The middle class in Africa


Earlier this week, my mother-in-law came back from a vacation in Africa—one of those organized group safari tours where they ferry you from camp hotel to camp hotel. In the car, while I drove her and my father-in-law back from the airport, she talked a bit about the tour guides, native Africans she assumed had to be better-off than most, but not rich. And that made her realize that she'd never heard much about an African middle class before, or seen photos of what their lives were like. All you ever saw on TV or in magazines were the obscenely wealthy, and the obscenely poor.

A photo research project organized by photographer Joan Bardeletti aims to change that by documenting middle-class life in the Ivory Coast, Kenya and Mozambique. The photo above is from the city of Abidjan in the Ivory Coast, where being middle class seems to involve finding a base job, and then devoting free time to entrepreneurship.

Do the middle classes really exist in Abidjan? With between 1 and 7€ per person [about $1.30 to $9.75] per day, their income could seem pathetic to the occidental standards. However, they live far better than the poor (1€ or less a day) and can not be compared to the rich minority. Often coming from numerous and rural families, their education brought them in town and allowed them to emerge. For most of them, they have a steady job allowing them to build up their future, live in a flat with electricity, TV, fridge …. and invest in their children's education, sending them to private school if they feel it is necessary. Upon this definition, they represent 30% of the country's population and hold 40% of its wealth.

[Pictured] Charles Kapié with his partner in the street close to their office. At 30 years old he has created and runs a consulting firm in agronomy and a cyber café. He used to be a civil servant and he invested his "rappel" (first year of salary paid at once) in his activity and resigned after one year. He was paid $400/month. He situate himself in the middle of the Middle Classes.

This is a French site. The English translations, as you can see, are a little funky and most of the photo captions are only in French, but Google Translate has been doing a good job making sense of them for me. And this is definitely worth looking through, regardless.

The Middle Classes in Africa

(Via Michael Clemens)

Photo: Joan Bardeletti