The rise and rise of Kenya’s middle class
Posted Saturday, October 20 2012 at 19:00
- A report released earlier this year by Youth Dynamix revealed that the Kenyan youth spend Sh64 billion annually on clothes and other accessories
- The 2009 census report indicated that the number of registered vehicles more than doubled from 611,268 in 2001 to 1,221,083 in 2009
- On average, CMC Motors sells five SUV Range Rovers a month in Kenya each valued about Sh20 million, up from just one seven years ago. This excludes other CMC brands
- Vision 2030 chief executive Mugo Kibati however says while the news of a growing middle class is welcome, the pace at which it is growing is disappointing
A few years ago, coffee houses such as Java were for a select middle class clientele. But today, at 8am, Java will usually be teeming with customers.
And the same is witnessed at other expensive coffee houses and restaurants, especially in Nairobi, where the new middle class hangs out.
This new class, conspicuous due to the showy display of their affluence, have a taste for the best things in life: food, drink, cars, residences and even dress. They literally stand out.
For a long time, the middle class in Kenya was anybody who could afford the average lifestyle: a month’s shopping and a Double M ride to town instead of the 14-seater matatu; a rental house with sizeable rooms, running water, hot shower and two or three electronic gadgets.
But, today, the middle class drives fuel-guzzlers, wines and dines in expensive restaurants and lived in upmarket estates.
That is not all. They furnish their houses with luxurious furniture. The floors have wooden finishing, they have Italian kitchens and enjoy premium pay TV channels.
In addition, they have leaner families and attend virtually all sporting events out of Nairobi. These outings, which cost tens of thousands of shillings, often turn out to be drinking jaunts.
They are also to be found in elitist events like Blankets and Wine sporting fashionable clothes with picnic baskets with their pet dogs in tow.
But they are not apologetic for their showy lifestyle. It seems it goes with the territory.
Take Chris Obure for example. Before 2008, he says could not afford a fraction of his current lifestyle. Now, Mr Obure, 33, owns a house in the leafy Lavington suburb in Nairobi, where he lives with his wife and son.
He has three big cars: a Mercedes S-Class worth Sh12 million, a Land Cruiser VX valued at Sh5 million and a Sh7 million SUV Range Rover.
“I’d say I’ve made it,” says Mr Obure, who deals in real estate and commodity trade. “You can’t employ me even if it’s for Sh1 million because I make that amount in one or two weeks.”
Taking children to private schools, living in apartments, double incomes, falling birth rates, and acquiring multiple university degrees are some of the status symbols of the growing middle class, according to economist XN Iraki.
“To quote economist Thorstein Veblen, conspicuous consumptions, trying to keep up with others through cars, attire, residence and so on, (are the other indicators),” Mr Iraki says.
Although he does not consider himself to be in the first class, Mr Obure spends Sh1 million per year on his son in fees at a private school in Karen and other upkeep expenses. He will comfortably blow Sh85,000 a night on premium whiskeys, exotic wines and foods whenever he entertains his business partners.
With a monthly entertainment allowance of Sh250,000 from the Meranti Holdings, where he is the only Kenyan director, the University of Nairobi alumnus spends between Sh1,500 and Sh3,000 on lunch in upmarket restaurants.
“I don’t feel any loss spending Sh3,000 for lunch,” he says. “This is my genuinely, hard earned cash so I have to spoil myself once in a while.”