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  OBITUARY  

March 29 - April 04, 2013

 

 Coastweek   Kenya


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Coastweek -- Karl Jacob Ruedin, founder of the African Safari Club group, examining a three-day old ridgeback puppy belonging to a neighbour on the Mtwapa creek 2004.

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Tourism industry ‘oligarch’
Karl Ruedin dies In Shanzu

For more than 40 years' he enjoyed direct access to
the highest levels of the Kenya political establishment,
who in turn were favoured with regular profits,
substantial share holdings and prime beach property.
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Coastweek -- Karl Jacob Ruedin, one time 'oligarch' of the Kenya tourism industry, has died at his Shanzu home overlooking Mtwapa creek on the coast north of Mombasa.

Founder of African Safari Club, Ruedin, was a Swiss national born in 1939, who started tour operating and hotel operations in Kenya in 1967, with the erection of his first hotel, the Watamu Beach Hotel.

For more than 40 years' he enjoyed direct access to the highest levels of the Kenya political establishment, who in turn were favoured with regular profits, substantial share holdings and prime beach property.

During this time he was considered one of the most astute and successful business figures at coast.

His all-powerful influence with the 'top' allowed him enormous benefits in the handling of such routine matters as taxation, foreign exchange, work permits, airport and shipping security, labour regulations, infrastructure and land dealings.

Difficult visitors and disaffected expatriate staff quickly found themselves leaving the country, escorted by immigration officials, onto the first available flight.

With the help of his two sons, Roland in Mombasa and Hans Peter in Switzerland , African Safari Club became one of the most important tourist organizations in Africa.

Together they launched a club network of travel agents operating in Switzerland, Austria and France .

To further promote his coast operations he regularly flew out local bands, including the popular 'Safari Sounds', to perform at tourist functions in Europe.

He liked luxury vehicles and fast cars and even sponsored a top-of-the-line African Safari Club rally team which participated with varying success in local motor sport events, including the then international 'Safari Rally'.

His imposing Shanzu residence hosted a jetty for ocean going yachts and featured a 'private zoo' where he maintained a pet lion and a variety of wild animals and exotic bird life.

To sustain his closely guarded privacy he arranged a wall of bureaucracy about his personal life and business affairs.

Officials wishing to meet with him faced a series of hurdles: first a 'security check' at the main gate, then a meeting with the front office receptionist, who might forward them into a private secretary, before his personal secretary led the visitor into one of several imposing and secluded offices for an 'audience'.

A.S.C. hotel operations were also notoriously 'mean': Nothing was 'free' and guests at the lower end establishments had to pay 'extra' for a slice of toast, a pat of butter or an egg at breakfast.

This made for some amusing anecdotes by travel writers in the foreign press, one journalist remarked:

"If this devil was running Hades ... then he would also send you the heating bill!"

At the height of his business activities, in 1990, he owned and operated the following hotels, safari lodges, and tourist related businesses:

Hotels and Safari Lodges: - Watamu Beach Hotel - Sea Horse Club - Malaika Beach Hotel - Dolphin Beach Hotel - Flamingo Beach Hotel - Shimo La Tewa Hotel - Coral Beach Hotel - Palm Beach Hotel - Shanzu Beach Hotel - Paradise Beach Hotel - Mara Buffalo Camp - Crocodile Camp - Kimana Lodge

Ships: M.S. Royal Star- 5,600 Tons, auctioned in 2009. M.S. Star of Luxor- Egypt based :M.S Da Vinci - Egypt based: M.S Fleurette - Egypt based.

Aircraft: 1 x DC 10, sold in 2002 4 x De Havilland Twin Otter, all sold.

African Safari Club also owned a private marina in the Mtwapa Creek where two motor yachts over 25 metres long were moored, along with other vessels useful for private charter, sightseeing tours along the coast, and game fishing.

However, even with all its very obvious business advantages, from 1995 the rapid expansion and associated cash flow problems led to a slow but steady downfall.

The company operated constantly with 'loss' balances, and, as of 2002, could no longer pay regular salaries for their 3,000 employees.

Ruedin started to sell the companies assets in order to continue with its operation.

A series of fires within the hotel group was attributed to have been arson laid by disgruntled employees, and things worsened in 2008, with the collapse of tourist bookings due to the post election violence.

In March 2011, African Safari Club U.K., the main provider of tourists for Ruedin's Kenya operation became insolvent and ceased trading with 500 U.K. customers that were in Kenya repatriated by the C.A.A.

This led to eventual demise and closure of all the remaining African Safari Club hotels and tour operations.

Described as 'grasping and ruthless' [which he no doubt was] by his business rivals Ruedin was nevertheless a 'soft touch' for worthy charitable causes, including local orphanages, medical clinics and the provision of rural ambulance services.

His organisation also arranged a series of fund-raising charity concerts which featured top artists from Europe and America, including a memorable performance on the beach by the famous 'Four Tops' singers.

A close friend and business associate was the late Kikambala veterinarian Dr. Zahoor Kashmiri who often assisted in the African Safari Club's wild life and safari activities.

On one occasion Ruedin's private aircraft had the passenger seats removed and Dr. Kashmiri used the resultant space to translocate three young lions from Nairobi Animal Orphanage to the Kimana Game Lodge - then being operated by the A.S.C.

In his last, sad, months living in forced retirement, hounded by creditors and hobbled with court orders he appeared to be afflicted with the onset of the early stages of 'dementia'.

A Shanzu neighbour who knew the Ruedins since the late 1960s recalled this week:

"No doubt Karl Ruedin suffered an army of bitter detractors, however, to my family he was always kind, very generous and 'correct' in a typically Swiss fashion.

"We inherited a sick and injured puppy from his kennel in the 1990s.

"On hearing [from Doctor Kashmiri] of our difficulties he insisted, at no cost to ourselves, in flying the distressed animal to Europe where it was treated at a private clinic in Germany for three months before being flown back sound and fit to Mombasa.

"Thanks to this man's unique intervention the dog, which was repaired with four titanium splints in each leg, went on to live a further long and happy 14 years."

"Thanks to this man's unique intervention the dog, which was repaired with four titanium splints in each leg, went on to live a further long and happy 14 years."

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Leave Karl Ruedin
To 'Rest In Peace'

He brought in more than 1000 tourists
per week, and their expenditures locally
made BOTH Shanzu and Mtwapa grow

Coastweek-- Re: Your article in last week's edition of Coastweek: Tour industry ‘oligarch’ Karl Ruedin dies In Shanzu

I have hardly seen such an unqualified article from a so called professional writer.

A very small brain speaks out of the editors words ... and perhaps a lot of jealousy.

Late Mzee Rudin did not become an Oligarch because of his good relationship with the authorities in power, but indeed vice versa, the higher authorities looked for his friendship because he was an excellent businessman and they could profit.

He would have become a big man also without them!

You mention his (now defunct) wealth as if it is a crime to have wealth, but you don’t even think to mention that he employed more than 3000 people in Shanzu area for more than 40 years continuously.

It is only his last five years that he he failed to pay salaries regularly.

He brought in more than 1000 tourists per week, and their expenditures locally made Shanzu and Mtwapa grow to what it is now.

Yes, he definitely was questionable in many ways, but every brilliant brain is never “normal”.

His success gave him right.

His down fall could have been avoided, but he stuck to his methods, and they ultimately failed, because he didn’t adapt to changes of time.

As every one, he has done bad and good things alike.

The one who benefited from having been done business with him or having been employed by him should remember that too.

Let him rest in peace, he deserves it.

Aggrey O. Shagg, Mombasa.

shaggragtwo@gmail.com

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