What really is an ‘upper middle-income society’?

by Tendai Ruben Mbofana

One way of knowing that an individual is not telling the truth is in the vagueness of his statements.

There will hardly be any specifics or details in what he would be saying.

If someone comes to you and claims that ‘we want to end poverty by the year 2030’, what exactly would they be talking about?

What is really meant by such a statement as attaining an ‘upper middle-income society by the year 2030’?

These promises have become the ‘in thing’, as the buzzwords and mantra of the Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa administration for the past five years.

However, is there any sound logic to these words?

One simply needs to google the phrase ‘upper middle-income society’ and the answer will be right there for all to see.

In the world of economics and finance, there is absolutely nothing that is referred to as ‘an upper middle-income society’.

In actual fact, this term is purely a Zimbabwean creation – most specifically, by the Mnangagwa government.

Of course, there is absolutely nothing untoward or amiss with the country being global pacesetters and pioneers – including coming up with economic objectives that have never been heard of anywhere else in the world.

Nonetheless, the issue of specifics and details is crucial.

I ask again, what precisely would the Zimbabwe regime be talking about by ‘an upper middle-income society’?

Honestly, I have tried my level best to find the answer to this question, but have come out empty-handed.

Let me hasten to mention that there is definitely the concept of an ‘upper middle-income economy’ in the world of economics.

Nevertheless, this distinction needs to be made abundantly and unambiguously clear. 

We all know what an ‘upper middle-income economy’ is, as a distinct contrast to an ‘upper middle-income society’.

The key words here being ‘ECONOMY’ as compared to ‘SOCIETY’.

The definition of an ‘upper middle-income economy’ is quite clear.

It is classified by the World Bank as a country with a GNI (Gross National Income) per capita between US$4,046 and US$12,535.

In simple terms, this figure is derived from the  total amount earned by a country from its products (and then divided by its population).

It does not mean that this money is given to each and every citizen of that country.

What it basically entails is that this is the income the particular country is deriving from selling the goods and services it produces.

It goes without saying, though, that in a country where there is equitable distribution of wealth, this income would trickle down to the ordinary citizenry in the form of improved standards of living.

Countries already classified as ‘upper middle-income economies’ are Algeria, Angola, Botswana, Brazil, China, Gabon, Libya, Mauritius, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Tunisia.

However, that is definitely not the same as claiming to aim for a so-called ‘upper middle-income society’.

That, no one – except only those in the Mnangagwa administration – knows what it means.

Again, for the avoidance of confusion, the words to look out for in this regard are ‘society’ and ‘economy’.

We can even take a look at Zimbabwe’s current global standing as far as its national income performance is concerned.

At present, the country is characterized as a ‘lower middle-income economy’ – meaning its GNI per capita is between US$1,036 and US$4,045.

Even if we are to assume that the Mnangagwa government means that the reason there is so much poverty in Zimbabwe is on account of us still being a ‘lower middle-income economy’ that would make no sense at all.

For the benefit of those who may not know this, other countries in this ‘lower middle-income economy’ group are, inter alia, Egypt, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Iran, Kenya, and Nigeria.

Who can deny that citizens of these nations enjoy far much higher standards of living than those in Zimbabwe – in spite of sharing the same ‘lower middle-income economy’ status.

As a matter of fact, Nigeria is Africa’s largest economy – with a GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of US$477 billion for 2022.

Iran is the third largest economy in the Middle East (with a 2021 GDP of US$359.7 billion); whilst India is ranked by the World Bank as one of the world’s leading economies (at US$3.176 trillion in 2021).

On the other hand, Zimbabwe has a GDP of US$28.37 billion as at 2021.

In all this, half our population lives in extreme poverty, as two-thirds of the workforce earns below the poverty datum line.

Our public health care institutions have become death traps – lacking the bare basics as essential medications, functional cancer machines, adequate ambulances and hospital beds, and other necessities.

In most cases, rural folk still have to walk over ten kilometers to reach the nearest medical center.

Most of our rural children still learn in the open, with a gross shortage of educational material, as well as limited access to modern technologies.

The country has the shameful tag of having one of the highest inflation rates in the world – with most goods and services out of the reach of millions.

Our towns and cities have been reduced to glorified rural areas – some going for weeks, months, and even years without any potable tap water in their homes.

As can be unequivocally seen by these figures, Zimbabweans are not poor because we are still a ‘lower middle-income economy’ – since others in the same classification are performing exceptionally well.

In fact, it also has nothing to do with our GDP.

However, it has everything to do with the unequal distribution of wealth in the country.

With a GNI per capita of US$2,270 and a GDP of US$28.37 billion, Zimbabweans should be living quite comfortably.

The problem we have in Zimbabwe has absolutely zero to do with some global economic rankings.

It is entirely the result of a greedy, kleptomaniac, and corrupt ruling elite – who are busy enriching themselves through our national resources at the expense of the rest of the population.

As such, even if we are to achieve the ‘upper middle-income economy’ status, there is no guarantee that poverty will be eliminated, leading to improved standards of living for the ordinary citizenry.

Still, this does not explain the Zimbabwe government’s repeated usage of a non-existent term ‘upper middle-income society’, as opposed to an ‘upper middle-income economy’.

The fact that the Mnangagwa administration has never bothered to break this down for the ordinary man, woman, and child in the street to understand leaves far too many questions.

Why the vagueness and lack of clarity on what this actually entails?

How precisely will the lives of ordinary Zimbabweans be under an ‘upper middle-income society’?

It makes no sense to keep promising Zimbabweans that ‘poverty will be ended by the year 2030’.

The question then becomes, why are we even still poor today, when others in the same economic ranking as ourselves are faring much better?

In fact, their economies are outstanding!

If truth be told, there is nothing to hope for by the year 2030.

It is all just a farce and huge big con job.

If Zimbabweans can not be prosperous today, then they will definitely not be prosperous by 2030.

Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice advocate and writer. Please feel free to WhatsApp or Call: +26371566770 | +263782283975, or email:, or visit website:

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button