Africa’s growing middle class fuels surge in shopping malls

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As spending power grows on the continent, so the number of shopping malls increases.

A surge in disposable income and the growth in Africa’s middle classes has led to an upswing in the number of shopping centres across the continent, according to a report in mid-June.

With shoppers searching for new ways to spend their money, and investors keen to help them to do it, some 14 new shopping centres opened their doors between 2012 and 2013, according to research by Sagaci, a market intelligence organisation.

Excluding South Africa, there were 242 shopping centres in the continent in 2013, the report said.

“The middle class is developing. And the people in it want to spend their money,” Julien Garcier, a partner at Sagaci, told AFP.

More than 180 other retail developments are in the pipeline, according to the researchers, funded “largely by local investors”.

Just one shopping centre closed in 2013, the Westgate mall in Nairobi, Kenya, which was shut after an attack by the Somali Islamist group al-Shabaab in which at least 67 people were killed.

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), about 150m people can be considered firmly in the continent’s middle class, with the same number again part of the more vulnerable “floating” middle class.

Sub-Saharan African economies are currently some of the fastest growing in the world, and expected to expand by more than five percent in 2014.

While much of the continent’s growth has come from oil, gas and other natural resources, the emergence of a middle class has also boosted consumer growth.

According to a study by the African Development Bank (AFDB) published in 2011, nearly 34% of Africa’s population are middle class, with the group almost tripling in size from 1980.

In May, the accountancy firm Ernst & Young published a report that said that many investors are now moving into “consumer-related sectors as Africa’s middle class expands”.

Garcier says his research suggests that some 30% of households living in the biggest African cities earn more than $500 (€370) a month.

“In all the countries of sub-Saharan Africa, the size (of the middle class) is underestimated,” he said.

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