A Culture That Understands Health And Wellness

Are your New Year’s resolutions still intact? Just last month, everyone, it seems, committed to being more active, losing weight, increasing mindfulness, saving money, eating more cleanly  and sleeping more.

Those same resolutions were made in Africa. Today, Africans want to understand their bodies and are willing to invest in themselves because they have more disposable income. They are asking for broader experiences in fitness, nutrition and mental health. They are armed with the power of science, increased literacy and the internet. They live in two worlds—the old and the new.

Traditionally Africans have prioritized wellness through a range of beliefs and traditions. The custodians of these wellness customs are broadly known as healers. It is a gender-neutral role in the community with different names depending on from where on the continent they hail.

For instance, healers are commonly known as Sangomas in Southern Africa. They heal, believe in divinity and can communicate with the spirit of ancestors who help guide and usher in a new day. In Nigeria, the Yoruba tribe refer to them as Babalawos.

They are tasked with helping their communities tackle a range of issues such as healing illnesses and tackling medical complaints such as fertility. They help with social discord, offering advice and therapies for a range of emotional and spiritual challenges.

The process, much like medical medicine, begins with a consultation or a series of consultations, a diagnosis and then a prescription. Healing practices are prescribed often in the form of a blend of personal care (such as bathing and steaming), nutrition, spirituality and biomedical services. At the core, the goal is maintaining physical and mental well-being.

Location is key. Healers’ dwellings are often traditional huts located at the edges of the communities they serve. More rural and surrounded by nature, they are considered sacred places of connection. They offer privacy and intimacy, as well as a combination of scents, sights, tastes and sounds to engage and ignite the senses, and create a portal to connect with the divine.

Personalized herbal mixtures of indigenous plants and herbs (medicines) are prescribed by Izinyangas in South Africa along with rituals much like Western medicine and wellness practices we know today. Each healer is a specialist in her chosen field, much like doctors. It is a family and generational occupation that is bestowed upon the chosen.

Sangomas are officially recognized in South Africa. They can be registered as “traditional health practitioners” under The Traditional Health Practitioners Act of 2007.

African consumers have a choice in products and services, from traditional and scientific medicine to homeopathic remedies.

Access to wellness is no longer community based; instead, a consultation is just a finger swipe away thanks to technological advancements and the power of a smartphone.

Apps like Ask Damz Wellness Institute (ADWI), a local pioneer in shifting to digital channels in Nigeria, offer all round wellness advice including nutrition and weight loss. South Africa’s largest insurance provider, Discovery, offers Discovery Vitality, a wellbeing and wellness service. Discovery Vitality includes wellness rewards and incentives against consumer behaviors such as cash back on food purchases, discounted gym memberships and cash back on personal care products like sunscreen, toothpaste and first-aid items. The agenda is clear; brands are responding to the demands of the young African who wants a better quality of life and greater life expectancy.

According to the Global Wellness Institute, the global wellness economy was valued at $4.5 trillion in 2018. McKinsey says consumers define wellness as “better health, better fitness, better nutrition, better appearance, better sleep and better mindfulness.”

Key sectors include personal care, beauty and anti-aging, healthy eating, nutrition, weight loss and wellness tourism, which is projected to reach $919 billion this year.

While larger conglomerates are at the helm of the global market, local African players are tapping into the underserved local consumer who is looking for more natural alternatives that align with some of their ancestral beliefs. South African owned female supplements range Kiko Vitals targets women who often struggle to find over the counter natural remedies for issues like irregular periods and acne.

“We didn’t want to create a range that introduced hormones synthetically into the body. We wanted to tackle some of our customers’ issues through nutrition using traceable ingredients” says Kerri-Lee Taylor, founder of Kiko Vitals.

Good Leaf is a premium South African CBD brand. It launched using an indigenous strain of African cannabis in a joint venture with a larger Canadian business. Good Leaf products incorporate CBD, mushrooms, and Ayuverdic and Chinese medicines. With three standalone flagship stores and national retail partnerships, they are South Africa’s leading wellness brand.

When asked about the reason for their growth, spokesperson Cathy Wynn says “Our customers are looking for accessible solutions to simple daily challenges like stress and anxiety. We offer them a natural solution. Our water -soluble CBD sachets are at an accessible price point. This gets our products easily into the hands of potential customers.”

Mental wellness incorporates brain boosting nutraceuticals and botanicals. In contrast, the spa industry in Africa is growing alongside African tourism. Unique offerings include spa treatments that promote the best of wanderlust Africa. Countries like South Africa, Mauritius, Kenya, Morocco, Tunisia, Kenya and Egypt all have an established spa industry and a wellness tourism market. In fact, some African governments, including Tanzania, Ghana and Mauritius, have made it their goals to boost medical and wellness tourism by 2030.

The Covid-19 pandemic continues to be a part of our daily lives. It has severely impacted the African wellness industry with travel restrictions, retail closures and social distancing. And yet, the African wellness market is ripe for both international and local brands that want to offer a unique wellness experience steeped in tradition, rich indigenous ingredients and a culture that understands the importance of health and wellness. 

Zeze Oriaikhi-Sao
Malée, Founder
Zeze Oriaikhi-Sao is an entrepreneur, influential speaker, sought-after brand consultant and freelance columnist with a focus on Innovation, sustainability and leadership in the cosmetics, luxury goods and start-up industries. As the founder of Malée, Africa’s first global luxury fragrance and body care brand, an advisory board member at Innocos, the world beauty innovations summit, Oriaikhi-Sao has established herself as a leader in the African-made luxury goods market. She has been featured on CNN, The Telegraph and The Daily Mail. She hosts the podcast Third Culture Africans, and inspires a vast audience with entrepreneurial and lifestyle Insights at zezeonline.

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