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Meet the Little-Known Raila Odinga Competitor Who Founded the Popular AFIA Juice

by Paul Nyongesa
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Kimani Rugendo’s remarkable journey from the world of politics to the realm of business serves as a testament to his entrepreneurial acumen and determination.

After a pivotal moment in his political career – losing the Lang’ata parliamentary seat to Raila Odinga in the 1992 polls – Rugendo embarked on a transformative path that led him to become a successful businessman and a prominent figure in Kenya’s corporate landscape.

Stepping away from politics, Rugendo founded Kevian Kenya Ltd., a company that would go on to make a significant mark in the beverage industry.

With a vision to create a brand that resonated with Kenyan consumers, he set his sights on producing bottled water that catered to local preferences.

In 1995, Rugendo harnessed KSh 25 million from personal savings and friends to initiate serious production of the now-famous Mt Kenya bottled water.

Rugendo’s strategic foresight and unwavering commitment paved the way for Kevian Kenya’s growth. Expanding the company’s product offerings, he introduced the Pick ‘N’ Peel and Afia drink juices, effectively diversifying the brand’s portfolio.

The popularity of these beverages extended beyond Kenyan borders, reaching consumers across the Eastern African region, including countries like Sudan and Zambia.

As demand continued to surge, Rugendo’s visionary thinking prompted the establishment of a second factory in Thika in 2005.

This strategic move significantly enhanced Kevian Kenya’s production capabilities. The Pick ‘N’ Peel juice production capacity soared from 5,000 to an impressive 20,000 liters per hour, while Afia’s output jumped from 10,000 bottles hourly to a remarkable 40,000.

Rugendo’s entrepreneurial ventures extended beyond juices to include malt non-alcoholic drinks, offering a diverse range that included Plain Malt, Energy Malt, Lemon Malt, and Orange Malt. This expansion resonated with consumers seeking varied beverage options.

In 2016, Kevian Kenya made a substantial investment of KSh 2 billion to broaden its product line. The company ventured into manufacturing products like coffee, vegetable soups, and tomato sauce, targeting both the growing middle-class segment and high-end hotels.

Rugendo’s innovative spirit and penchant for business diversification extended to Sterling Kenya, a subsidiary he established with an investment of KSh 500 million.

This endeavor focused on producing high-quality water tanks under the name SterlingCraft Tanks. The tanks, made from 100% virgin polyethylene material, highlighted Rugendo’s commitment to providing top-notch products in various industries.

However, Rugendo’s entrepreneurial journey didn’t stop at beverages and tanks. He also founded Sterling Craft Limited in the early 1980s, primarily catering to Kenya’s police and defense forces.

The company evolved over time, expanding its offerings to encompass industrial equipment, military regalia, pipes, fittings, generators, and milking machines.

Notably, Rugendo’s entrepreneurial pursuits extended to agribusiness when Kevian Kenya entered a partnership with the Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO) in 2020.

The collaboration aimed to produce potato tubers, with a focus on benefiting 50,000 farmers. Rugendo emphasized offering competitive prices and granting farmers the flexibility to sell their produce elsewhere.

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