Ideas & Debate

Who else in Africa is a middle income nation like Kenya?

Kenyans trying to wrap their heads around the country’s new middle income status may be surprised if they ask: Who else in Africa is middle income?

The short answer is — more than half of the continent’s 52 nations.

One country, the oil-rich Equatorial Guinea, even makes it into the “high income” bracket with a per capita gross national income (GNI) of $14,320 and a per capita gross domestic product (GDP) of just above $20,500!

Here’s why: The World Bank defines nations with a per capita gross national income of between $1,045 and $4,125 as “lower middle income”. Those between $4,125 and $12,746 are ranked as “upper middle income”, while those above

$12,746 are “high income”. Kenya was among the “low income” nations at about $999 until the review of national account statistics, whose results were released this week, raising that figure to $1,246 (KShs109,000).


While it helps to have a large economy, the size of the nation’s population has a significant bearing on where it falls in the World Bank categories. Thus, many nations outside the Top Ten are “middle income” despite having smaller economies, while some large economies are still categorised as “low income”.

Nigeria, Africa’s richest nation with a GDP of $523 billion, is a “lower middle income” nation thanks to its large population. Others in this bracket are Côte d'Ivoire, Cameroon, DR Congo, Cape Verde, Djibouti, Egypt, Ghana, Lesotho, Morocco, Mauritania, Sudan, Senegal, South Sudan, São Tomé and Principe, Swaziland and Zambia.

Nations ranked as “upper middle income” include Angola, Botswana, Algeria, Gabon, Libya, Mauritius, Namibia, Seychelles, Tunisia and South Africa.

Seen in this light, becoming a lower middle income country is, well, not that big a deal. The nation’s rebased Gross Domestic Product for last year is now estimated at KShs4.76 trillion (about $53 billion), up from KShs3.8 trillion. To get to “upper middle income” status by 2030, as expected in the country’s national visioning plan, this needs to rise about five-fold to about $250 billion given that population is projected to rise to about 60 million.

Hitting higher GDP or GNI figures, however, will mean little to the man in the street as, in Kenyan parlance, it does not add to the ugali in our sufurias (loosely translated, food in our pots). Thanks to incredible levels of corruption in “high income” Equatorial Guinea, poverty is at more than 60 per cent, well above Kenya’s 46 per cent. Only by reducing the number of people living in absolute poverty and bridging the gap between the rich and the poor can a nation make its income status more ‘real’ for its people.

According to per capita GNI statistics for 2013 compiled by the World Bank, Seychelles ($12,530), Gabon ($10,650), Mauritius ($9,300), South Africa ($7,190), Namibia ($5,840), Maldives ($5,600), Algeria ($5,290), Angola ($5,010) and Tunisia ($4,360) are all upper middle income.

Egypt ($3,160), Swaziland (3,080) Morocco ($3,030), Nigeria ($2,710), DR Congo ($2,660), Ghana ($1,760), Lesotho ($1,550), Zambia ($1,480), Cote d'Ivoire ($1,380), Cameroon ($1,270), Sudan ($1,130), South Sudan ($1,120), Senegal ($1,070) and Mauritania ($1,060) are lower middle income.

GDP per capita is gross domestic product divided by midyear population. GDP is the sum of gross value added by all resident producers in the economy plus any product taxes and minus any subsidies not included in the value of the products. It is calculated without making deductions for depreciation of fabricated assets or for depletion and degradation of natural resources.

GNI per capita (formerly GNP per capita) is the gross national income, converted to US dollars using the World Bank Atlas method, divided by the midyear population. GNI is the sum of value added by all resident producers plus any product taxes (less subsidies) not included in the valuation of output plus net receipts of primary income (compensation of employees and property income) from abroad.

The categories and rankings remain the same when either measure is used.