Africa seems to spell continent with a capital "C". "C" for conflict, for catastrophe, for corruption and for crime. However, a new "C" is emerging especially in Kenya, sub-Saharan Africa's biggest economy: "C" for class. This is a group which is neither desperately poor nor disgustingly rich. They are comfortable, they work hard for it. They are the new middle class.
The Village Market is one of Nairobi's most elegant shopping malls. Nestled between the jungle-like Hills of Muthaiga, an old and expensive part of town, it bustles with life on a Friday afternoon. The weekend starts early and the parking lot is full of Toyotas, Mitsubishis and Peugeots, as repairing them in the case of a breakdown is an easy DIY job. Prices in the cafés and the ice-cream parlour are high, but most of the punters are Kenyans - and not of the white or Asian variety. "Going to the shopping mall on a Friday afternoon sets a signal. I show everybody that I have made it. I can afford to pay 100 Kenya shillings (about £1) for a bottle of Coke instead of 20 bob at the kiosk down the road," says Stella Wamuyu, before she is off to shop at Nakumatt, an African supermarket chain, which offers shampoo from Paris next to Chilean wines. Nakumatt's business was up by $250 million in the past year.
Stella works as the manager of a luxury hotel on the island of Lamu, where she heads a team of 23. They cater to the whims of tourists paying $500 a night. Her husband lives in Nairobi together with their eldest child. He is a manager at a local foreign exchange branch and for one week a month Stella joins him in the capital. She replaced a "Mzungu", a white man, two years ago and she relishes the opportunity. She was born one of 11 children and grew up in Kisumu, on the shores of Lake Victoria. For her, the choice of a career in the service and hospitality industry was a natural one. Tourism contributes about ten per cent of Kenya's annual economic output. "I started in the kitchen, ten years ago. Today, I am the manager, but I still empty a full ashtray when I see it."
Stella leads by example, and certainly many young Kenyans would wish to follow her footsteps. Education is important here: about 85 per cent of children attend school regularly. Even in the remotest area of northern Kenya, you will see children on their way to and from school. Their shirts are spotless and their shoes, hand-me-downs from Europe, polished. You'd never guess they had just left a mud hut, in which they live without electricity and water. The number of Kenyans enrolled in colleges has doubled in the past 10 years to almost 100,000. The University of Nairobi is considered the best in sub-Saharan Africa, South Africa excluded. Kenyans still hope to study abroad, but now exchanges are increasingly two-way.
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