It all started with ‘The Middle of the Pyramid: dynamics of the middle class in Africa’ report prepared by the African Development Bank (AfDB) in April 2011. The current hype about Africa’s middle class, that is. “The number of middle class Africans has tripled over the last 30 years to 313 million people, or more than 34% of the continent’s population” the AfDB’s article on the report contends. In theory, this has important implications for economic growth as middle classes make up the bulk of consumers, can induce demand for local manufactured produce and are often also linked to democratisation processes. Now it seems multinationals, for good and worse, have jumped on the bandwagon to cash in on some of the profits of Africa’s ‘take-off’.
1. Africa’s New Middle Class Lures Investment – Witney Schneidman, Bloomberg
“The majority of African governments have developed strategies to reduce poverty, and this has led to improvements in public health and education. Business leaders and civil- society organizations, among others, are contributing to a new spirit of debate and tolerance. Africa’s moment is at hand. “
2. Multinationals target potential of Africa’s middle class – Geoffrey York, The Globe and Mail
“After decades of ignoring the region, multinational companies are turning to Africa as one of the emerging engines of consumer growth. By some estimates, Africa already has as many middle-class consumers as China or India. And most of them are buying mobile phones and televisions, own cars or houses, and use the Internet.”
3. Latest fibs from African financiers – Patrick Bond, Pambazuka News
“Apparently, ‘one in three Africans is middle class’ and as a result, Africa is ready for ‘take off’, according to African Development Bank chief economist Mthuli Ncube […] ‘Hey you know what, the world please wake up, this is a phenomenon in Africa that we’ve not spent a lot of time thinking about.’ Obviously not: Ncube defines middle class as those who spend between $2 to 20 a day, a group that includes a vast number of people considered extremely poor by any reasonable definition, given the higher prices of most consumer durables in African cities. Those spending between just $2 and $4 a day constitute a fifth of all sub-Saharan Africans, even Ncube admits, while the range from $4 to $20 a day amounts to 13 per cent, with 5 per cent spending more than $20 a day.”
While the number of people included in the middle class, and their purchasing power, in Africa can be contested, those who have been in African cities long can see changes for the better. Have a look at BBC News’ In Pictures: Africa’s burgeoning middle class for a preview.