Ride-sharing app Careem looks to launch services in East Africa

The development comes amid reports the Dubai-based company is on the brink of finalising about US$300 million worth of funding.

Mudassir Sheikha, cofounder and chief executive of Careem, left, with Bhavish Aggarwal, cofounder and chief executive of Ola Cabs, at Boostmena. Reem Mohammed / The National
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Ride-sharing app Careem is considering a possible expansion into East Africa, following on from a successful launch in Turkey last month, according to chief executive Mudassir Sheikha.

The development comes amid reports the Dubai-based company is on the brink of finalising about US$300 million worth of funding.

“We’re at the early stages of looking at East Africa, exploring the potential of those markets and seeing what can be done,” Mr Sheikha told The National on the sidelines of the Boost­mena venture capital conference, held in Dubai.

“It’s still early days, but we believe our product and service can be applied to many more parts of the region that we’re currently in.”

Mr Sheikha said that Careem, which competes across the Mena region with US-based ride-sharing app Uber and other similar apps, planned to follow its Turkey launch by rolling out in “a few new markets that are as big”, declining to give further details.

Mr Sheikha declined to comment on a report by Bloomberg that Careem is close to raising about $300m in its first round of funding, seeking cash from a group of prominent financial and strategic investors.

The company was reported in September to be working with Credit Suisse Group to secure as much as $500m of new funding, valuing the company in excess of $1 billion.

“Our business is growing rapidly, we’re growing 20-30 per cent month-on-month and we’ve also started a big expansion plan, so there is fairly strong interest from the investor community,” he said, declining to go into further detail.

Meanwhile, Careem remains in discussions with Abu Dhabi authorities following the temporary suspension of its services during the summer, admitting that the operating framework was “not ideal”.

About 50 licensed limousine drivers using Careem and Uber apps were arrested in Abu Dhabi in late August, after the Centre for Regulation of Transport by Hire Cars (TransAD) accused the companies of improper pricing.

Careem resumed a limited service in early September, but has yet to resume its “ride now” on- demand service in the city. Uber services remain completely suspended. All drivers arrested are believed to have been released.

“The relationship [with authorities in Abu Dhabi] is great, and we’re in discussions to try to find a common ground on a [regulatory] framework,” said Mr Sheikha.

“Even with the one that’s in place, it’s not a blocker. It’s not ideal, but it’s not a blocker.”

Despite such hiccups, Mr Sheikha said the approach of Middle Eastern governments towards ride-sharing apps had been overwhelmingly positive compared with some regions.

“Governments [in the Middle East] are a lot more open to services like ours than governments have been elsewhere. Just look at some of the measures that have been taken in the US and Europe, and China to some extent,” he said.

“Middle Eastern governments haven’t taken such measures because I think that they see us ultimately as a cause for good, recognising that we can create a lot of jobs and can contribute to the overall transport infrastructure.”


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