For those of you who are interested in the notion of “Africa Rising” and the common claim that the continent’s overall rate of economic growth is creating a new African middle class, this article is for you. Written by Jacques Enaudeau at the excellent blog Africa is a Country, it’s entitled In Search of the African Middle Class.
As we’ve noted many times here on Humanosphere, the whole idea of Africa rising up out of poverty is a popular one. Here’s the other Humanoid Tom’s recent look at The Economist’s recent enthusiasm for the idea. Foreign Policy magazine also dug into this a while ago – and decided Nobody Knows if Africa is rising or not.
Enaudeau’s piece goes into much greater depth and agrees that many things are indeed improving in Africa. But he also notes that there is a tendency for many to overstate, over-enthuse, on all this because of the belief that sending out positive messages will help make it so (sort of like telling people that the stock market is doing well in order to keep the stock marker doing well….).
The problem, Enaudeau writes, is that this narrative of the rising African middle class is based on a fairly generous definition and neglects what he would call “the floating class.”
The AFBD defines “middle class” as those spending between $2 and $20 per day. By its own admission though, about 60% of those only spend between $2 and $4 per day and remain in what the bank calls a “floating class,” a vulnerable position “barely out of the poor category” with “the constant possibility of dropping back in the event of any exogenous shocks”.