The Rise of Africa's Middle Class

Myths, Realities and Critical Engagements

Edited by Henning Melber


The first comprehensive volume to offer a critical perspective on the role of the new middle classes in contemporary Africa.

Across Africa, a burgeoning middle class has become the poster child for the 'Africa rising' narrative. Ambitious, aspirational and increasingly affluent, this group is said to embody the values and hopes of the new Africa, with international bodies ranging from the United Nations Development Programme to the World Bank regarding them as important agents of both economic development and democratic change. This narrative, however, obscures the complex and often ambiguous role that this group actually plays in African societies.

Bringing together economists, political scientists, anthropologists and development experts, and spanning a variety of case studies from across the continent, this collection provides a much-needed corrective to the received wisdom within development circles, and provides a fresh perspective on social transformations in contemporary Africa.

Author Bio

Henning Melber is the van Zyl Slabbert visiting professor for sociology and political sciences at the University of Cape Town. He is senior advisor at the Nordic Africa Institute and the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation, having previously held directorships in both institutions. He is also extraordinary professor at the Department of Political Sciences of the University of Pretoria and the Centre for Africa Studies at the University of the Free State, as well as a senior research fellow at the Institute for Commonwealth Studies at the University of London.

Table of Contents

  • ‘Somewhere above Poor but below Rich’: Explorations into the Species of the African Middle Class(es) - Henning Melber
  • 1. African Middle Classes: Lessons from Transnational Studies and a Research Agenda - Carola Lentz
  • 2. Human Development and the Construction of Middle Classes in the Global South - Tim Stoffel
  • 3. Africa’s Middle Class, Africa’s Entrepreneurs and the 'Missing Middle' - Oluyele Akinkugbe and Karl Wohlmuth
  • 4. Deconstructing the Myth of the African Middle Class - Sirkku K. Hellsten
  • 5. Kenya – An Unconscious Middle Class? Between Regional-Ethnic Political Mobilisation and Middle Class Lifestyles - Dieter Neubert
  • 6. Middle Class Activism in Nigeria: From Nationalist Struggle to Social Media Campaign - Nkwachukwu Orji
  • 7. Emerging Middle Class Political Subjectivities in Post-war Angola - Jon Schubert
  • 8. The Middle Class of Mozambique and the Politics of the Blank Slate - Jason Sumich
  • 9. South Africa’s Black Middle Class Professionals - Amuzweni L. Ngoma
  • 10. The Middle Class of Dar es Salaam and Kiswahili Video-Films - Vicensia Shule
  • Conclusion: How Much Class Have the African Middle Classes? - Henning Melber


‘A very timely work with an impressive empirical width, and a sharp, well-referenced analytical edge.’
Göran Therborn, author of Cities of Power

‘Subjects recent hype about the rise of the middle class in Africa to sceptical and critical analysis. An essential read for all engaging with the middle classes in development debate.’
Gordon Crawford, Coventry University

‘Intellectually ambitious and innovative... Timely and hugely relevant, it marks a leap forward in our understanding of the middle classes.’
Uma Kothari, University of Manchester

‘The first systematic examination of the concept of an African middle class. It provides a valuable conceptual discussion along with in-depth case studies.’
Dominique Darbon, Sciences Po Bordeaux

'A worthy addition to the landmark Africa Now series of books produced by Uppsala’s Nordic Africa Institute and Zed Books.'
Canadian Journal of African Studies

'This readable set of essays offers nuance throughout … the overarching theme that unites this collection is an original analysis of how to define, measure and understand the changing cultural, political and economic identity of those Africans in between the elites and the destitute.'
Journal of Southern African Studies

'The Rise of Africa’s Middle Class bursts with argument … is comprehensive in its review of the existing literature on the concept of the middle class, as well as its engagement with conventional definitions often used by economists. It goes beyond empirical data to offer theoretical reflections and perspectives of values.'
South African Journal of International Affairs

'Its combination of broader regional approaches and case studies from six countries provides an unprecedented overview of the relationships between contemporary economic, political and social circumstances and local constructions of class. … a valuable read.'
Journal of Modern African Studies

'Polemic, bold, engaging and an excellent read.'
African Studies Quarterly

'Sorting fact from fiction, Melber brings together experts and examines a variety of case studies. The end result is a much more nuanced analysis of Africa's middle class and a fresh look at societal transformations in contemporary Africa.'
New African

'This is a much-needed addition to the literature on the political mobilization of the middle class … the empirically rich insights into diverse middle-class phenomena highlight the conceptual challenge of the middle-class label.'
Africa Today


Publication Date: 15 December 2016
232 pages

Not available in: South Africa

Product ISBNs: Paperback: 9781783607136
Hardback: 9781783607143
eBook ePub: 9781783607167
eBook PDF: 9781783607150
eBook Kindle: 9781783607174

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