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Mem­bers-only clubs have al­ways pro­vided a pri­vate, priv­i­leged do­main for con­duct­ing busi­ness and fos­ter­ing so­cial net­works. At best, they are a mu­tu­ally sup­port­ive space for those of sim­i­lar in­ter­ests and ex­pe­ri­ences. Bonds are formed and in­for­ma­tion shared in re­laxed, con­vivial and dis­crete set­tings. At worst, many clubs have a hor­ri­ble his­tory of ex­clu­sion along race, gen­der and reli­gious lines.

Overt in­tol­er­ance is (mostly) a thing of the past, but ex­clu­sion and asym­met­ri­cal ad­van­tage for the elite is very much part of the pack­age. Let’s face it, even to­day, few clubs ad­mit the poor, un­less they are dressed as waiters or clean­ers.

The prob­lems of prej­u­dice not­with­stand­ing, club mem­ber­ship is one of the most ef­fec­tive ways to climb the lad­der of suc­cess – es­pe­cially in Africa. Ours is not a stag­nant elite. Vir­tu­ally all African economies show promis­ing growth, which trans­lates into space for tal­ent and tenac­ity to rise. Clubs fa­cil­i­tate the con­nec­tions nec­es­sary for up­ward mo­bil­ity. They also serve as sta­tus short­hand for those with more am­bi­tion than time.

Mem­ber­ship in­di­cates that an in­di­vid­ual has made it through a vet­ting process to dis­tin­guish the “us” from the “not us”.

Colo­nial clubs can have a retrochic charm, but they are not where the power and po­ten­tial of mod­ern Africa meets and makes de­ci­sions. Nairobi’s Muthaiga Coun­try Club (founded in 1913) and Johannesburg’s (tem­po­rar­ily closed) Rand Club (es­tab­lished in 1886), and many others, be­long to a by­gone era. Mem­bers are now mul­tira­cial, but they are pre­dom­i­nantly old guard and old money. Many are just plain old.

Ear­lier elites are not all in de­cline – the Mon­rovia Ma­sonic Grand Lodge (founded 1867) has re­cently re­asserted it­self as a ma­jor so­cial, eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal force in Liberian life, but the winds of change are gen­er­ally blow­ing through African club land. Colo­nial/postin­de­pen­dence crony­ism and in­her­ited wealth are grad­u­ally giv­ing way to more mer­i­to­cratic, pre­dom­i­nantly tech­nol­ogy-led, busi­ness-born elites. What fol­lows is the #Trend­ing guide to the coolest

con­tem­po­rary clubs on our con­ti­nent:


7b Etim Inyang Cres­cent, Vic­to­ria Is­land, Lagos, Nige­ria Pa­trick Koshoni’s club of­fers open ex­hi­bi­tion space, a mem­bers-only lounge li­brary and an al­fresco bar. African art is set amid mid-cen­tury leather arm­chairs, shelves of high­brow lit­er­a­ture and flat­ter­ingly soft light­ing.

Koshoni’s aim is to “fa­cil­i­tate the so­cial in­ter­course of per­sons con­nected with or in­ter­ested in arts, sci­ence, de­sign and so­cial jus­tice. We pro­vide stim­u­lus for new think­ing and so­cial re-en­gi­neer­ing by of­fer­ing a meet­ing point to dis­cuss is­sues.”

Vin­tage Nige­rian High­life mu­sic and jazz is played at con­ver­sa­tion-en­abling vol­umes, while cell­phone and lap­top use is per­mit­ted only un­til 7pm. Even then, cell­phones must al­ways be on silent. All as­pi­rant mem­bers (known as pa­trons in club lingo) must be pro­posed by an ex­ist­ing af­fil­i­ate and con­sid­ered by an ad­vi­sory board, which meets monthly. An an­nual sub­scrip­tion of 200 000 naira (R15 900) is payable upon ac­cep­tance.

Koshoni says: “We do not have a dress code, but we ex­pect that pa­trons will dress as they mean to be ad­dressed.” Judg­ing by the plethora of fine tai­lor­ing on show, pa­trons mean to be ad­dressed as su­per­stylish, Afro-pos­i­tive, world cit­i­zens with Paul Smith and Louboutin ad­dic­tion is­sues.


Cap­i­tal Club East Africa

Im­pe­rial Court, West­lands, Nairobi, Kenya En­trepreneur­ship is al­ways the or­der of the day at the first African chap­ter of the Cap­i­tal Club, an in­vi­ta­tion-only busi­ness club with branches in Bahrain and Dubai. The club is close to sev­eral in­ter­na­tional banks and Kenya’s ever-ex­pand­ing stock ex­change. Cap­i­tal’s dress code is ca­sual and phones are ac­tively en­cour­aged. There are nine video­con­fer­ence rooms and free Wi-Fi. A chauf­feur ser­vice en­sures a safe drive home af­ter an evening out at the one of the three restau­rants or on the roof ter­race bar (which keeps ev­ery malt known to man and then some).

A com­mit­tee tasked with “pro­tect­ing the in­tegrity and cal­i­bre of mem­ber­ship” is in place to help with nom­i­nat­ing and ap­prov­ing ap­pli­cants. Among those who made the cut are Robert Col­ly­more, the CEO of Sa­fari­com; Japh Olende, the man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of AIG; and Kenyan-Amer­i­can dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy strate­gist Isis Ny­ong’o Madi­son, who is listed as one of Africa’s Top 20 Youngest Power Women by Forbes.

With fees of about 210 000 shillings a year (R33 000), Kenya’s crème de la crème is guar­an­teed.


Vir­gin Ac­tive Clas­sic

Alice Lane, Sand­ton, Joburg In re­cent years, busi­ness net­work­ing has shifted from golf cour­ses to tread­mills. Vir­gin Ac­tive Clas­sic oc­cu­pies a prime Sand­ton lo­ca­tion. It is within walk­ing dis­tance of the head­quar­ters of fi­nan­cial and busi­ness big shots such as Ned­bank, In­vestec and RMB, and the park­ing lot is al­ways full of the lat­est lux­ury Ger­man sedans.

The for­mer Re­serve Bank gov­er­nors, me­dia moguls and chil­dren of politi­cians work­ing out on the state-of-the-art equip­ment aren’t just there to get fit; they are also work­ing on their busi­ness bot­tom lines. Sweat­work­ing (net­work­ing at the gym) is ev­ery­where. Friend­ships formed dur­ing anti-grav­ity yoga classes and in the aqua lounge can be shaped into prof­itable part­ner­ships in the ad­ja­cent con­fer­ence rooms and net­work­ing nooks. Mem­bers can send emails while they spin, and skype to their heart’s con­tent.

Capped mem­ber­ship and high fees (R1 800 a month) en­sure ex­clu­siv­ity.


Voices at the Taj

Taj Ho­tel, Wale Street, Cape Town There was a time when many clubs ex­cluded women. Few such es­tab­lish­ments still re­ject the fairer sex, but why bother with the boys? Women are start­ing to cre­ate their own ex­clu­sive spa­ces away from the male gaze.

Newly launched Voices at the Taj pro­vides a vet­ted, in­vi­ta­tion-only pri­vate mem­bers plat­form that, ac­cord­ing to founder mem­ber mu­sic/me­dia en­tre­pre­neur Cather­ine Gren­fell, “al­lows some of the most re­spected minds in fe­male en­trepreneur­ship to net­work, de­bate, col­lab­o­rate, so­cialise and em­power each other within a soror­ity of power fe­males”.

An ini­tial mem­ber­ship fee of R795, plus a vari­able monthly levy (de­pend­ing on the ex­tent of ac­cess to the sis­ter­hood of the trav­el­ling plat­inum card), en­ti­tles mem­bers to cowork­ing space in the Taj Exec Club Busi­ness Lounge, hi-speed in­ter­net ac­cess, ded­i­cated-mem­bers concierge, gym and fe­male-only sauna ar­eas. PR and me­dia sup­port, vet­ted ven­dors and reg­u­larly hosted speaker lunches, cock­tail events and supper clubs are also part of the pack­age.


Club G20

Var­i­ous venues around the world Homer Simp­son once asked: “Why won’t those stupid id­iots let me into their crappy club for jerks?”

Sev­eral African cen­tral bank gov­er­nors and heads of state feel that way about the G20. The ul­ti­mate pri­vate mem­bers club holds an­nual gath­er­ings re­plete with su­perb net­work­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties. The dress code is for­mal.

Seem­ingly closed to new mem­bers, only one African econ­omy, South Africa, has been in­vited to join the club in an in­di­vid­ual coun­try ca­pac­ity, but this hardly seems ad­e­quate.

Both Nige­ria and Egypt have larger economies, and are ar­guably more strate­gi­cally sig­nif­i­cant to global fi­nan­cial sta­bil­ity than sev­eral of the smaller G20 mem­bers.

While there is no clear ap­pli­ca­tion route or ex­pul­sion pro­ce­dure, it is surely time for Ar­gentina to do the hon­ourable thing and step aside.



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