Kenya's watchful rich and Lebanon's army fights back.
Buying a watch from Al Safa, a small jewellery shop in the centre of Nairobi, is not straightforward. First, customers have to arrange an appointment with the director. Then they have to negotiate their way through two heavily guarded doors – Nairobi isn’t called “Nairobbery” for nothing. Finally, and most importantly, they need to have a thick wallet.
The cheapest watch in Al Safa goes for €500 – quite an amount for a country where the majority of people live on less than €1 a day. The most expensive watch will set you back €123,000.
But Al Safa is never short of customers. Africa’s mega-rich are getting richer – and more numerous. A recent report by Merrill Lynch claimed that the number of “high net-worth individuals” – people with at least $1m (€720,000) to invest – grew by 12.5 per cent in Africa last year. The net wealth of Africa’s richest individuals now amounts to €650bn.
“Business has improved over the past two or three years,” says Mohammed Ismail Ibrahim, the director of Al Safa. Ibrahim has run the shop for 35 years but it has never been as successful as it is now. “It is not only Kenyans who are buying expensive watches. We have many clients from elsewhere in Africa too.”
Growth across Africa is around 6 per cent, according to African Development Bank figures. This has mainly been fuelled by a surge in oil discoveries. But even in countries without mineral wealth, economies are improving.
When Daniel Arap Moi, Kenya’s autocratic ruler, stepped down in 2002 the East African country’s growth was less than 1 per cent. After five years under new president Mwai Kibaki it has increased to 6.1 per cent and is expected to continue rising this year. There is a small but growing middle class emerging in Kenya as the number of private sector jobs has increased. Flats in new apartment blocks are being bought up quicker than they can be built.
Until recently, the Lebanese army was little more than a glorified police force. Confined to barracks during Lebanon’s long civil wars and then sidelined during the Syrian occupation in favour of Hezbollah, it has rarely inspired much respect.
So when 27 soldiers were killed on 20 May in a series of attacks by militants from the Islamist group Fatah al-Islam, few expected the army to do much more than complain. But the troops fought back.
This has earned the army the love of a disillusioned populace, shaken by the bloody events of the past three years. The country’s new affection for its army is reflected in a slew of television ads commemorating the soldiers that died and chest-thumping billboards declaring undying love for the military. Politicians and pop stars have lined up to sing the soldiers’ praises. Troops are being offered discounts at some shops and restaurants.
Such is the euphoria that even the ominous rumblings from army commander General Michel Suleiman that he won’t put up with bickering among politicians over Lebanon’s upcoming presidential elections have been welcomed as a timely reminder that the nation ought to come first.
Chad may be plagued by violence and corruption but now a few adventurous travellers are heading to the east of the country to visit one of the best game reserves for elephants. Zakouma National Park may be 3,000 sq km but it often hosts just two or three visitors at any one time.
Which country do you think has the best brand image and why?
It depends on what is meant by “the best image”. If it were chocolate, I’d say maybe Belgium; luxury goods, Switzerland; value for money, Vietnam. It’s interesting how nation-branding has taken off. In any market developing a brand and then leveraging it to the hilt is seen as a way to get an edge.
Which country would you like to see get a brand makeover and why?
Two countries that need dramatic change are Iraq and Zimbabwe. However, both need the fundamentals to change before the brand makeover can begin. Zimbabwe has a great climate, beautiful countryside, huge mineral resources. Today it’s in total disarray because of the politicians. This is affecting the whole region. South Africa in the last decade has made huge strides, and while perceptions lag behind reality, it is emerging as a must-visit. We were commissioned to focus on the brand of Johannesburg: it was one of the first cities in the world to make a concerted effort to brand itself.