Last week I moved from Nigeria to Kenya, where I’m being hosted by Strathmore Business School (SBS), Strathmore University. Just as I got out of the plane, I could feel a difference: a nice freeze of fresh air, as opposed to the mass of humid, hot air that greeted me in Lagos. Weather played an important role in the way the British colonized one and another country. While to outsiders all African countries may look alike, there are important differences.
To start with, the 54 African countries are grouped in three large, distinct regions: Northern Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), and Southern Africa. SSA is further divided into Western, Central, and Eastern Africa. As I explain in the introduction to this blog, my interest lies on SSA and Southern-Africa. The countries with most dynamic economies are South Africa, Nigeria, and Kenya.
Nigeria is the leading country in Western Africa. As they say, their main strength is their population: about 170 M people (no one seems to know the exact population) make Nigeria the most populated country in Africa. 10 days ago or so, it was classified as the largest economy in Africa, surpassing South Africa for the first time. This will make Nigerians very happy, as they love beating South Africans — even in football matches! Retail, real estate, and hospitality are growing sectors.
Kenya is the country to watch in Eastern Africa. It’s a smaller country, with a 45 M population. Kenya Vision 2030 lays out a plan aimed at increasing annual GDP growth rates to an average of 10 % over this time horizon. The key sectors that have been prioritized are tourism, agriculture, wholesale and retail trade, business process offshoring, and financial services. With regards to infrastructures, they don’t have the power problems Nigerians face but their roads are not much better than those in Nigeria. From the limited experience I’ve had, I can attest to this.
These are some of the most evident differences across these countries. But cultural differences are also important. Nigerians are perceived as aggressive across the board. In fact, they describe themselves as “proud and loud.” Interestingly, while Kenyans are softer than Nigerians, they are still thought to be aggressive by their neighbors in Eastern Africa. It will be interesting to observe! Do you have any experience you can share?