prepaid economy


Majority of emerging African “middle classes” are members of the “Kadogo Economy”…

So, how does this so-called African middle class who are supposed to be managing their household expenses by spending between $2 to $20 a day shop? According to the AfDB report the vast majority fall in the $2-$4 per day segment, not the upper end of $10-$20.

These photos just capture the bare surface of the ways people on irregular and often, unpredictable, daily incomes from a variety of sources, manage their expenses. From the top:

1. Sachets, often single serve like the Nescafe coffee pack, are the most common way that FMCG companies package their products. Kadogo means small in Swahili and while this name might only be popular in East Africa, you can be sure that the Kadogo economy exists in every other country.

2. Unilever’s popular OMO brand of laundry detergent in a 5 shilling ‘kadogo’ pack or sachet. 5 kenyan shillings might be equivalent to 5 euro cents or 7 or 8 US ones. That Nescafe also costs 5 shillings but I suspect you could stretch the laundry detergent out for a few more buckets of wash.

3. Lest we imagine that it was the big brand multinationals who invented the concept of breaking bulk down to “kadogo”, this is a bar of multipurpose soap that the shopkeeper has already cut up into far more affordable pieces. Not only has it been cut into a 'regular’ bar size that the manufacturer has helpfully marked (you cannot serve this mass majority market if you don’t serve kadogo) but further into halves and quarters according to your budget or cash in hand.

4. Cigarettes are more often sold loose. You can buy just one for a few bob than spending what might be your day’s cash earning on a whole packet. Healthier too, imho.

5. Kerosene is used for lighting - that’s the cutest jua kali kerosene lamp I’ve seen. It cost me 50 bob (shillings) and I can fill it with as little as 5 bob worth of kerosene. Regular gas stations sell kerosene (paraffin) for around 80-100 shillings per litre (depending on fuel prices).

The flexibility of purchasing by cash available or quantity is what distinguishes this pay as you go (prepaid :) cash based economy.  Just like the most popular way to top up your mobile phone’s airtime minutes for calls, text or Facebook!

All photos were taken by Niti Bhan in Kenya during various projects in 2012.

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Why, yes, yes indeed we are.

You won’t find any news of war, poverty, disease, malnutrition or failed states here.

You can go anywhere else for that.

We deliberately search for and seek out stories of African enterprise, innovation, economic aspirations, opportunities, inspiration and forward looking thinking.

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Yes, those are bows and arrows for sale. I asked the gentleman who had them displayed for sale along with more commonplace homestead tools why people bought them. He said it was for home security. Notice the quiver made from a section of PVC pipe.

Seen at Kilala livestock market, photographed by Niti Bhan in Kenya.

For those curious to know why people would rent someone’s wheelbarrows,  as seen in our previous post on Zambia, here is one example of the flexible income generating capabilities of the tool - an instant vegetable barrow ready and set up for sale at a bus stop corner.

Photo credit: Niti Bhan in Nairobi, Kenya