Self-help books take a grip on Kenya's middle class
Andrew England from Nairobi
Nioroge Gutu, a pastor, uses them to inject practical advice into the sermons he delivers. For Caroline Kenga, they provide motivation and time-management guidance its she juggles a full-time job with a university course. Moses Oburu reads them to help cope with the challenges of relationships and his dreams of making money.
The three have one thing in common -- all are dedicated readers of self-help books, increasingly popular among Kenya's burgeoning middle class and a rapidly growing market for booksellers.
Pop into any bookshop in Nairobi and the shelves will be packed with paperbacks, mostly American, offering advice on how to get rich quick, deal with relationships or fast-track careers, with titles such as The One Minute Millionaire to Secrets of Sexually Irresistible Women.
"There's been tremendous growth -- you can see we have dedicated two whole tows to them," says Jitesh Upadhyay, manager of Prestige Books. "Everybody wants to get rich quick. That's the number one on the list."
The market for self-help books represents an Africa that rarely makes headlines: Africans in suits heading to offices, shopping in modern supermarkets or dabbling in stock markets, all the while dreaming of becoming millionaires or working out ways to move up the career ladder -- lifestyles far removed from the usual perceptions of the continent that conjure up images of conflict, famine and disease.
Development on the world's poorest continent often seems painfully slow and poverty is still widespread. But in cities such as Nairobi there is a growing urban class that shares the same aspirations as its counterparts in the "developed" world.
These urbanites also face challenges -- professional and personal -- that are often alien to older generations as society evolves and urbanisation spawns individualism and materialism.
"There's a lack of information and we face new issues every day, new challenges, so we need explanations and we need examples from other people who have gone through a similar situation," says Mr Oburu, a 34-year-old self-employed businessman browsing the shelves at Prestige bookshop.
He says he spends up to 2,000 shillings ($27) a month on the advice books. "Our society is evolving, so some of the things we are going through are new and you are not going to get the information from your grandfather."
At another shop, BookPoint, seven shelves are dedicated to self-help books. The shop's number one seller is Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert T. Kiyosaki, which promises an insight into what the "rich teach their kids about money, the poor and middle class do not".
Dipak Shah, director of BookPoint, says he shifts about 200 copies of this book every month. During the last three or four years, sales of self-help books have been 10 times those of novels, he estimates.
Ms Kenga, who works for a satellite TV provider while studying public relations and marketing by correspondence and evening classes, helps to explain why. "I'd rather read a self-help book -- they help in my life. If I read a novel I'm just entertaining myself," she says.
Motivated and ambitious, the 26-year-old displays many of the traits of growing numbers of young women in Nairobi. Her parents could not afford to send her to university, but she found employment and began her course when she was earning enough to pay for herself -- and she wants to earn more and continue moving her career forward.
Marriage, which often comes at a young age in African societies, will be put aside while her goals are met. The self-help books, she says, provide vital support as she moves forward.
"You get motivation, you get inspired from those books.... You think out of the box," she says. "My dad, mat be 10 years ago he would have wanted me to get married now, but I'm supporting him in many ways and they [her parents] can see that had 1 not gone to school, then I would not be able to support them," Ms Kenga says.
The changes reflect the impact of globalisation, the plethora of new information available, and, in the case of female readers, a sign of women becoming more assertive, according to Carole Mandi, managing editor of True Love, a glossy women's magazine.
"They want independence, and how can you get independence if you are not financially independent?" asks Ms Mandi, who has read self-help books "a lot". "I guess people are at a point in their lives where they are looking for meaning, for information that will help move them from where they are to where they want to go, whether it's in relationships, finances or work places."