The Underestimated Continent. Travels through Africa’s middle classBettina Gaus
Frankfurt/Main: Eichborn Verlag, 2011
On her own and making use of public transport, Bettina Gaus travels through 16 countries on the African continent, pursuing a phenomenon that is hardly ever encountered in German reporting on Africa: the African middle class and its living conditions. Who belongs to it? How are criteria developed given the highly varied living conditions in various African countries? Can this notion be generalized and applied to the life stories of people in Pretoria and Luanda, Dar es Salaam and Lagos?
On the basis of solidly researched information about each country and its citizens, Gaus speaks to advocates, doctors, officials, teachers, entrepreneurs – about their living conditions but also about their values, dreams and goals. After a long marriage to a Kenyan and many years as a correspondent in Nairobi, she has personal experience of the lives of African middle class families. Her interviews do not involve abstract sociological findings but the self-perception of those concerned. The outcomes are only surprising to those who have always regarded Africa as an exotic continent. The life dreams of those interviewed by Gaus hardly differ from those one knows in Europe: a good education, a secure employment that would cover the costs of living, a good upbringing for the children for whom things should be better. Perhaps a house with a garden.
Living conditions are still precarious in almost all the countries Bettina Gaus visited. Sliding into poverty is a constant threat when salaries are not paid in time, the political framework may change suddenly or businesses may be threatened by the ubiquitous corruption. But, however varied the concrete living conditions may be, this middle class has a stabilizing function. In the end, Africa’s future depends on them.