Spending hefty bills regardless of the price tag, but unsure of tomorrow’s income, that is the classical definition of the classical middle class. There is nothing wrong, well technically, with being middle class, but there is everything wrong with the temptation that comes with wanting to live larger than life, which is the pitfall many middle class Kenyans have found themselves into, giving rise to a group of middle class people referred to as wannabes. Wannabes are defined as people who live in a manner to portray themselves as belonging to a higher class than they actually do. 

Definition of middle class citizens in Kenya 

For lack of proper definitions, the middle class Kenyan has for a long time been seen as one who can afford to live an average lifestyle, is employed in a relatively paying job or runs a business and is able to afford decent basic needs, but is not exactly sure of what can happen, and whether they can sustain that lifestyle without the job or business they run. 

Data provided by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics defines a middle class Kenyan as anyone who spends anywhere between KSh. 23,670 and KSh. 199,999 every month. On the other hand, the African Development Bank, defines the Kenyan middle class as anyone with an annual income of more than Sh331,500, or one whose daile expenditure ranges between KSh. 170 and Sh1,700. ADB further projects that the Kenyan middle class constitutes 45% of the country’s population, and about 23% of the population in the wider East African region, making them a significant segment of the population.

How the definition of middle class citizens is changing

However, the definition of the middle class is rapidly changing, dividing this class of Kenyans further into the hardworking middle class who are fighting their way to the upper class through decent working and living, and those who are just infatuated with lavish lifestyles of the upper class but cannot afford it, so they make it look like they can. The latter group is called wannabes, and these are largely the focus of this insight, the fake living middle class Kenyans.

Today’s middle class person is not just okay with living within their  means, whether they can afford it or not, the modern middle class Kenyan spends their time and money in expensive restaurants in the cities, drives a fuel-guzzler, shops in malls, lives in a two-bedroom apartment in the best estates, only takes cabs should they have to use public transport to protect their image, buys luxurious furniture and electronics, is mostly largely and almost constantly in debt, parties at exclusive joints almost every weekend and owns a dog as pet.

But why are the middle class living fake lives?

A report released in 2021 by Capital FM revealed that the Kenyan youth spend Sh64 billion annually on clothes and related accessories. Another 2009 census report indicated that the number of registered vehicles increased significantly from 611,268 in 2001 to 1,221,083 in 2009, and in 2022 alone, amounted to 347,000 units. It is not that spending is a bad thing entirely, but how and why people spend money is often the problem. So the question, amidst this much information is why are many of the people finding themselves living fake lives?

There are two main schools of thought when it comes to answering this question. One is the one that believes in faking it until one makes it, and the other is the one that believes in faking it until you can’t fake it anymore. In one way, there is no problem with living a fake life, as long as there is a strategic catch or opportunity that it presents. For example, one can choose to spend all they have to buy the favor of an opportunity which will repay itself and sustain them for a lifetime, and this could pass as thoughtful fake living. Now this is not the group we are focusing on, or rather the focus is not on this category of the middle class, it is on the contrary group.

The contrary group comprises thoughtless fake living which is not after chasing an opportunity to secure a future, but to prove a point. This is the group that will live an illusion of success or belonging to the upper class in order to meet certain peer or social standards or image. For example, a person earning a mere $2000 can go as far as spending $15 on lunch at a high end joint every weekday and a lavish party every weekend, drive a fuel guzzler, hostly weekly parties and live in a posh estate in Nairobi, ending up in $400 in debt monthly just to belong. This is the group that is of focus to us. 

Many of these middle class people who come to the cities to look for greener pastures meet a society that has already made an overrated definition of success that lures unstable entrants into the temptations of fitting in. This is the biggest cause of fake living among middle class Kenyans, and the trouble of it is one a person starts on that wrong foot, there is no going back, it becomes a lifetime commitment. 

What are the key defining characteristics of the middle class Kenyans living fake lives?

  1. Personal debt crisis which comprises current liabilities such as loans for vehicles, rented homes, electronic accessories and vacations.
  2. Misled priorities which span from imbalanced income/expenditure ratio to lack of long term investment plans.
  3. Working for the bills where the only thing one is worried of is to make just enough money to pay for rent and other utilities and not to build and sustain wealth.
  4. Captive of social perception where many find themselves trapped in a net where their definition is based on what other people perceive of them. This is why many struggle to fit in.
  5. Broken families due to strained financial relations, arguments on long term investment plans especially on the breadwinners side.
  6. Increase in loners/ singles as people seek to live for the moment rather than to commit to families and relations that would limit their momentary fun.
  7. Partying everywhere anytime. Unlike days when parties were reserved for holidays, the evolution brought parties to the end of month, then to weekends, then to every day.
  8. No sense of purpose, because many people live for the moment and have no bigger vision to chase.
  9. Complacence with the status quo where people do not want to experience the discomfort of trying to improve themselves. The idea is, if it works, just let it be.
  10. Low risk takers because with any risk comes the danger of dismantling and exposing the fake aura of success built around them.
  11. Want to work and succeed alone as they perceive success as a personal asset one uses to assert power and gain recognition within their social circles.

I hope this read has made sense and stirs a conversation that can lead to asking ourselves greater questions and making lasting resolutions to make wise economic and social decisions.

6 thoughts on “The middle class crisis in Kenya, many are living fake lives and they know it.”

  1. Tim Mwangi,

    This is one of the most candid analysis of the financial situation of the middle-class demographic in Kenya and EA, apparently it is the typical situation in any part of the modern world.
    The first step to remedial action is addressing the elephant in the room, and it is amazing that this article speaks to it.

    Andrew Abonyo.

    1. Thank you very much sir for sparing your time to read this insight. My sincere hope is that is provokes the middle class and inspires them to realize the potential they have, it they actually chose to face the scary future instead of resign to fate and try to run away from the reality. Sometimes, the very reason people don’t exploit their potential is they are scared it is too much to handle, which is pretty absurd, right?

  2. This is a thought provoking article sir. Kenya and the rest of the developing economies have a track to take. It’s up to individuals to realize this societal failure and choose our lanes wisely. Next time, touch on self awareness and the use of education to cab this deficiency

    1. Thanks David for finding time to thoroughly analyze the idea behind the article. Yes truly, there is definitely a track to take, and it’s up to individuals to realize this societal failure and choose our lanes wisely. Yes, self awareness and education are on our table now, coming right up. Thanks for this suggestion.

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