Lake Victoria transporter bets on franchise to grow business

Newly launched MV Captain Dan that carries people and goods from four beaches in Bunyala to Sigulu Island in Uganda through Lake Victoria. [Ignatius Odanga, Standard]

For more than 15 years since it launched its first scheduled public transport service on Lake Victoria, Globology Ltd is seeking to expand its network by selling franchises to canoe operators.

The lake transport operator believes this will be a viable way of growing its frequency and route portfolio, which currently serves over 1,500 passengers daily between the mainland and island destinations on Africa’s largest freshwater lake.

“This opportunity will enable us partner with existing operators under our franchise model. We believe that existing canoe operators will be better served if they can benefit from the ‘waterbus’ success story by becoming franchise operators of our vessels,” said Globology’s Chief Executive Friedrich Neser in an online interview.

Globology sees franchising as a lever to scale-up and crowd-source expertise; coxswains, captains, and entrepreneurs into the lake’s blue economy using its locally built ferries at the Kisumu yard.

The firm runs a daily service on six routes, with the main one being the Luanda Kotieno to Mbita route that links Siaya and Homa Bay counties.

The route is served by four daily return trips with a capacity of 100 passengers.

Mfangano Island, through Takawiri Island, is served by the MV Atego, which has a capacity of 132 passengers.

MV Sigulu, which boasts the same capacity as MV Atego, does one return trip from Mbita to Remba Island and another return trip to Mfangano Island through Takawiri.

Other routes are Mulundu to Mbita, Yokia to Mbita, and Sena to Mbita.

Globology already has a presence in Uganda, where it plans to commission four newly built vessels to serve Entebbe-Kampala and waterborne communities. But the firm is casting its sights much wider.

“Our expansion plans include routes in Tanzania and throughout eastern African lakes and islands off of the east coast. We are presently working on plans to serve Lamu archipelago, Mombasa Island, Tanga to Pemba Island in Tanzania, Dar es Salaam harbour, Mafia Island to Mainland Tanzania, and Lakes Tanganyika, Kivu and Malawi,” said Mr Neser.

Globology’s 15-year story in Kenya started in 2005, with its Scottish entrepreneur cum founder Malcolm Ormiston’s ambition to introduce modern work-boats to East Africa.

The first vessel built by the firm was a proof-of-concept trimaran fishing boat.

It was designed to demonstrate that with an efficient sail and outboard engine, fishermen could increase their income by reducing fuel costs.

“While introducing the fishing boat to Ringiti Island, Mr Ormiston witnessed how communities struggled with unsafe, traditional wooden canoes as their sole means of transport and realised that the initial commercial potential was in improved passenger transport,” Mr Neser revealed.

This resulted in him designing the first ‘waterbus,’ MV Ringiti, as an attempt to solve the transportation needs of the water-isolated communities across Lake Victoria, while linking them to key mainland destinations.

Within 10 years, the 48-passenger capacity MV Ringiti had transported over 758,623 passengers in 30,000 trips.

This success led to the building and commissioning of three more vessels - MV Captain Dan, MV Atego and MV Sigulu.

According to Mr Neser, the waterbus’ appeal stems from its crews’ professionalism and dependability, based on its predictable schedule “that allows our passengers the confidence to plan their day, knowing that the waterbus is on time, every time.”

The service is also versatile, allowing it to serve any of the small islands that dot the lake.

“Our vessels are designed to land on any beach, thus making the service accessible to many people who would otherwise only be able to travel in unsafe, unscheduled and uncomfortable wooden canoes,” said Neser.

Like other businesses, Globology, which is owned by Mr Ormiston and a Kenyan private equity fund has not been spared the effects of the Covid-19 and the attendant restrictions on travel instituted by the State to contain the spread of the virus.

Passenger traffic is down to just 60 per cent. However, as a social enterprise, Globology has maintained its 100 staff.

The firm has partnered with Red Cross to train its crew, support staff, and passengers on the pandemic, besides helping the State transport medical staff, officials, relief food and medical supplies to locations on its routes for free.

Landing infrastructure remains a challenge and Globology has had to build simple jetties at the landing beaches.

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