African middle class: myth or reality? (part 1)

Published on 19/06/2014 | Author: Priscilla ABOUO-N'DORI

Through AFD, The Economist, ADB, Deloitte, McKinsey, the Guardian to name but a few, the news talks about African middle classes as sign of economic recovery in Africa and guarantors of a substantial purchasing power which should attract investors. Hype or serious arguments, what is this African middle class spoken of by specialized journals these last ten years?

African middle class African middle class: myth or reality? - Afrik'Eya

WHY TALK ABOUT “THE MIDDLE CLASSES”?

The notion of class is a concept that divides society into antagonistic social groups with characteristics such as income, occupation, education, etc… and different interests. However, we note that there are very few references and studies on the middle classes in sub-Saharan Africa. According to the ADB study, this would be the cause of “the weakening of categories associated to the middle classes in Africa from the 1980 crisis on one hand”. On the other hand according to the same study, the concept would have given way to the emergence of "new categories of analysis such as those of the elites, the poor, the dominant and the dominated, the state bourgeoisie and the small bourgeoisie”.

 

WHO ARE THESE AFRICAN MIDDLE CLASSES WE SPEAK ABOUT TODAY?

Based on the classification scale of the World Bank in 2007, the "global middle class" would include individuals with income between $ 12 and $ 50 per day. Almost all African populations can already be excluded from this analysis, while the poverty threshold in the United States is $ 13. No more middle classes in Africa, only the rich and the poor. However, as recognized by the study of the AFD, "the concept of middle class must finally be defined in relation to a specific national context of income and reliable data while maintaining the sake of international comparison."

 

This is what seems to do the African Development Bank (ADB), which characterizes the African middle class people as those whose expenses vary between $ -20 $ 2 per day. By placing just above the poverty line in developing countries ($ 1 / day / person), the African middle class is thus defined.

 

It however remains a class flirting with the limits of poverty and whose financial stability remains uncertain for the vast majority.

 

Can these people really be the engine group of development and shared economic growth as some say? Why not? Nevertheless, we can keep reserves when in 2010, the middle class is only 13.44% of the population as shown in Figure above.

 

WHO ARE THEY EXACTLY?

Taking that the middle class people are those spending between 2$-20 per day, this class would be "a blend of very different social groups in their relation to employment (civil servants and private people) in their state relations (public people, people in the private formal and informal people) in their level of education and cultural capital (high education officials ... and lower among merchants).”

 

Are young commercials or officials part of this class? The second part of the article provides a detailed portrait.

 

Translated  version.

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