You almost are. Shoprite and the other founding tenants of the mall hail from South Africa, whose companies and products can now be found across the continent. From cell phones to electrical power, banks to beer, South African commerce is moving north, bringing competition, exciting consumers and frightening those with most to lose: manufacturers and politicians. Companies like satellite television providers Multichoice, South African Airways, and utilities and mining giants Eskom and Anglo American are becoming almost ubiquitous across the continent. "South Africa really is a powerhouse," says Peter Kimuyu, director of Kenya's Institute of Policy Analysis and Research. "What we're seeing are the forces of globalization coming to us through Africa's biggest economy."
The economic invasion seems inevitable. Sanctions against the former apartheid regime prevented most South African companies from investing their huge profits anywhere but at home, stifling expansion into new markets. But the coming of majority rule in 1994 unlocked the country's dormant capacity and within months South African firms were exploring opportunities around Africa. "It makes sense for us to go into what is basically a void," says Peet Coetzee, regional administration manager for Shoprite in Kampala. "We see a lot of potential in the awakening African markets."
South African companies bring to those markets much-needed capital, sophisticated marketing and production techniques and Western-style management. In Tanzania, for example, South Africa's ABSA bank computerized the National Bank of Commerce within months of buying a 70% stake in it. Tellers can now move money between accounts and check balances instantly. And unlike Western companies, which often struggle to cope with the logistical problems and political unrest common in Africa, South African firms are more "sober and realistic," says Arthur Tukahirwa, assistant director at the Uganda Investment Authority, which works to attract South African investors. "If there's a flareup in violence somewhere they're not rushing to shut down their operation."
But not everyone is cheering. African leaders complain of huge trade imbalances with South Africa; a few have described South Africa as an economic imperialist. Opposition members of parliament in Tanzania, where South African firms own the largest brewer and sugar producer, last year protested the "South African takeover" of their country. Chris Kirubi, owner of a Nairobi cosmetics and plastics plant and a former head of the Kenya Association of Manufacturers, says South African companies import goods from home rather than buy locally: "They don't empower other companies to benefit. Our hope for South Africa acting as an engine for growth has been dashed. It's very disappointing."
South African firms say they encourage local manufacturing and try to buy locally as quality improves in each market. They also point to the benefits competition provides. Kenya's brewing industry, for instance, was long dominated by a single company. But less than three years after South African Breweries, one of the world's largest beer makers, arrived in the country "they've expanded the market and woken up Kenya Breweries and that's good for everyone," says Kwame Owino, research officer at Kenya's Institute of Economic Affairs.
Consumers agree. Stella Senyondwa says turnover in the small Kampala corner store where she works has halved since Shoprite opened a few blocks away, but she's not concerned. "Customers tell us Shoprite is cheaper," she says, leaning against a worn wooden counter. "I know it's true because I go there for all my sausages and bread. The items are good compared to the ones here." For many people, the only thing worse than South African economic imperialism would be a lack of it.