Mumias, which used to be Kenya’s leading producer at more than 250,000 tonnes a year, was beset by poor management, heavy debts, and years of mounting losses, prompting its closure.
The miller was shut down in 2014. In September 2019, KCB which was its biggest creditor placed it under receivership to protect its assets and maintain its operations.
It was then handed over to Sarrai Group in 2021 under a lease for a period of 20 years sparking legal suits and countersuits over money owed to creditors and the rights to run sugar factory.
The state now believes Rai is using proxies to frustrate the revival of the sugar company and is fed up. Yesterday President Ruto ordered
“We are ordering all to vacate the premises, that company belongs to the people. We shall make new plans for it and not entertain any court cases, they must withdraw them all,” said President Ruto yesterday.
“I have told them that the issues are three: if they attempt to bring problems they shall have to leave the country, get into prison or travel to heaven,” warned the President.
Rai was kidnapped on Friday last week when his Toyota Landcruiser B8 was blocked at the junction of Wood Avenue in Kilimani opposite Kenwood Apartments at around 4 pm by persons driving a grey double-cab pick-up.
CCTV footage of the abduction shows four men getting out of the pick-up and forcibly pulling the occupants of the billionaire’s car into their vehicle before speeding off towards Galana Road.
Rai’s car was left idling on the road.
Later, officers at Kilimani Police Station received reports of an abandoned vehicle and towed it to the station, unoccupied and with only a minor scratch on the front right side where the pick-up had made contact.
So who exactly is Jaswant Singh Rai?
Rai was born in India and emigrated to Kenya in the 1970s where he began his career as a businessman by getting into the fruits and vegetable industries.
He later entered the sugar sector, founding the West Kenya Sugar Company in 1989, now among Kenya’s biggest sugar producers.
A reclusive Kenyan billionaire businessman and chairman of the Rai Group- a conglomerate with interests in the sugar, real estate, and hospitality industries- he is thought to control at least 43 per cent of Kenya’s sugar business.
Rai is also the chairman of Kabras Sugar Company, Sukari Industries, and Olepito.
He is also the founder of the Raiplywood Group, Kenya’s leading producer of plywood and other wood products.
According to Business Daily, the company produces roughly half of Kenya’s sugar consumption. In 2022, they opened Naitiri Sugar Company, their fourth sugar mill, in Bungoma.
The Ksh.6.3 billion ($44 million) facility, which has a daily production capacity of 6,000 tonnes of sugar, began operations in May.
According to Sugar Directorate Data from 2020, Rai Group held 45% of the nation’s total sugar sales. Sukari Industries came in at 11%, West Kenya at 29%, and Olepito at 2%.