Last year many issues impacting global peace, security and development were discussed at numerous forums. In my view, thirst for power and the rising economic inequality are the most daunting and disturbing challenges the world faces and it is more urgent for Africa.
Economic inequality is undeniably a major cause of most of the social anarchy and political instability we see happening around the world.
Inequality has always been around ever since the creation of the earth and regrettably will continue to be with us (read your Bible in Matthew chapter 13 verse 12).
However, countries that do not strive to reduce poverty and narrow the gap between the few super rich and the poverty stricken majority will face insurmountable social disorder in the not too distant. In fact, social unrest due to economic inequality is already discernable in several parts of the world.
According to Oxfam more than 1 billion people still live in poverty and the gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ is growing mostly among the developing nations.
Findings also show that just 85 people have more wealth than the poorest 3.5 billion. Extreme poverty forces extreme choices. In most instances poverty and inequality are often what triggers social and political volatility.
No matter how wealthy one is, if you are surrounded by extreme poverty, you can’t have peace.
The poor don’t sleep because they are hungry and the rich don’t sleep because the poor are awake.
Attaining absolute equality is unrealistic on this planet. Communist and socialist countries tried to make everyone equal and failed. Meanwhile, as the number of wells globally, so is the number of the impoverished.
China boasts the fastest rate of billionaires. Delegates to the National People’s Congress (NPC) include 83 billionaires and another 53 billionaires among the delegates to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.
This is despite hundreds of millions in abject poverty. It is no wonder that social strains are increasing. President Xi’s new leadership recently compared the situation in China with the fate suffered by the French aristocracy during the French Revolution.
The United States is more unequal now than in 1980. The 400 richest Americans possess combined assets of over $2 trillion – more wealth than the 41 million African Americans.
Very likely in 20 years from now, America will be a country whose politics and culture will be dominated by the offspring of families with familiar names such as Walton, Zuckerberg, Soros, Adelson, Gates, Buffet, Trump and Koch.
Even the Republicans accept that unfettered capitalism, anywhere in the world, left to its own natural tendencies, will widen disparities in wealth and power.
The list of Africa’s billionaires led by Aliko Dangote of Nigeria ($25 billion) and which includes Isabel Dos Santos of Angola ($3.7 billion) is also growing. Do we have billionaires in Rwanda?
Going by last year’s figure of 39 billionaires in Africa, and considering the size of our economy, it is very likely that we do not have billionaires yet, our culture of not revealing the number of cows (wealth) one has notwithstanding.
While it has been established that many of the world’s fastest growing economies by GDP are in sub-Saharan Africa and that there have been gains in terms of poverty reduction and human development, it is worth noting, however, that African countries are some of the countries with the most extreme income inequality in the world, with some reportedly holding a Gini coefficient of up to 0.7 on a scale of 1 for absolute inequality and 0 for absolute equality.
We are distributing poverty instead of wealth. In the face of this rising inequality and its consequences how does our country fair?
In small economies like ours the challenge to economic inequality is not in the number of the very wealthy versus the very poor but rather in access to social amenities such as food and water, health care, education, energy, shelter and ICT.
Despite an abundance of natural resources the root of Africa’s poverty is the lack of access to these amenities and the principal reason is appalling governance and high level corruption.
With respect to good governance and tolerance to corruption, Rwanda stands head and shoulder above other countries in Africa and going by this one can rationally deduce that the likelihood of social unrest due to economic inequality is fairly remote.
This is supported by several strategically devised home grown solutions that the government has implemented to uplift the welfare of the majority poor.
Effective programmes such as Ubudehe (community-based problem solving mechanism), Gir’inka (one cow per family) and Mutuelle de Santé (communal health insurance scheme) have resulted in lifting over a million people (10% of the population) above the poverty line in a few years – a remarkable achievement considering where this country has come from in only 20 years.
If this trend is maintained Rwanda is very likely to have more than 50 percent of her people living well above the poverty line in the next 20 years.
Many Africans remain caught in downward spirals of poverty, insecurity and marginalization, with too few people benefitting from the continent’s growth. We are attaining impressive GDPs but the majority of the population is getting poorer.
Too much of Africa’s enormous resource wealth continues to remain in the hands of few politicians and the politically connected, and, increasingly, foreign investors. In Africa we have less than 50 billionaires encircled by over 500 million poor people.
Excessive wealth in the hands of very few in the midst of extreme poverty is a sure recipe for social and political instability. As Africa rises our leaders should do everything possible to mitigate the rising inequality.