Barrington Moore’s famous line “no bourgeoisie, no democracy” is one of the most quoted claims in political science. But has the rise of the African middle class promoted democratic consolidation? This paper uses the case of Kenya to investigate the attitudes and behaviors of the middle class. Analysis of Afrobarometer survey data reveals that the middle class is more likely to hold pro-democratic attitudes. This suggests that Moore’s argument deserves to be taken seriously, at least in some African countries, and that contemporary demographic changes will improve the prospects for democratic consolidation. However, qualitative evidence from the Kenyan 2013 general election raises important questions about the resilience of these attitudes. The middle class may be more inclined to democratic attitudes than their less well off counterparts, but class continues to intersect with ethnicity and its political salience is likely to wax and wane as a result.
Nic Cheeseman is an Associate Professor of African Politics at Oxford University and the co-editor of African Affairs. His research addresses a range of questions such as whether populism is an effective strategy of political mobilization in Africa, how paying tax changes citizens’ attitudes towards democracy and corruption, and the conditions under which ruling parties lose power. In addition to a number of book chapters and articles, he has published two co-edited collections: Our Turn To Eat (2010), which covers the politics of Kenya since independence, and The Handbook of African Politics (2013). A monograph, Democracy in Africa, has just been published by Cambridge University Press and a second book, How to Rig An Election, is currently under contract with Yale. Nic is also an advisor to a number of policy makers including the Cabinet Office, Foreign Office, and the Department for International Development of the UK government, the Instituto Rio Branco of the Brazilian government, the Lagos State Government, and the African Progress Panel