You’ve probably heard of the African Development Bank study on a mushrooming middle class. If one is to believe such studies, about one third of the one billion people on this continent can now, without fear or favour, refer to themselves as middle-class. If you spend between $4 and $20 a day, congratulations, you are officially bourgeoisie. We are nearly there, people. Let’s keep on keeping on.
First, though, we really must make merry. Fellow Africans, please, a round of applause (and a bit of champagne) is fitting. A growing middle class is very good news. A growing middle class brings with it many political advantages. A growing middle class means democracy is going to start to mean something different altogether. A growing middle class equals options—the power to choose.
And no, you need not despair if you spend only $3.5 dollars every day. Round that $3.5 dollars off to $4, why don’t you—mathematics allows this—and celebrate like the middle class individual that you have just discovered yourself to be. Even better, take a loan, and increase your expenditure to $50 a day. I say, go for it. After all, spending $50 a day, by current ABD standards, makes you a rich African. To think that you can actually become a rich African, without having to break bank. How about that?
Because development economics stuff is Double Dutch to me, I run the whole thing by an economist friend. He read the actual report. (I did not—I merely read an article written by someone who seemed like he had read the report.) My economist pal said many things I will never come close to understanding. He also said things I partly understood, though. Things like, ‘the base parameters were unrepresentative’ and ‘PPP is an intelligent factor’ and ‘the figures put across belittle our continent’ and ‘…exchange rates are influenced by other factors independent of GDPs or what influences the GDPs…’ and, finally, ‘some of it is hogwash’.
That the truth of the matter is that the African Development Bank has failed us and is now simply trying to justify its existence. That we should really stop kidding ourselves because Africa’s middle class probably constitutes only about 1% of the entire population. And that, if nothing changes, there isn’t going to be a middle class; that, very soon, there are only going to be two classes—the very rich and the very poor.
Far be it from me to be a pessimist, though. I wasn’t going to sit by while he made doomsday prophecies. Fate rewarded my optimism, as it is often bound to do, later on in the day, when I unwittingly eavesdropped on a conversation between four yuppies. And no, they weren’t spivs. Yes, I’m sure. It’s a little insulting that you think I can’t tell the difference.
Anyhow, they were talking about how labour pain is supposed to be equal to that of a headache + a stomachache + a toothache + a backache + every other imaginable ache, multiplied by one billion. I thought I saw one of them look up and shake a fist at Eve but I don’t want you to quote me on this—I could have been seeing things. They agreed that this sort of pain was to be avoided at all and every costs. One of the yuppies recommended elective c-sections, and the other three seconded it. And they made a toast to this like only middle class people would.
Suddenly, all was well with the world, and with the ADB report. If elective c-section doesn’t spell middle-class, I don’t know what will.