Profile: Africa's burgeoning middle class

NAIROBI/LAGOS Thu Mar 10, 2011 10:51am EST

A view of a section of Nakumatt's shopping hall in an upper-market area of Nairobi January 5, 2011. REUTERS/Noor Khamis

A view of a section of Nakumatt's shopping hall in an upper-market area of Nairobi January 5, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Noor Khamis

NAIROBI/LAGOS (Reuters) - Africa's middle classes are growing, providing the backbone of an economic revolution that is attracting billions of dollars of foreign capital and changing the face of the poorest continent.

Following are examples of the new African consumer:

BEN KIILU, KENYAN

As with many of Kenya's burgeoning middle class, Ben Kiilu, a senior manager at a power firm in east Africa's biggest economy, spends most of his free time and money in shopping malls.

Westgate, Kenya's swankiest and largest mall, Galleria in the leafy suburbs on the edge of the capital, and Nakumatt Junction are his favorite haunts, and sipping mochaccinos and chatting with friends his favorite pastimes.

"Chances are if there were no shopping malls in Kenya, I would be at home," said Kiilu, an avid reader in his mid-thirties.

An alumnus of the University of Nairobi, Kiilu started off in a moderately paid job, but quickly realized he wanted to get ahead of the pack.

"I had to distinguish myself by doing something different," he said.

After working for two years, he sold everything he had to pay for a masters degree at Cambridge University in Britain. Ultimately, he wants to send his children to Cambridge too.

Kiilu, who is unmarried, does not restrict his holidays to Kenya, traveling frequently to Zanzibar, the palm-fringed, paradise islands off the coast of neighboring Tanzania.

"There is one place in the world I would like to go -- a drive through the Atacama Desert in Chile," he said.

Kiilu would like to pursue more professional courses such as leadership training, and to move up the career ladder, ultimately to become a chief executive or run his own real estate business.

TAYO ABEJI, NIGERIAN

Clutching a brown patent Jimmy Choo handbag, a gift from a relative who lives in France, Tayo Abeji is spending Friday afternoon browsing at a mall in Lagos.

"My sister works for the Foreign Affairs ministry, so she used to send me clothes from France and the UK," says the 26-year-old, who studied sociology in Nigeria and now runs a grocery store selling packaged goods such as pasta.

However, in recent years, she has had to rely less on her sister in Europe and can now find almost everything she wants in Lagos -- as long as she is prepared to pay for it.

She splashes out once a month on an item of western clothing or traditional ankara fabric at Palms, an upmarket mall close to the city's new free trade zone.

She wanders between shops selling brands such as Mango, the Spanish high street retailer, Britain's TM Lewin, America's Converse, and Nigerian boutiques where dresses are made to order.

Abeji will spend up to 15,000 naira ($100) on one piece of clothing and 5,000 naira on a single item of imported make-up.

She and her fiance are currently setting up a new home and last week forked out 157,000 naira for a Samsung television and an LG stereo. Abeji likes to change her BlackBerry twice a year to stay up-to-date with the latest models.

Abeji is pleased that she can find almost anything she wants in Lagos these days, but complains about the price of goods from red wine to trainers.

Nigeria's dependence on oil has led to the neglect of other industries, leaving most consumers with little choice other than costly imported goods.

Other young shoppers buy clothes and gadgets online from western high street retailers, get items delivered to friends or relatives in the west, and then wait for them to visit. Even those who pay for shipping say they still save money.

"Over the last two years things have really got better here, but it's too expensive," Abeji says. "When I went to Dubai, I saw handbags that you could buy for 10,000 naira. Here the same bag is 40,000 naira -- and it might be fake."

(Reporting by Beatrice Gachenge and Shyamantha Asokan, Editing by Ed Cropley)

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