We like to party

Africans love to celebrate and know how to do it in style. It’s good for the economy as well as the soul says, msafiri’s business columnist, Nkem Ifejika.

BusinessMattersOne of my favourite things about business is how varied it can be from one country to another. Different places have sectors of their economy that are unique to them. In Africa, I love what I like to call the ‘celebration economy’. In a nutshell, people will seize opportunities to gather and celebrate any and everything. Bought a new car? Let’s celebrate. Weddings, naming ceremonies, birthdays, promotions, funerals? Even better.

The knock-on effect of these celebrations can be immense. Take the Ghanaian coffin builders who construct the most elaborate capsules to send souls on their way. The skill involved means they command a higher premium than if they were just making a standard wooden box. The higher cost of the coffin means more spending power for the artisan; the numerous colours mean more spending on paint; the excess wood means more money for the loggers. And all this expenditure and productivity doesn’t even include the funeral itself, usually a riotous celebration of life to which all are invited.

Another example is in Nigeria, where the tradition of aso ebi is strong. ‘Aso ebi’ is a Yoruba term that means ‘family cloth’. When there are weddings, the groom’s family wear a particular piece of cloth, and the bride’s family would wear something different. It creates a sense of togetherness for the families. Sometimes the couples’ parents’ families wear different cloths, and even friends of the bride and friends of the groom might have their own material. Individuals get their own tailors to make the cloth to their own style. This creates a beautiful cacophony of colour, keeps the cloth makers’ collection diverse, and tailors in work. Oh, and did I mention that a small Nigerian wedding means five hundred people?

The multiplier effect of these celebrations is easy to see. These are the cogs that keep the African economy turning over. Manufacturing and exports are great, but most people earn a living through serving their immediate environment.

Not too long ago I spoke to an African entrepreneur who runs a couple of businesses. One is to do with organising corporate events and the other is arranging surprises for clients’ loved ones: saxophone proposals, flower deliveries on Valentine’s Day. She said she was shocked at how well the surprises business was doing. But it’s a thoroughly modern African thing – it has the celebration element to it and to keep up with current trends, it also has customisation.

As the continent’s economy grows and people have more disposable income, the celebration economy will grow alongside. More food will be bought and cooked, cloth will be woven and sewn, party marquees will be erected. All this economic activity is something to celebrate.

I think I’ll drink to that.