Good data on the exact size of the middle class are hard to come by, but it remains small across most parts of the continent. The Pew Research Centre, an American outfit, reckons that just 6% of Africans qualify as middle class, which it defines as those earning $10-$20 a day. On this measure the number of middle-income earners in Africa barely changed in the decade to 2011.
…… Unlike Asia, Africa has failed to develop industries that generate lots of employment and pay good wages. Only a few countries manufacture very much, largely because national markets are small and barriers to trading within Africa are huge. Most people who leave the countryside move into labour-intensive but not very productive jobs such as trading in markets. John Page, also of Brookings, reckons that such jobs are on average only about twice as productive as the ones that many left behind.
Elizabeth Dickinson at FP reports:
Given all this, perhaps the only thing about Africa that isn’t changing quickly is our perceptions of it. There’s an image impressed in all of our minds of a starving child, symobilizing an impoverished continent. If that was ever true, this is an excellent reminder that today, it’s at most a snapshot. Yes, there’s great human suffering and it’s not hard to find. But Africa as a whole is becoming a middle class continent.
It is hard to completely buy Dickinson’s optimism given the fact that Somalia, the DRC, Chad, Central Africa Republic, Sudan, among others are still far from being stable polities. The precarious nature of the stability in the more stable African states such as Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Rwanda e.t.c. are also cause for concern.
That said, the reality is that there are many Africas. Those who fail to internalize that fact continue to do so at their own peril. Just ask the Indians and the Chinese.