Africa Books: The Rise of Africa’s Middle Class

August - November 2019

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Africa Books: The Rise of Africa’s Middle Class

Pavithra Rao
From Africa Renewal: 

by Henning Melber

Zed Books, London, UK, 2016; 288 pp; $34.95

The book, The Rise of Africa’s Middle Class, poses a perplexing question about Africa’s middle class: “By definition, ‘middle class’ is a relative term—it’s somewhere above poor but below rich, but where?”

This fluidity and lack of definition on what makes up Africa’s middle class, especially since the continent is experiencing the emergence of a notable middle class only recently, has captivated many anthropologists and researchers into finding out what sets this economic class apart from others and what exactly defines it as being “middle.”

Henning Melber, a senior adviser of both the Nordic Africa Institute and the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation in Sweden, is one such researcher who has sought to provide a framework to define the term.  Mr. Melber, initially, through recent writings in Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) reports and the UNDP Human Development Reports, explained that middle class “is used in an inflationary manner to cover almost everything without any further internal differentiations that exist within a very broad band of income groups, thereby signifying little to nothing.”  

As such, Mr. Melber’s 288-page book provides empirically-backed case studies on sub-Saharan African countries such as South Africa and Kenya that shows a diverse array of perspectives of what middle class in Africa entails. He is able to weave together short essays along with the input of political scientists, economists as well as development experts to further explore the status of the continent’s middle class.

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