They are young, trendy and optimistic. Men and women alike. They embody the other face of Africa - a constantly changing continent. We could be in New York, Sydney or Toronto... But here in this mixed business/residential neighbourhood of Nairobi, along Ngong Road, on the sixth floor of the Bishop Magua Centre, the community of “techies” - as they're called here with less derision than “geeks” and other members of the new technologies tribe - is a place to imagine the Kenya of tomorrow. It's called the “iHub”, a multifaceted place where people come to discuss ideas and projects, develop future applications for mobile phones, seek funding, or simply create their own business, relying on their own talent and ability to innovate.
“Forty-two companies have already emerged from this cluster”, says Rachel Gichinga, a regular at the iHub. “Everyone wants to create their own job in an innovative sector. It's a sign that young Kenyans are taking charge of their lives.”
Now one of the most dynamic economies in sub-Saharan Africa, Kenya is on a clear path of growth. “The Kenyan market is expected to grow by 15% in the coming years”, says Marc Beuve-Méry, CEO of Pernod Ricard's Kenyan subsidiary in Nairobi. This robust growth is found in a dozen or so economies in this part of Africa: countries such as Angola, Nigeria, Uganda or Tanzania which are outperforming the rest because of the reforms they've enacted to boost entrepreneurship and ensure greater political stability. All of them have invested in education, giving rise to generations of young graduates connected via Wi-Fi from Lagos, Accra or Nairobi.
The long-awaited emergence of the African middle class is now a reality. It is this class, and its appetite for consumption, that is driving the markets of the continent's emerging countries. “Consumer spending accounts for two-thirds of the growth in sub-Saharan Africa, which is around 7-8%”, says Laurent Pillet, Managing Director of the region for Pernod Ricard. In Kenya, this emerging class now represents 17% of the population of a country that currently has 42 million inhabitants. They are young, urban, entering the workforce with master's degrees in hand, concentrated in the Nairobi urban area and large cities such as Mombasa.
“Kenyans' tastes are evolving, because they're no longer embarrassed to ask for what they want or to pay the price to have it”, says Anna Othoro, who heads the new Kenyan satellite of the luxury concierge service, Quintessentially Lifestyle. In her role, Anna has first-hand knowledge of the expectations of her country's upper classes, which represent about 5% of the population. “In the last two or three years, all the international brands have come to Kenya, because there's a strong local demand”, she says. “Before, Kenyans went to Dubai to purchase consumer goods, but now they're available here.” According to Anna, nearly all sectors are being buoyed by this growth, especially telecoms, banking, food processing and real estate.
A result of the economic boom, Nairobi is also seeing the development of shopping centres and malls. Long confined to city centre office districts, retailers are now opening up across the capital. “People want to work, play and eat in the same place”, comments Martin Kariuki, a copywriter at Capital FM, Nairobi's leading radio station and the soundtrack for this rising generation of Kenyans. Ensconced in their downtown offices, the station's writers resemble its listeners: a generation of thirty-somethings, open to the world, outgoing, and with an unshakeable belief in a better future. “It seems like the country is constantly changing”, says Martin. “We're working hard for this, so we want to play hard, too.” In the bars, restaurants and night clubs of Nairobi, this middle class is showing up, and it's set on living life to the full.
In these new spaces with their blend of Kenyan professionals, Western expats and the golden youth of the Indian minority, there is a new focus on high-end consumption and the search for Premium brands. “Kenyans want to treat themselves by drinking international brands”, explains Tilak Ruparel, co-manager of Slater and Whittaker, one of Pernod Ricard's main distributors in Nairobi. “This is especially apparent once consumers hit their thirties. They've settled down, they earn a good living, and they've refined their tastes. That's when they will abandon brandy for Premium whisky or vodka brands - hence the success of Jameson and ABSOLUT.”
Jameson accounts for 70% of Pernod Ricard's net sales in Kenya, after twelve months of active presence during which sales by volume jumped ten-fold. This encouraging start is no surprise to Laurent Pillet: “Consumers know our brands: as soon as we launch them, we see phenomenal growth”.
What's more, conviviality is at the heart of life in Kenya. For every celebration, every get-together, there is a drink that goes with it. Marc illustrates: “We've identified two types of socio-cultural situations which correspond to two types of ranges. In Kenya, in Kiswahili, it's called “Mpango”: the planned time together, the party arranged between friends, with a predetermined location, which is our target for the Premium range. Then there are the “casual” occasions: the after-work drink with col- leagues, or whilst watching a football game on a Saturday afternoon; settings that don't warrant an extra expense, and which are well-suited to a mid-range product”.
These new, demanding, consumers are also women. Their names are Felly, Wangu, Mathilda and Immaculate: four Kenyans, active, educated professionals, who meet “as often as possible” at their wine and spirits tasting club. On this late Friday afternoon, they've braved the rush-hour traffic to meet in a venue that is a cross between a cocktail bar and a lounge. Across from them is Nelson Aseka, Jameson's Ambassador for East Africa. On a low table sit three glasses each, for testing the differences between Irish whiskey, bourbon and Scotch. Mathilda, who also admits to being keen on Martell Cognac, says, “Of course, our good pay allows us to learn about and buy products like Jameson. It's mainly a question of income”. And when asked what their men think about their weekly “girls' night out” with a glass of whisky, she exclaims in surprise, “We're in the twenty- first century now! The world has changed”. Kenya has too.
Spring - Summer 2013