It’s another Wednesday and time for our Man around Nairobi segment which features men who work, live and play in this city. Today’s Man around Nairobi is Chris Diaz. Chris Diaz is a global marketer who loves Africa and markets Kenya with great passion. He was born in Kenya and has lived most of his life in East Africa. He is the Group Director Bidco Africa and was formerly the Marketing Director of Kenya Airways. He is a board member of Brand Kenya and the Panafrican board of Brand Africa. Chris speaks at many international conferences and Universities, building and positioning Africa as a great investment and tourism destination. He travels around the world making friends and trying out new experiences. He spends his free time on conservation and developing sustainability projects.
1. Did you grow up in Nairobi? If you did where and how was it growing up here?
I grew up in a very humble home at the coast, Mombasa. My brothers and I were adventurous and sporty. We loved to go to the beach. I learnt how to swim when I was three after being thrown into the ocean. Mombasa in those days was a nice, serene environment. My father was a jazz pianist, one of the best in Africa at the time and he taught us to love music.
We used to walk around the town, go to the lighthouse and eat maize and cassava by the roadside, and take walks on the beach. We also loved Swahili food which is tasty and spicy. I think that is part of the reason I am passionate about Kenya and tourism and the environment because I grew up in a town that depended on tourism.
Although I had been to Nairobi before, I came to stay here in 1988 when I came to study for a degree in B. Comm at the University of Nairobi. I loved to write and so I used to contribute to a magazine called The Accountant. At some point, I was the chairman of the Students Welfare. I made many friends building leadership engagements at an early age. This is where I learned how to listen understand and build relationships with people. So in many ways, Nairobi was what shaped my leadership journey.
I started my working career in the coast then was transferred to the big city of Nairobi. The opportunities were many and they opened up doors for me. Like the appointment to be the first African leader to be appointed to the board of CIM UK (Chartered Institute of Marketing).
Nairobi was a great experience for me, at the time there were no traffic jams like there are today. I was amazed at the opportunities and the infrastructure this city had. When I was in campus some friends took me to Luthuli to buy my first music system and my first suit as well. The people were friendly and I loved to walk safely through the city shopping and also eat at the famous Thorn Tree restaurant at Sarova. I used to go out with my friends to Carnivore and Bubbles …
2. What do you love about Nairobi?
Nairobi has its attractions.
The diversity of the people. The people are interesting and fun. It is a great place to meet new people and network.
The ideas. Nairobi is a great place to meet people from different walks of life, with who you can share knowledge and new trends. People work hard and they have high aspirations. It’s a great cosmopolitan city with diverse incredibility and true African culture and the Kenyan experience of food, sports, music and pride of being together!
We have the only National Park in a city, you can go there to relax and enjoy a barbecue in the middle of wildlife!. It is one of my favourite places to spend my free time. I love studying animals and I love going around monitoring the movements of the animals. I love nature so it relaxes me and it is a place I love to share with my many visitors from different countries. But when I get the chance I also take the time to go to Mombasa, it is also a beautiful place. It is truly my home… where I enjoy Kahawa and halwa on the famous streets of old Mombasa town.
3. What would you change about Nairobi?
The traffic and discipline of rough drivers. There is heavy traffic in Nairobi and there is a lack of courtesy on the roads, especially by the matatus who need to be toned down to respect all drivers and this would reduce accidents!
I would also look into the opportunity of finding homes for the parking boys. I am concerned about those children and what they will grow up to be. They need an education and opportunity for employment. They need to be taken off the streets.
As I said before one of the attractions of Nairobi is the National Park. But there are not enough Rhinos there. I am passionate about Rhinos and I have been supporting conservation for nearly twenty years. We should work to increase the Rhino population in Kenya. Total Rhinos both the back and white Rhinos are over 1000. These are our heritage and they bring domestic and international tourism revenue to Kenya.
4. As a professional how is it working in Nairobi? Is Nairobi open to what you do or what could be better?
Nairobi is very competitive. It is a global city and very cosmopolitan like most big world cities. It is a city where people have a zest for excellence. Working in Nairobi is professional.
Nairobi has creative and innovative people. Businesses are able to integrate technology into executing more for fewer resources.
Nairobi can do more to market itself. I believe we are not exploiting our full potential. We must have big sports and music events here to put Nairobi on the map. We should encourage teams to have sports events. We should have more events like the Safari Sevens, Athletics, big stars concerts etc. This is one way that foreigners can experience the beautiful continent of Africa.
Nairobi is also a great place to study for professional papers. It is a great place to get training, especially for marketers who want to further their careers. You can get your professional international marketing qualifications from The Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM UK). There is also the Marketing Society of Kenya for professional qualifications.
There is only one thing that I don’t like and that certain people don’t keep time. They come late for meetings and they don’t keep time for meetings! They then claim traffic delays!
5. If you had a tourist friend coming in from outside the country what three things would you say to sell them the idea that Nairobi is worth visiting.
The Maasai Market. This is a great way for visitors to experience African market culture. There are so many artefacts to be seen and bought. Talking to the sellers can help tourists understand the artistic interpretation of the arts and crafts. It connects them emotionally to the artists and they are able to get the brand story of Africa from the art. By engaging with them they will appreciate more the culture and history of the pieces when they take these items back to their homes around the world.
The Nairobi National Park. It has Black Rhinos, Lions, Buffaloes and Leopards which are 4 of the Big Five. It also has trees and forests which are beautiful, it is a serene environment. I love to take visitors into the park and educate them about the wildlife and share knowledge about their behaviour. I love to study their habitat and do research on animals. I am passionate about sharing this knowledge and also seeing how we can raise funds to support this wildlife.
Nairobi Tented Camp inside the National Park is a great way to experience a night in the park. It is a real African experience without driving out of the city. I spend time there with my wife and two sons who love wildlife. I take my friends who are visiting there as well.
I am a fan of hockey so I would also take my friends to watch a hockey game, especially the Kenyan women’s hockey team. They are the African champions. If they are around when Safari 7’s is on I also encourage them to experience our unique rugby tournament.
I love Nairobi for the Fantastic food experience in Nairobi – Carnivore, or the many nyama choma joints. I like Urban eatery which has 5 restaurants in one! There are so many tastes and ways to enjoy a healthy meal…it’s really fun trying out new dishes! Of course, I can get Swahili dishes in many shopping malls – Sarit, Prestige, Diamond etc. I am simple I love to eat with my hands and simple meeting my close friends enjoying Kenyan favourite food experiences and being true and real…just being fun and simple in this journey of life!
You can interact with Chris Diaz on his twitter handle @diazchrisafrica.