Not Dazzling But Not Invisible : The Ugandan Middle Classes as "Somewhere in Between" L'Afrique en questions n°25, May 2016
In January 2016, the Kenyan supermarket chain Uchumi has filed bankruptcy for its Ugandan subsidiaries, due to perpetual losses. And they are not alone: companies like Nestlé, Coca Cola or Barclays are slowly pulling out of Africa and recent reports – such as the Global Wealth Databook from Credit Suisse or from the Pew Research Center – suggest that the size of the African middle class may be much smaller than previously thought. So was the hype in recent years about “Africa rising” (Mahajan, 2009) and the African middle class just a bubble? In order to better comprehend the social and economic transformations taking place on the continent, it can prove helpful to look beyond the dazzling facade of economies such as Kenya or South Africa, and into those countries experiencing steady growth, but nevertheless far from including a well established middle class. Their middle classes are not shopping in big malls, driving cars and going on holidays. Rather, these groups are characterized by the improvement of their livelihoods compared to their parents’ generation, in terms of education, income and housing, but they still feel strongly vulnerable, and do not take their new benefits for granted. This has an important effect on their consumption patterns, and may not turn them into the promising new consumers, as they have sometimes been praised to be.
Food Expenditure: Consumption Choices of the Ugandan Middle Classes
Analyzing consumption patterns is one of the important steps to decipher what constitutes Uganda’s emerging middle classes. Where do they shop? How do they prioritize their budgets? Are they engaging in conspicuous consumption, portraying their newly gained wealth, or are they still preoccupied to cover basic needs?
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