A survey by real estate consultancy Knight Frank shows that Nairobi retail space in malls stands at 490,000 square metres (sqm), far ahead of other top cities like Kampala (170,000 sqm), Dakar (170,000 sqm), Addis Ababa (165,000 sqm), Lagos (150,000 sqm), and Dar es Salaam (160,000 sqm).
However, South Africa boasts the largest share of malls in Africa – with about 23 million square metres of shopping centre floor space, compared to three million square metres in sub-Saharan Africa.
No other city in sub-Saharan Africa comes close to the number of operational malls that are found in Nairobi. In the past 18 months, three malls; Two Rivers (67,000 sqm), Garden City (33,500 sqm) and The Hub Karen (30,000 sqm) have opened their doors injecting 130,000 sqm into the city.
The three malls are interestingly ranked second, third and fourth largest malls in Africa behind South Africa’s Guateng-based Mall of Africa at 121,000 square metres.
“Outside of South Africa, the Kenyan capital has the greatest volume of retail space in sub-Saharan Africa and it continues to be a development hotspot,” reads Knight Frank 2017 Africa Report.
Knight Frank had earlier praised the manner in which “the retail property sector has been a major focus for development activity within Africa over the last decade, causing shopping mall concept to take root in increasingly wide range of major African cities.”
The real estate consultancy said the growth was driven by factors such as the explosion of the continent’s “consumer markets.”
In a feature titled “Business in Africa,” distinguished British magazine, The Economist, described Nairobi as “a city of malls and highways”, while celebrating Garden City – which had just opened – as “the latest temple to consumerism.”
However, today, most of these new shopping malls that have been spurred on by the narrative of ‘expanding middle class’ are ghosts malls with almost empty floors and deserted parking lots.
According to Dr Scholastica Odhiambo, who teaches economics at Maseno University, the shopping mall bumble is set to burst soon.
This is due to the fact that the middle class is ready to spend its cash on luxurious products on sale in most of these malls is too tiny.
“Some of the middle income people will just come to see, not to purchase unless they are getting into the supermarket,” Dr Odhiambo recently told the Standard.
Anzetse Were, a Kenyan economist, said that although some malls appear to enjoy high traffic, most of the “shoppers” are students who come to window-shop.
According to Ms Were, those who can afford to shop in these malls have other pressing priorities and can therefore not blow away Sh15,000 on a perfume.
“There is a big informal market in this country that the middle class shop in,” she says giving an example of a popular place on Ngong Road where middle-income earners buy quality furniture.