Friday, July 5, 2013

Africa's Middle Class, Blind to Their Own Rising

Last week, I had the privilege of taking place in one of BBC's Africa Rising Debate. The debate, which took place in Accra, examined could the middle class drive economic growth in Africa. Now, believe it or not this is a sensitive topic in Africa. Why? Because many people who are in the middle class classification really don't feel middle class. In fact, many question if there really is a middle class in Africa. Some will even swear up and down the statistics have been skewed to create a phenomena that doesn't exist.

Now, I would ridicule these folks and call them conspiracy theorists, but when I was sitting in that audience last week, I agreed. After all, when I was middle class in the U.S., I was afforded the privilege to drive a nice car, with all of the latest accessories, I vacationed and ate out until my heart was content, and well shopping was a great way to fill my spare time. However, since moving to Accra, I will admit my middle class life is a lot less glamorous.  For instance, in order to keep transportation costs down, I have to take the tro-tro (a private bus, which resembles a death trap). I have also had to forfeit the abundance of fine meals at the best restaurants for more traditional dishes at side carts, and shopping is not even an option. Not to mention, the burden of always watching my money. Because in Africa, you either have it or you don't.

However, when I really sat down and analyzed the situation, I realized that many of us in the middle class are just ungrateful. Yes, it is true, that if you have ever lived outside of Africa, your middle class life probably was more glamorous, but we were also living on credit dreams. Which means, that it only seemed we had more money, when in fact, we were just slaves to a developed economy.

Now, we will all admit there is an issue with reasonably price goods and services in the market, but when you really think about it, isn't that why we all moved here? To create industries, services and goods that were comparable to the developed markets. In fact, many of our perceived challenges are really just opportunities, waiting to be pounced on.

So yes, I think the middle class can help drive economic growth. But only if we can stop sipping on our overpriced beers long enough to realize that our money and time is better spent investing into the economy instead of what is in our bellies or on our backs. We, the new middle class, must realize that yes, we don't have access to all the things our counterparts in the developed world do, but we do have access to one thing they don't; a plethora of market opportunities.

Until Next Time. Smooches.