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Must have buys but are you happy?

Are you already living in the best of all worlds? For many Kenyans living, as we do, in a country where up to six out of ten of our fellow citizens live on Sh300 ($3) per day or less and a salary of Sh25,000 ($268) a month qualifies you as ‘middle class’, this may seem a little counter intuitive (as the Americans say) but apparently it might be true. All you need, we have read, is envy.

The usual sources for Kenya Forum postings are direct contact with, we hope, informed individuals, news coverage and media comment, research or academic material and of course the reality of our daily lives in Kenya. The source for this posting is a little more unusual, a booklet produced by the advertising agency Young & Rubicam (Y&R) entitled ‘All you need is envy’ which set us thinking about the implications of the propositions contained in it for Kenyans. (And before anyone asks, as far as we know, no member of the Kenya Forum team has any financial, contractual or professional link with Y&R in Nairobi!).


The contention of the booklet is that envy is a deeply embedded driver of human activity, making us crave certain products and services whatever the cost and even if we struggle to afford them, particularly if our friends and neighbours don’t have them (Y&R’s research suggests that when about a third of society has a product the ‘envy’ factor is at its height).

That might be true of the United States, the UK or mainland Western Europe but is it true of Kenya and Kenyans the Forum asks? We think that perhaps it is, so the Kenya Forum has come up with ten ‘envy indicators’. See what you think (and by all means write to us with other suggestions!).

Do you, or people you know, ever break that budget to do or buy any of the following?

  • Make an appearance at the ‘blankets and wine’ events, such as the Concours D’Elegance.
  • Keep up with the latest fashion by buying designer clothes, bags and shoes from Prada, Louis Vuitton, Armani, Gucci and Levi.
  • Spend hard-earned Shillings on the latest gadgets, such as iPads or iPhones.
  • Go out on a Friday or Saturday night to the poshest uptown joints such as the Mercury, Sierra, Brew Bistro, or Tamarind restaurants.
  • Replace that perfectly serviceable television at home with the latest flat screen TV, a home theatre, PS3 or X-Box 360.
  • Join a whisky club to taste Johnnie Walker Blue label (at Sh16,000 a bottle), or some other equally expensive branded fire water.
  • Send their children to the most expensive private schools such as The Banda, Hillcrest, St Andrew’s Turi or Braeburn, because of the people they (and their parents) might rub shoulders with.
  • Raid the piggy bank and re-mortgage the house to own a flashy car, such as a Range Rover Sport or a BMW X6, even if maintaining it is a major financial burden.
  • Men (that’s most men) who treat their girlfriends to the most expensive meals, or take them to the most expensive places that are way beyond their means.
  • Live from pay cheque to pay cheque trying to afford a place in Karen, Lavington, Kileleshwa, Runda or Loresho (because they would rather live in servants’ quarters on a posh estate than live in a larger house in a poor area).

Does any of that ring a bell? The Kenya Forum thinks it will and that it says something about the Kenya we live in today.


For all of you, however, who think that you can buy contentment, think again.

The Y&R research looked at the past fifty years of the ‘US general Social Survey’ that tracks the proportion of Americans who say they are ‘very happy’. Back in 1946 the figure for the ‘very happy’ stood at 32 per cent. Fifty years later, after a tripling of average incomes, the introduction of sliced bread, colour TVs, mobile phones, home pizza deliveries and much else besides, the figure for the percentage of ‘very happy’ Americans is the same.

What does make Americans happy, Y&R maintain, is the knowledge that their living standards are envied by their neighbours (perhaps less so since the financial collapse!)

What does it all lead to, be it in the USA or Kenya? It leads to the slightly disturbing conclusion, says the Ad agency, that ‘There never was a rosy rural past where everyone was happy with their lot’, and that, ‘there never will be a utopian future where all of mankind will be happier’. In short, they say, ‘you are already living in the best of all worlds’.

‘No amount of new technology or other material progress’ will make you any happier they claim, ‘unless of course, you get yours first’.



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