Daniel Howden: In Nairobi, business is booming in the gleaming new branches of KFC

The city's new plazas are full of South African fast-food outlets copying those in the US

Share
Related Topics

The grand opening of the first KFC restaurant in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, last year drew a serious crowd. It was never on a par with McDonald's 1990 debut in Moscow but there was palpable excitement. The queues outside the fried chicken restaurant in one of the city's mushrooming shopping malls were taken as further evidence of the rise of the country's middle class.

Most of the diners admitted they had been drawn by the “hype” but a year on KFC is still full and has opened several more outlets. The opening was broadly seen as Kenya catching up with the rest of the world, another signpost on the way to middle-income status rather than any cause for health concerns.

People looking for answers to why Africa has gone from hunger crises to mounting obesity without ever passing through a healthy nutrition phase tend to focus on why the continent is different. The same tired “African exceptionalism” that is used to explain poverty levels or civil wars is wheeled out. Some point to cultural differences, wondering whether the heft is associated with wealth and prosperity rather than the Western stereotype of idleness and sloth.

Unusual practices like the forcefeeding of girls in Mauritania or breast ironing in Mali are seized on to draw sweeping conclusions about “traditional beliefs” over body shapes and sizes. A lot of time has been spent by researchers asking men in countries like South Africa and Kenya whether they like big bums or skinny women. The answers, as you would expect on a continent of a billion people, are mixed.

In fact, what the rising obesity rates reveal are consumer habits that broadly follow what's been seen elsewhere in the world. The same factors are creating the fat. Urbanisation is on the increase throughout sub-Saharan Africa and the move from the village to the city is adding weight to the argument.

Africa now has more cities of over one million people than China and a larger collective middle class than India. Convenience foods full of fat and starch are waiting for the new arrivals that can afford them in the cities.

The highest obesity rates broadly follow the GDP per capita, with sub-Saharan Africa's biggest economy South Africa having by far the biggest problem. Other emerging economies like Kenya are following suit, often with exactly the same companies and products. It's no coincidence that South African investors brought KFC back to Kenya (it was there previously in the 1970s briefly).

Nairobi's shiny new plazas as well as its petrol station drive-ins are full of South African fast food outlets, most of them aping US counterparts.

Already creaking public health systems are in no position to deal with an obesity epidemic. Social attitudes to weight will have to shift without much help from governments. If there is a pan-African middle class emerging then it is most visible on satellite television where adverts imploring Mums to feed up their kids have started to give way to those telling people to watch their weight. The message may not be getting through.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Senior Research Fellow in Gender, Food and Resilient Communities

£47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: The Centre for Agroecology, ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Taking on Ukip requires a delicate balancing act for both main parties

Andrew Grice
Today is a bigger Shabbes than usual in the Jewish world because it has been chosen to launch the Shabbos Project  

Shabbes exerts a pull on all Jews, and today is bigger than ever

Howard Jacobson
Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker