Tusker vs. Castle. Remembering a beer war.

In 1998 I was a 16 year old just starting to drink alcohol in Nairobi. I remember clearly the arrival of South African beers (Castle lager) in the bars as an alternative to Tusker, the king of Kenyan beer. Castle came in cans, and until then it had all been glass Tusker bottles. Tusker soon started to can their beer to keep up, which I always nostalgically thought was a pity.

What I didn’t understand was the turbulent backdrop to these shiny cans and bottles sitting on the shelves in all the pubs. A corporate war was started when SA Breweries landed in Nairobi and invested in a plant in Thika. SAB entered East Africa’s largest economy through a business partnership with local brewer East Africa Breweries Ltd, maker of Tusker.

Lucrative markets and very similar products meant that it was a race to the bottom for both parties to keep or gain market share. After much drama (accusations of sabotage, protectionism, underhanded tactics by both parties), a price war benefiting consumers and a huge influx of different brands of beer into the market, the deal soon fell apart, forcing SABMiller to shut down its Thika plant and exit Kenya in 2002.

So what? Why does this matter? To me this is an important example of the SA vs Kenya dynamic. Synergies and opportunities are spotted, but what could have been an opportunity for strengthened bonds and cultures turned into a one-on-one brawl. Perhaps this is due to the nature of the product itself. Highly commoditized, all that was left was grabbing market share by any means. Prices dropped, tactics by all accounts got dirtier.

If South Africa and Kenya are to trade successfully, then perhaps the product traded needs to contain a little more differentiation, a little more art. It must demonstrate clearly its addition and novelty to the local market. Ideally there is no local equivalent to protect, because neither country wants to let the other one in if they feel the market already exists. Both are proud of their status as African giants. As an example, South Africa won’t allow Tusker to be sold in SA. A trademark technicality has kept it out for decades.

Recently SABMiller is back in the Kenya market but is only importing beers into the market. A more cautious approach is probably wise considering the first foray.

If I was going to trade goods into Kenya, I would try to find something that is just not available yet, and introduce it carefully with local partners. This was done with cell phones, pay tv and many other goods which didn’t trigger a price war. I’m sure there will be more to come.

Anyways. Happy Sunday chimps!

Chips and Cool Drinks. SA & Kenya.

I have lived in Africa for most of my life (9 / 38 years in Australia and Italy – the rest in Kenya and South Africa (SA)). In reading up on trade agreements, I have only just discovered there is a country on the continent called “Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic”. But I digress.

I remember as a kid we would visit my grandmother in SA from Kenya. These trips were really exciting. South African ‘Simba Chips’ and ‘Appletiser’ cool drinks were always the very first thing we bought at the airport as we landed in Johannesburg. In the 80’s and 90’s Kenya was a far more insular country than it is today. Trade was limited and the shops had little in the way of imported goods. In an effort to grow domestic capability, President Moi made my childhood bereft of things like Kelloggs cereals, Mars ice creams, or cool drinks in a can. SA had so much more in the shops. Being oblivious of all the drama related to Apartheid, I always thought SA was the golden land of plenty. To an extent I still feel that way.

Skipping ahead many years, after I finished studying in Australia the first job that became truly available to me was in Johannesburg. I took the consulting gig and found myself in the land of plenty having to work for money. This prospect was daunting, but at least they still made Simba Chips and Appletiser – This was a comfort for me on days when I realised just how little university had prepared me for real life.

Although I found it tough to move to Johannesburg for work and to start a new life, I had a strong belief in the potential and compatibility of Kenyans and South Africans. This was largely down to three things:

  • 1. My South African mother and Kenyan father were, and are, happily married. A model of regional diplomacy and trade in action.
  • 2. My father had successfully worked for a big South African company in Kenya. During this time all I saw were Kenyans and South Africans collaborating all over the place. Positive role models.
  • 3. Simba Chips and Appletisers were by now available in Kenyan shops. Successive presidents in Kenya had loosened the trade and imports into Kenya. The old products still retained their magic charm for me. They had come to Nairobi, just as I had come to Jozi.

That was 13 years ago. As I have understood SA and Kenya a little better over the years, it strikes me that the trade between the two countries could be improved upon. This is an understatement. We are talking about 2 of the most dynamic, important economies in Africa. Two landing pads for international businesses to arrive and work on the continent. There should be Kenyans all over SA and vice versa. We should be the USA and Canada of Africa. The UK and France of Sub-Sahara. Why then is trade so limited? The stats back up my gut feeling on the relationship:

Trade between South Africa and Kenya has been minimal when considering South Africa’s global trade. From a global perspective, Kenya is ranked 27th amongst South Africa’s export destinations accounting for just about 1% of South Africa’s total exports. In terms of imports, Kenya, does not feature even in the top 30 import suppliers to the South African market. However, when considering the African market, the Kenya is ranked 10th export destination for South Africa’s goods and is ranked 22nd most important import source from Africa.

https://www.tralac.org/resources/our-resources/12248-south-africa-s-trade-with-kenya.html

1% of total exports?? 22nd most important source from Africa??

This is bonkers to me. So bonkers that it might become my life’s mission to chart this relationship and develop it where I can. Knowing Kenya and knowing South Africa, they each have SO much to offer each other.

I am off to a good start, having married a South African woman myself. Trade and Diplomacy in action 🙂

Home again

Holiday was cut short by a military lockdown. Not your usual reason.

It’s nice to be home. I’m trying to be optimistic. This is a chance to live differently. Thank the Gods we are allowed to walk the dogs. This is good for both my dogs and my marriage!

21 days can sometimes fly by. My children are confused about the interruption but I think they’ll cope fine.

We have food, we have plenty of work to do on the house, and actual job work which is still coming in over this period though to a lesser extent.

We have entertainment, a garden with a pool. We have space in the house and we have shops down the road. We have every chance of side stepping this damned virus.

Here’s to healthy kids, dogs, marriages and national lockdowns.

Contraction versus expansion

There is some clarity that comes with the dread of an impending pandemic. When times get tough it’s a lot easier to prioritise your life.

Some silly examples; I now know for sure that I can’t buy anything fancy. I can’t go on any big trips. The house will not get expanded this year. I won’t visit my family overseas. This is before I even think about plans we may have had at work for our company. So many cancelled plans. All because of uncertainty around Corona virus.

In more normal, predictable times I would toy with all the exciting ideas I could think of. Weigh them up. Choose one over the other. Now I can put all these haunting wishes to sleep.

When this thing passes I will stretch myself again. Until then it’s a period of contraction, consolidation, concentration on the task at hand. Just a period. Nothing more and nothing less.

Not exciting, but necessary for long term planning and resilience.

Company

If we wanted to do something worthwhile – and it almost doesn’t matter what it is – we would likely find it easier to do with someone else as a guide, a teacher, or just as company.

There’s always an opportunity for creating a welcoming venue for birds of a feather to come together and practice, discuss, create, define what they want to get good at.

The best websites do this. Podcasts too.

The best restaurants, clubs, churches, offices, parks, homes and companies do this too.

Every 10 seconds

Google randomly displays the masters of fine art on my screen, switching every ten seconds or so. A Monet just flashed by, now its someone named Joseph Léon Righini.

All of this is staggeringly good art. None of it is given much attention by me during the day. But it is there for me to see whenever I want it. A mountain peak – an Everest – of fine art to aim for every 10 seconds. This would have been unthinkable a couple of decades ago. I remember growing up we had a massive Encyclopaedia Brittanica in our house for reference.

Why does this matter? I think it matters because it means that the problem of our time – the problem of this revolution we are experiencing – is not one of scarcity or of access to information, or to inspiration. The internet has given us access to more information than we could possibly want – be it art, science, history or cat videos.

Instead the problem is one of contribution. The nagging question in our heads should be “When am I going to show up?”

I don’t mean show up in Google’s algorithm, I mean show up to the party and contribute. Care enough to try, to fail and to show your work.

Handwriting

When I was 11 years old, I changed my handwriting in an effort to be cool. I wanted to be more like my friend. He wrote with far more flair than I did. His pages had words that stood out at you. They were all in in neat rows, but they looked artistic and full of purpose. His paragraphs were all in joined up writing and each word was at an angle. His pages looked like they came from someone interesting. Mine just looked like they came from a bog standard 11 year old kid.

I remember clearly deciding to write an assignment in this new style – with my new found flair. The words were all at a painful angle across the page. It took me ages to finish because I was more interested in how it looked than what was written. I put my name on it and handed it in. I felt satisfied and liberated. My new, cooler, more angular identity was emerging.

When the teacher handed our marked papers back, he stopped when he reached me. I got a poor mark. He was disappointed with me, he said. And what on earth was wrong my handwriting? He could barely read it.

I couldn’t hide my blushes as I mumbled some sort of response. I reverted back to myself the very next class.

Happy Sunday chimps. To thine own self be true!

Information packaged

In this internet age, access to information and data is not necessarily a competitive advantage. Everyone has google. Everyone has more data than they know what to do with. This includes your clients.

The trick then when dealing with clients and data is to package it properly. Package it into something as specific as possible.

If the target client needs scientific proof to make a decision, send them scientific papers.

If they are driven by money, send them as many financial statements and ratios as possible to back up your sale.

If they identify with emotion and passion, possibly you need to package your information in the form of a romantic story.

It is a matter of speaking the right language to achieve your goal with a client.

We all have a language we like to speak and will pay money and attention for. What is yours?

Asking for advice

You need to be careful who you ask. There are all sorts of pitfalls. Some people might not understand the question and give a lazy response to what they thought the question was. Some might get emotional if the question threatens their position. Many people are not used to thinking through their answers.

I believe we humans create easy answers to a lot of the more difficult questions thrown at us, even if they are not true or based on facts. We have to, simply to cope with the harsh reality of life. Placebos can work very well but if someone asks an honest question then you owe them a well thought out answer based on fact, not purely on faith.

Next time someone asks me for advice I will first try and really understand where they are coming from before offering my own point of view on the matter. Then I will try and stick to the facts.

Happy Sunday chimps!

New Years purge

We are purging our cupboards on the first day of the year. Although it wasn’t planned for this exact day, the timing feels extremely cathartic and right.

We will send our old clothes to one of the multitude of needy causes nearby. Africa does not struggle when it comes to charities and needy folk, unfortunately.

The purge is also spreading to my man cave/office which is chock full of my stuff….this includes all the coolest stuff (posters, guitars, Hifi amps and speakers) and all the junk I have collected over the years (old battery chargers anyone?)

If you are looking for something to do to start the new year right, I’d highly recommend a purge.

Happy New Years chimps!