Travelling to Nairobi is always a great escape for me, visiting friends, catching up on events and following the latest developments in this cosmopolitan city. It has been three years since I travelled there. I was surprised to see that in this short time, at least three new big malls were opened to the public. Of course not all were at 100 per cent occupancy, one was even at 30, still there are investors who think that there is room for competition, and are planning to build more malls.
For some it is not all good news, the good old Nakumatt hypermarket chain seems to be running out of luck. Their store in Village market shopping mall looked like a grocery shop, almost empty shelves, staff wondering around without much to do, a few clients and idle cashiers sitting, anticipating clients.
I remember the glorious days of Nakumatt, I met the owner while he was on a visit to Uganda to open their Kampala branch. At that time the story of their success was the talk of town, and he gave me some hints on why they had such huge success. So what went wrong?
And because people cannot live without supermarkets, another chain Carrefour is taking the market by storm. Opening this in any mall means many more walk-in clients, an act which brings life to the place, and more money flow, of course. I also saw some additional international brands, besides the South African ones also opening shop in Nairobi. Although this might sound like a big competition, the local brands are doing quite well, with many new Kenyan designers joining the stage, they remain my favourites. Unique creations using locally dyed fabric, local leather made into bags and shoes, beaded and colourful, such a delight to wear and adorn. We were invited to dine on Valentine’s Day night with some friends. We had to follow the host’s car to the venue.
When we reached the guarded gates, the host, a member of that club, informed the guards that we were his guests. Still the guard approached the car and checked the IDs and then gave each one a guest card. At the second gate with barriers and floor spikes, we gave the second guard our cards, with these cards the barrier went up and the spikes down and we moved closer to the club. It was a club, we were not in an embassy nor a presidential palace. The host who is Kenyan of Indian origin, told us later that this was once a ‘white only’ club where even white women were not allowed in its bar.
Today, the rules have changed, many of ‘Who is Who’ of Nairobi want to be members of the club, but the membership depends on recommendation of an existing member and the approval of other members. It always puzzles me, why would people like to join a place that has once with prejudice prevented them from joining, not only that, taking pride in being a member there! A club, I won’t visit again..