By Larry Madowo
Name the biggest musicians in Africa right now. Now name some of African films’ biggest stars. Go ahead, I’ll wait. How many of them were Nigerians?
I interviewed one of them last week, the “highlife musician”, Flavour, most famous here for his Nwa Baby song and its Ashaworemix. Like the most conceited of eternally sunglass-wearing stars, he was a fragile personality, treated by his management like a precious piece of china always at risk of breaking if not handled carefully.
Even for one who massages egos for a living like me, his egregiously cocky demeanor was over the top and supremely annoying, almost as if sucking out all the air from the studio.
The smugness that travels along with Flavour is not unique to him. His compatriot, Davido, is no different. A big star on the African music scene, he is also well aware of his stardom and acts as you would expect of a rich, spoilt brat.
I was in Mauritius in late June for a Multichoice content showcase for their DStv and GoTV channels when I met the 22-year-old musical force. I didn’t get an on-camera interview; he had to run off to a busy night of partying before leaving the next morning for a different part of the continent.
On my return flight, I had the misfortune of sharing my cattle-class row with two Nigerian journalists. The men demanded to be served before everyone else, and despite having flown economy, wanted the services of a private suite on the upper deck of an Airbus 380.
“Nigerians have a highly defined sense of self-belief,” entrepreneur Mike Macharia told me. “If you meet a Nigerian somewhere, it is not someone you’ll look down upon because you’re prejudicial.”
He has spent the last few years trying to expand the company he founded and still leads – Seven Seas Technologies – into Africa’s most populous and biggest economy.
In Kenya, Nigerian movies are some of the most popular on television; much loved not just by housewives and househelps, but by many who would probably never publicly admit to watching Nollywood productions.
Nigerian music is so well liked in Kenya that a radio station that purports to play “urban African music” has a playlist of mostly Nigerian music. It might as well be called Davido FM.
So powerful is the “Nigerian” branding in Kenya that the Nigerian-Kenyan comedian, Obinna, has channelled it into a radio and TV show, performs to large crowds and is even launching a singing career.
“What makes Nigerians so different is that they’ve accepted themselves, they’ve accepted their loudness, and they embrace their African-ness,” former TV business journalist Cynthia Nyamai told me by phone.
She says her eponymous communication consultancy is doing good business in Nigeria, just a few months in.
“They allow themselves to dream big – you think of owning a Range Rover Sport, they are dreaming of owning a jet or buying a holiday home in Spain.’
Obinna says his Kenyan fans love the boisterous nature of his character.
“Nigerians are flashy, they wear loud colours and drive big vehicles and Kenyan women especially love that.”
Mentally superior to Africans
He plays into the overconfident stereotype that many Kenyans both love and admire.
“Kenyans feel mentally superior in East Africa, but Nigerians feel mentally superior to most Africans,” Macharia says.
“That level of self-assurance works for them across Africa.”
He points out that Nigerian businesses are making more investments in the country, such as GT Bank’s recent acquisition of 70per cent of Fina Bank.
‘They find us weak, so when he comes here and buys a small bank, $100 million (Sh8.7bn) is something he can easily do.”
There’s a Nigerian everywhere you look, anywhere in the world. A friend took me to Croydon in South London two years ago and we found Nigerian influences there suffocating.
A large immigrant community in a former colonial master is certainly admirable but the growing supremacy of Nigeria in Kenya remains unexplored. That Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, is investing in the cement and energy business here and President Uhuru Kenyatta is noticeably warming up to President Goodluck Jonathan are just the latest signals.
Growing influence in Kenya
One of Africa’s biggest writers, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, was in Nairobi for a literary festival late last year to a prodigious reception. Not only are Kenyans attracted to Nigerian music and film, their modern literature is taking over from the Chinua Achebes and Wole Soyinkas of yore.
No wonder Nyamai says Nigerians are “very pan-African” and she now gets business on her own without facilitation from the British partner who first introduced her to the market.
But that continent-wide thinking may also be working against Kenya’s in the East-West interaction that remains heavily imbalanced in the West Africans’ favour.
The growing social and cultural influence of Nigeria in Kenya is the natural precursor to full economic domination. Though China is investing millions of yuan in Kenya, it is the colourful folks from Africa’s West coast with their agbadas and distinct accents truly capturing the hearts and minds of Kenyans.
It is only a matter of time before the naira gains currency with the population here. The Nigerian colonisation of Kenya is here.
You might not recognise it just yet because it is wearing sunglasses and acting up.
Mr. Madowo originally published this article in the Kenyan DAILY NATION newspaper Monday, August 25, 2014 from where it is culled for its local Nigerian public interest value.