May 12th 2011 | The Economist
IT IS to the middle class we must look for the prosperity of Africa, to paraphrase William Thackeray. Many countries are making a mint from commodities such as oil, copper and gold thanks to sky-high prices. But that is not enough to give Africa a permanent boost. Commodity markets are notoriously fickle and revenues can quickly be squandered.
The true test of progress is whether new riches trickle down from the elite to create a group of consumers large enough to sustain broad economic spurts in the service and manufacturing sectors. If so, a virtuous circle of yet more jobs, new government revenues and better public services beckons, eventually benefiting the poor.
This is indeed happening, according to a report by the African Development Bank. It says a third of Africans are now “middle-class”, defined as having between $2 and $20 to spend a day. A decade ago that was true of only a quarter of Africans. This change has occurred in a period of fast population growth among low-income families…