Africa, Be Wary Of Imported Fast-Food Habits

August 12, 2016 OPINION/NEWS

Khalil Senosi/AP



Joe Khamisi 

Africa could be at risk of a deadly onslaught from a new lifestyle enemy: fast food.

During a return visit to Kenya recently, I was surprised, and in a way shocked, at what I saw as the proliferation of foreign-owned fast food restaurants along major streets and within malls in cities and towns.

Mass-produced foods that are quick to prepare and cheap to buy have been the ‘in’ thing in the Western world for as along as anyone can remember. Most popular have been hot-dogs, hamburgers, chips (French fries), and fried chicken.

In Africa we have always had food kiosks selling cheap eatables or mama-pimas, women who prepare home-cooked foods and sell them outdoors. What is good about these foods is that they are not mass-produced and include traditional vegetables and staples that are nutritionally healthy. On the flip side is the danger these edibles pose because of unhygienic preparation methods. So, the nyama choma (roast meat) you order from your favorite butcher could just as well be harmful to your health.

As far as imported fast foods are concerned, the monopoly of the fast food business, at least in Kenya, has for years been in the hands of South Africans who came with restaurants like Steers, Pizza Inn, and Chicken Inn.

In the last five years, however, there has been an invasion of fast food franchises from America: from KFC “finger lickin’ good”; to Pizza Hut “the flavor of now”; to Subway “eating fresh”; to my favorite Coldstone Creamery “the ultimate ice cream experience.”

Many of the franchises have found investment opportunities not only in Kenya but in many other countries including Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, South Africa, Botswana, and countries in West Africa.

Not too long ago I had the opportunity of talking to a US-based Nigerian who helped American food conglomerates penetrate the African market. He described the fast food market in the continent as “hot” because of the continent’s fast growing middle class population.

With foreign restaurants came jobs, thousands of them, to a continent that has high unemployment rates among the youth.

That is the good news.

The bad news is that fast foods are potentially dangerous to your health. They are responsible for rising obesity among all ages and contribute to lifestyle diseases such as high blood pressure, heart ailments, and diabetes.

Why? Because the majority of these foods contain high levels of saturated fats which increase blood cholesterol and trigger heart diseases and strokes. They also contain too much sodium which raises high blood pressure; and are loaded with high volumes of sugar which bring about obesity.

The deep fried chicken may be scrumptious and the ice cream yummy but they are full of fat and sugar. Only this week, thousands of Americans signed a petition protesting against the use of human antibiotics in chicken, a method used to grow them faster.

In North America, 30 percent of children are obese; in Kenya 23 percent of women aged 15 years and above are either over-weight or obese. An estimated 3.5 million people in Kenya suffer from diabetes and the numbers are growing at a frightening rate, according to the World Health Organization.

Globally, 2.8 million adults die every year from complications related to obesity and excessive weight. These are frightening statistics.

In the 1970s, an American envoy to Kenya talking about his country’s imports boasted: “We just don’t import Coca Cola.” That’s right! America imports to Africa much more than Coca Cola and fast foods.

Years, ago major international cigarette companies: Dunhill and Pall Mall, Philip Morris, the British American Tobacco and UK’s Imperial Tobacco moved productions to developing countries including Africa to escape strict health legislations, rising taxes, and advertising restrictions. What followed was a decline in cigarette smoking in developed countries. Today, for example, only about 20 percent of Americans smoke cigarettes.

Conversely, smoking is rising in developing countries among both males and females though figures are still low. The reason figures are low is because the majority of smokers in those countries buy a stick at a time – for economic reasons – instead of a whole pack of cigarettes at a time.

If governments fail to tackle growing cigarette puffing in emerging countries, Africans and Asians stand a bigger risk of dying early.

So, are we the dumping ground for dangerous habits imported from overseas?

I leave that question to you.

And that is my say.










Joe Khamisi

Joe Khamisi is a former journalist, diplomat and Member of Parliament. He is also the Author of ‘Politics of Betrayal:Diary of a Kenyan Legislator‘, a political memoir about the situation in Kenya between 2001, when the ruling party of President Daniel Arap Moi, the Kenya African National Union (KANU), merged with Raila Odinga’s National Development Party.

The book also narrates cases of corruption in Parliament and in the Media and records Senator Obama’s visit to Kenya in 2006. As a friend of Barack Obama Senior, the author also remembers the times and tragedies of the American-educated economist.

Joe Khamisi’s second book, a biography, ‘Dash Before Dusk’ is also now on sale.


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Joe’s latest book is ‘The Wretched Africans: A Study of Rabai and Freretown Slave Settlements‘ which has recently been published and is now available to purchase.


In addition to the above books, read Joe Khamisi blog. For media enquiries Joe can be reached at

(This article is courtesy of Joe Khamisi and was originally published at the above blog on 10 August 2016)


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