Nigeria’s Returnees Give Foreign Companies An Entry Point Into Africa

By Elisabeth Ginsberg

“How long have you all been back?” Temi asks a group of young Lagosians. They are hanging out at the bar Greenwich, famous for its cocktails crafted by Lagos’s one-and-only Slovakian bartender. It is a standard question among the elite in Lagos. Everyone who is rich enough leaves the country to pursue education, as domestic opportunities are limited. While many other developing countries have “elite diasporas,” Nigeria stands out because people actually come back.

“Nigeria is still developing. You can be the king of your own castle here,” Temi explains. “Abroad we don’t have the same contacts, it is not as easy to make things happen. In London, I experienced a glass ceiling but here I feel like there is no limit to how far I can go.”

Temi DollFace with her manager

Temi, who comes from a family of pastors, went to London to get a master’s in food and nutrition but always dreamed of becoming a singer. Following her food studies, she attended a performance school and she came back to Lagos as the glamorous Temi DollFace. This story is not uncommon: the self-labeled “returnees” come back changed and bring with them new beliefs, aspirations, and habits from their years abroad. Since returnees are heavily represented in Nigeria’s massive celebrity system—music, fashion, film—the change trickles down. Maybe this explains why, for example, Nigeria ranks among the top ten countries in the world in terms of Hennessy cognac consumption. To a large extent, the returnees define “sophistication” and its signifiers. Targeting the returnees, either while they are abroad or once they have returned, thus presents itself as an attractive entry point to Nigeria’s consumer market.

But the story doesn’t end here. Other African countries look to Nigeria for inspiration. Nigerian fashion designers like Maki Oh are stealing the spotlight with colorful and flamboyant clothing designs, often combining African and Western elements. And in premium clubs in Cape Town, Nigerian singers D’banj and Tiwa Savage pump out the speakers, along with Jay Z and Beyoncé.

American returnee, singer Tiwa Savage, is Pepsi’s female brand ambassador in Africa.
Filmmaker and founder of African Movie Academy awards, Peace Osigwe, explains that Lagos is a cultural powerhouse of the entire continent:

“Since the 2000s, Africa is increasingly looking inwards, in the sense that it has its own stars, its own music, its own fashion, etc. In many ways, Lagos is the capital of this new African confidence. And Nollywood has helped Lagos becoming the new face of Africa”.

If this is so, successfully targeting Nigeria’s returnees might not only be a way into the Nigerian massive consumer market but also into the markets of other African countries. There is a public saying in Nigeria that “when Nigeria sneezes, the rest of the African nations catch a cold.” Back in the bar Greenwich, Temi puts it this way: “If you make it big in Lagos, you can make it really, really big.”

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