Johannesburg - Last year, a wave of sparkling champagne hit Nigeria’s shores when it was declared the world’s biggest-growing market for the tipple.

Earlier this year, the country also knocked South Africa to a solid second place when its economy outshone ours as the biggest in Africa.

But political economist Simon Freemantle, the author of a new report, “Understanding Africa’s Middle Class”, said we shouldn’t be jealous of our neighbours, but rather try to get an invitation to the continental party.

“The view of Africa’s growth as a threat is a narrow-minded one,” he said yesterday at a presentation of the report.

“All this makes Africa more alluring (generally), it deepens opportunities for South African companies…

“If South Africa can combine itself more with what’s happening in Africa, it will allow us to lift out of this (economic) mire that we are in,” said Freemantle.

He said it was also important not to compare our growth to that of countries that were vastly less developed and complex in terms of their levels of infrastructure.

Freemantle said we should not compare ourselves, for example, to our neighbour Mozambique, which had an economy of only R170 billion and had recently discovered major untapped natural resources.

Freemantle, who compiled the report on the middle class in Africa for Standard Bank, found that in 11 of sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest economies – excluding South Africa – the middle class had increased by 230 percent since 2000.

However, the Standard Bank employee found that 86 percent of households in these countries were still low-income.

In many cases, although ongoing improvements were expected, these improvements constituted an improvement from, for example, an LSM 1 household to be raised to an LSM 2 or 3, as opposed to a dramatic and extreme change into the middle class or wealthy.

Freemantle added that in many African countries, the products that were doing well were things that had been slightly out of people’s range of spending before, because they were not essentials, for example fast food.

Freemantle emphasised that political stability was still fundamental to Africa’s continued growth. - The Star