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Consumption in an Uncertain Environment: The Paradox of the African Middle Classes Notes de l'Ifri, March 2012

Three hundred million people belonging to the middle classes of Africa; three hundred million of potential consumers: an image of this kind is enough to make many an entrepreneur start dreaming. In fact, whereas for many years Afro-pessimism has dominated public opinion in the West, what seems to be the new trend in fashion, in both the media and economic circles, is now an exaggerated Afro-optimism.


Speaking of the ‘middle classes" in this context of economic growth is in keeping with the image of the situation in the African continent, which appears to the rest of the world to be growing more normal. The situation, however, varies considerably from one zone to another. The middle classes oscillate between the desire to consume and anxiety in face of insecure tomorrows. This difficult history in contexts which are always problematic at a time of rapid economic growth are factors that shape the ambivalent and complex attitude of the population group now achieving ‘middle-class status" with regard to consumption.

The goal of this article is not to discuss what the middle classes are consuming, but rather to analyze certain key points - consumption as a social activity and the security issue, to name but two - which make it possible to explain, at least in part, the choices which this section of the population is making and to understand the social position it occupies.


Consumption in an Uncertain Environment: The Paradox of the African Middle Classes
African middle classes consumption practices Sub-Saharan Africa