Ali of Kiza, the Juggler

Ali Oumarou,  Kiza Lounge managing director. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG
Ali Oumarou, Kiza Lounge managing director. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG 

Years back, a Nigerian businessman in Dubai would frequently host his visiting countrymen in his house. Then the meetings became popular and too big for his house.

So he started Kiza restaurant in Al Nasr, Dubai International Financial Centre, catering for food, music, art, fashion and entertainment. Two years later, Ali Oumarou from Niger, came in as a partner just after retiring from professional football but under one condition; that they open a branch in Africa.

Kiza Tomorrow Africa, a popular bar and lounge, opened in Nairobi in 2014. Then followed Kiza Restaurant, featuring menus from all over Africa. Kiza means people community. The owners are in the process of opening a branch in Abuja, Nigeria, after setting up another one in Toronto, Canada, about three weeks ago. They also have plans to start a record label and also get into the hotel business.

Ali Oumarou met JACKSON BIKO at the restaurant for a tete-a-tete.


Nice scent, what’s that?

Thank you. That’s Creed, I’ve been wearing it for the past 13 years.

I had assumed all along that you are Nigerian…

(Laughs) Most people think I am, but I’m actually a Fulani from Niger. We speak French. I did some of my studies in Niger, France, Morocco and Canada. My dad was a diplomat, so we moved around a lot.

I’m now a banker but I used to be a professional footballer. I played for my national team, Morocco and Saudi Arabia, then I retired. I’m now an official Fifa agent and a businessman.

You have had many balls in the air...

(Laughs) My elder brother played for the national team, and later was the coach. He studied sports and is a consultant in the sports field, especially in football. Naturally it rubbed off on me and I played football until I was 33. It’s in Saudi Arabia that I met the first Kenyan in my life.

Who is that?

Moses Kuria. He was a well-known, top African banker and the first African man that I saw driving a brand new Lexus 430 ES in Saudi Arabia. (Chuckles).

Why did you choose Kenya to be the first country to open Kiza. Why not Nigeria or even South Africa?

Kenya is the most prominent African country right now. It’s growing fast and it’s a country that embraces innovation fast.

Kenyans are also very open minded, plus all the international institutions have their presence here. I’m also proudly married to a Kenyan. I met my wife in Dubai, and I’m blessed with two beautiful children. I consider myself Kenyan by extension.

Do you find it more challenging doing business in Kenya as a foreigner?

This market is one of the most challenging markets ever in Africa, along with Nigeria. Kenyans know what they want, they are very educated, exposed, discerning and often unpredictable.

It’s very competitive, but I truly believe there’s enough market for everyone. Have you ever seen two cows grazing? Have you ever seen one cow grabbing food from the other cow’s mouth? I just focus on what I need to do and do it right.

Running a business like this in Africa is a statement to the brothers abroad who have been exposed and have been to good schools.

The message is that it’s time they came back to build Africa. Nobody will build Africa except us and the only way we can build it is to be united. What we need from them is not their wealth —Africa has the wealth already—what we need from them is the wisdom and the knowledge.

Because there is no airline in this world that will charge you for excess luggage to come back with wisdom and knowledge.

I like that. What can you tell me about alcohol and the pursuit of pleasure, given that you run a very popular club?

One thing that I always say is that I’m not here to judge anyone. Be it a high-ranking government official or a university student.

We don’t allow cameras in the bar for a reason. When people come in they will say, “how are you Ali? How’s your day so far?” “When leaving he might curse you, because he is intoxicated. You can’t judge a person like that because we are selling alcohol not juice. It’s the business.

You run the business with your wife. It must be tough.

God bless my wife, she has my back. She’s been there for me, and she’s still there for me. She has a background in hospitality and she is very instrumental to the success of Kiza. She’s the quality control director while I focus on brand image, marketing plan, strategy, daily operation, security etc. Is it tough running a club with your wife, no, no, life is about being honest.