Monday, July 7, 2008

Nakumattism

The Financial Times posted an interesting article today entitled "Kenya’s new consumerism". Barney Jopson accurately describes this new consumerism by referring to the goings-on at Nakumatt, one of Kenya's leading supermarket chains. Nakumatts are "stores that stock everything from maize flour to quad bikes". True, I was at Nakumatt Westgate yesterday, and though I didn't need the maize flour nor a quad bike, I was happy to be able to buy a litre of 'Fresh n Juici' freshly squeezed passion juice and a liter of freshly squeezed tropical mix juice (which included tree tomato!). They taste so yummy and make you feel so healthy, so I finished both of them today, although you can keep them refrigerated for at least another two days (this is the pure stuff, no preservatives or other additives). I am already addicted to shopping at Nakumatt just because of these lovely juices...

But Nakumatt has aficionados as well as enemies, as is vividly shown in the FT article:
The company has “transformed consumerism”, says Wambui Mwangi, assistant professor of political science at the University of Toronto, who divides her time between Canada and Kenya. It has taught people new desires and created new rituals, she says, noting how her friends set the dinner table by simply placing a hub-and-spoke cutlery holder bought from Nakumatt in the centre of it.
“Nakumatt is where you go to show you are educated and prosperous and cognisant of larger affairs,” she adds. “It’s an aspirational space that appeals to everyone, especially the people who can’t really afford to shop there.”
Alfred Omenya, an architect, academic and managing director of Eco-Build Africa, disagrees and sees in Nakumatt the creeping segregation of Kenyan society. “The guy who navigates the city on foot would be out of place there. If you have to walk to Nakumatt it’s very uncomfortable. There’s no pedestrian access and you have to pass through all those cars.”
A small band of anti-Nakumattistas has emerged even within the car-owning classes, including Shalini Gidoomal, director of the Kwani literary festival. In spite of the inconvenience often involved, she prefers to shop in the informal sector and says Nakumatt kills off the variety and pleasures of interacting with people in markets and small stores.


What do you think? Is there life without supermarket chains like Nakumatt?

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