Insight: Africa "black diamond" spenders show their luster

Mon Jan 23, 2012 3:52pm EST
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By Tiisetso Motsoeneng and Yara Bayoumy

JOHANNESBURG/NAIROBI (Reuters)- With a taste for Jimmy Choo shoes and Hermes handbags, Choice Okoro's idea of shopping is a world away from her mother's.

"My mother would not pay what I pay for shoes," said Okoro, a Nigerian professional in her late 30s as she prowled the sleek Westgate shopping mall in her adopted home of Nairobi.

"At my age, my mother had nine of us. The reality for Africa is that we are the new breed," she said. She spends an average of about $500 a month on clothing and shoes - a breathtaking sum in the world's poorest continent.

Although millions of Africans remain stuck in crushing poverty, the fast-growing continent is no longer defined solely by privation and disease. Luxury brand sellers are targeting the small but increasingly visible number of what South African retailers call "black diamonds," or affluent African professionals.

Their mushrooming aspirations for Hugo Boss suits, Prada sunglasses and Louis Vuitton purses is reminiscent of India and China more than a decade ago, experts say, although Africa still has a long haul to match Asia's roaring demand for bling.

Africa's population of people whose fortunes are large enough to qualify as "high net worth individuals" was the fastest growing in the world in 2009-2010, according to the latest annual report from Merrill Lynch and Capgemini.

Of course, an exclusive band - usually of government elites - have for decades shopped in London, Paris and New York. Rising disposable incomes and the development of shiny new malls mean more Africans can now buy their luxury at home.

Sub-Saharan economies are among the fastest growing in the world. The region itself is expected to average 6 percent growth this year, driven by continued demand for oil and minerals.   Continued...

<p>A man walks past a shop window displaying designer clothes on a Durban street, January 17, 2012. REUTERS/Rogan Ward</p>