Thursday, July 13, 2006

Is this Ghana's Middle Class?--Part I

In a post reminiscent of the one I wrote last year -- 6 July, 2006 to be precise -- which you can read here:, I had the opportunity to be...

...on Wednesday evening around 9.30pm at the Coconut Grove Regency Hotel, located "within 3-6 minutes drive of USAID, the World Bank Office, Danish, Canadian, German, Swiss, Nigerian and American Diplomatic Missions, Ghana Immigration Service and National Theatre, Government Ministries and the Accra Intentional Center, all on “traffic free” routes."(from: on private business with my parents when I heard feedback from the car's radio as we approached.

It was CITI-97.3FM--the Accra-based English speaking private radio station, which you can listen to in crystal-clear quality wherever you are in the world (I know, cos people from Germany and the UK have been calling in the 8.45am regular phone-ins to the CITI Breakfast Show; and listeners send emls from South Africa and the US!)--hosting its weekly Wednesday Salsa Mania event, where Latin American tunes are played, and people get FREE Salsa lessons.

Now whilst PAID Salsa lessons would be a better gauge, or indicator, of people being middle class, or not, I could not help but wonder at my perception of "middle class", which has preoccupied me since I arrived back home in Ghana in August 2004.

Let me leave you with this quotation, which I used in that entry to describe middle class:

The middle class (or middle classes) comprises a social group once defined by exception as an intermediate social class between the nobility and working class folk.

Since the working classes constituted the vast majority of the population, the middle classes actually lay near the top of the social pyramid.

Modern political economy considers a large middle class to be a beneficial, stabilizing influence on society, because it has neither the explosive revolutionary tendencies of the lower class, nor the stultifying greedy tendencies of the upper class. (239 words

A lot of people -- usually Westerners -- who come to Ghana for the first time either out of lack of deliberate discerning about the country, or mere foolishness believe that Ghana is a country of extremes, where there is the poor and the very rich.

Whilst I will not be the first to say that poverty may be rising in unseen areas than we know in this country, I think I can also emphatically say that visibly, what I have perceived about Ghanaians is that by way of so many changes in the political system and otherwise, we see changes in people's income (by way of the number of provate cars on the road, etc) that can lead one to assume that there is a growing middle class.

I spoke to a taxi driver two weeks ago who praised the incumbent administration, insisting that they had done very well, because even policemen could, from their UN missions overseas, come back and obtain loans to get cars, etc, whereas that was not the case before.

It got me thinking about the ramifications of the possibilities of obtaining loans as an indicator of "middle class". Teachers, for example, in the West are considered middle-class (whether lower or middle is a moot point), but it's clear to many that their education, coupled with their ability to obtain loans to buy a house and car makes them middle class. A labourer does not get that designation by any stretch of the imagination, though labourers can afford to buy Mercedes also! Their work is esssentially working class.

But can one not argue that that they can also obtain loans for cars, and houses, make them middle class? But that's another story...

I was pretty outraged--not just peeved--when the other day, I came across a website by one "Howie Klein", who had a story featured about one Adam's trip to Ghana. This is what Adam wrote:

I am in a small village called Kwamoso in the Akuapem Hills Region. The village is extremely rural with no electricity or running water. Compared to middle class America these people are dirt poor but they are Ghana's middle class. They live in houses literally made out of mud with tin roofs. In many the mud walls are coated with a layer of cement but not all. The poor live in houses with straw roofs and the mud walls look like they are crumbling...

How can this description possibly befit middle class Ghana? I mean, when I talk about Westerners being foolish, this is one of them. The cultural relativism is just a bit distorted. People with no electricity or running water--how on Earth can they ever be middle class--anyhwere?

I suppose that is what propelled my desire to comment on Ghana and middle class, which, for me, is a dicey issue, which deserves a lot of rumination, and treatment. For now, though, I think I will leave you with this interesting definition from wikipedia:

  • Achievement of tertiary education, including all financiers, lawyers, doctors and clergymen regardless of their leisure or wealth.

  • Belief in bourgeois values, such as high rates of house or long-term lease ownership and jobs which are perceived to be "secure." In the United States and in the United Kingdom, politicians typically target the votes of the middle classes.

  • Lifestyle. In the United Kingdom, social status has been less directly linked to wealth than in the United States, and has also been judged by pointers such as accent, manners, place of education and the class of a person's circle of friends and acquaintances. Often in the United States, the middle class are the most eager participants in pop culture. The second generation of new immigrants will often enthusiastically forsake their traditional folk culture as a sign of having arrived in the middle class.

  • A net worth, what a person's total material assets are worth, minus their debt. Most economists define "middle-class" citizens as those with net worths of between $125,000 and $250,000. Those with net worths between $250,000 and $500,000 typically are categorized as upper middle class. Those with net worths below $125,000 can be further broken down into working class to lower class.[1]

  • from:

    While this definition is positively Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Centric, I think there are elements for cogitation that transcend Western perception of middle class.

    Whilst you are at it, you might want to take a look at the guy wearing the tie to the left of the picture. Asset#1: mobile phone; Asset#2: probably a car costing millions of cedis;-)

    Definitely middle class dontcha think?

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    tags:Accra; Middle Class Ghana
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