An Interview with Sollatek Electronics Kenya’s Managing Director, Mr. Saleem Abdulla conducted by Marcopolis as part of the Kenya Report focused on topics such as investments, doing business, economy and regional integration.
Let’s talk about the region, which you cover. Please tell us about the East African region. How would you describe and assess your sector? We can then move on to Kenya more specifically.
We are essentially in two sectors, which you could say overlap to a certain extent. We are both in the electric and electronics sector, as well as the renewable energy sector.
As far as the region is concerned, Kenya and the East African region have been pioneers, in terms of exploiting the opportunities that exist in the solar renewable energy sector. In the power control sector, which includes the products that we actually make, i.e. the electric and electronic sector, we are pioneers: literally the first company to have ever done what we do within the region.
There is huge opportunity within a growing market, where the middle class is continuously expanding, together with purchasing power. Therefore, we see this as a very exciting area to be operating in. Obviously, there are certain countries experiencing upheaval within the region, for instance Burundi, which is currently going through some internal strife. This affects people like us, seeking to expand our operations in that country. South Sudan is not too stable at the moment either, but Kenya remains the hub, or the region’s ‘Big Brother’ as it were.
What we would really wish for is to be able to trade with greater ease across the region. We know that is something our governments have been talking about for a very long time, with very slow and limited progress so far.
What are the products you want to push more and that are generating the most revenue?
I believe the big opportunity here lies in the renewable energy sector, particularly in the solar business, given its very aspirational nature. Five years ago, having a portable solar lamp was considered to be an achievement for your typical rural customer. Today, that same customer is aiming for a solar home system, which includes four lamps that can light up the four rooms of his home. As such, that’s where the big opportunity lies and where we wish to focus our efforts. We have some terrifically innovative product offerings, which are very aspirational and scalable. Scalability is the ‘in thing’ in the renewable energy sector. You cannot sell something that you are unable to expand on, i.e. sell a solution and then say “I can’t offer you a solution beyond this.”
Energy needs are all-encompassing. People need energy for virtually everything, so you can start by offering energy for lighting, then you want to offer people energy for other things, such as cooking, security, hot water, etc. We feel that’s where our focus should be, but that is not to say that the power control sector is devoid of opportunity, that it is saturated or that we have absorbed all existing opportunities. As I mentioned, the middle class is continually growing. More and more people are able to afford electrical appliances, such as a TV or a refrigerator. These appliances need to be protected, because unfortunately – or fortunately for us – electricity supply is not very reliable in this country or the wider region. This means that whenever someone buys an electrical appliance, they need to buy something with which to protect it, which is where the opportunity lies for us.