Findings challenge view of continent as a place of famine and poverty.
One in three Africans is middle class, a rising group of consumers to rival those of China and India, researchers have found (pdf).
Record numbers of people in Africa own houses and cars, use mobile phones and the internet and send their children to private schools and foreign universities, according to the African Development Bank.
Mthuli Ncube, the bank's chief economist, said the findings should challenge long-held perceptions of Africa as a continent of famine, poverty and hopelessness.
"Hey you know what, the world please wake up, this is a phenomenon in Africa that we've not spent a lot of time thinking about," Ncube said. "There is a middle class that is driven by specific factors such as education and we should change our view and work with this group to create a new Africa and make sure Africa realises its full potential."
Ncube said the study used an absolute definition of middle class, meaning people who spend between $2 and $20 a day, which he believed was appropriate given the cost of living for Africa's nearly 1 billion people.
The study found that, by last year, Africa's middle class had risen to about 34% of the continent's population, or about 313m people – up from around 111m (26%) in 1980 and 196m (27%) in 2000. ...