Africa’s middle-class boom is real, study shows – and it’s gaining speed – by Geoffrey York (Globe and Mail – August 20, 2014)

The Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

JOHANNESBURG — The rise in Africa’s middle class has been over-hyped in recent years, but it is still a genuine phenomenon that is generating huge commercial and political opportunities, a new study says.

The analysis released on Tuesday by Standard Bank, a South African bank with operations across Africa, estimates that the African middle class has tripled in size over the past 14 years – and the boom is gathering speed.

The study analyzed 11 of the biggest economies in the region, accounting for about half of sub-Saharan Africa’s population and GDP. Those economies have grown tenfold since 2000, reaching a collective GDP of more than $1-trillion today, compared with a growth of just 25 per cent between 1990 and 2000.

Using a more rigorous definition of “middle class,” the study concludes that earlier estimates were much exaggerated. But it still finds dramatic growth, from about 4.6 million households in 2000 to almost 15 million households today in the 11 focal countries, if the middle class and lower-middle-class categories are both included.

Over the next 15 years, this growth will continue to gain momentum, and a further 25 million households will become middle class and lower-middle-class households in those 11 countries, the study forecasts.

It says Nigeria is by far the biggest source of the new middle class in Africa, while several East African countries are lagging.

By 2030, there will be 12 million middle-class households in Nigeria alone, the study predicts.

“There is an undeniable and powerful rise in income across many of Africa’s key frontier economies, allowing the formation and strengthening of a substantial middle class,” the report says.

In addition to the business opportunities, this trend is also providing strong support for the “maturing” of political and economic institutions, potentially creating a “cycle of social, political and commercial gain,” it says.

The growth and size of Africa’s middle class has not been “adequately measured” until now, according to Standard Bank senior political economist Simon Freemantle, who wrote the report.

A landmark report in 2011 by the African Development Bank, which triggered years of debate and media attention, concluded that 300 million Africans were middle class.

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