“Economic inequality in Africa translates into political inequality”

June 27, 2014

Every Presidential election in Africa is always watched very closely by regional and international leaders, policymakers and political observers. One of the key reasons is that happens is that presidents and prime ministers in the continent play a critical role in economic growth, trade, regional cooperation and more importantly, it takes the leadership in addressing poverty, inequality and vulnerability challenges that are common in the continent.The latex being the Ebola spreading fear across west Africa. African countries have been acclaimed for reducing poverty in last 15 years through innovative large scale poverty eradication program and reforms that were so scarce. But the challenges remain as one take a closer look at the figures. While selected countries have done well in reducing the number of people living under US$1 per day, studies show that around 60 percent of its population is still living under $2 day. It’s also a looming reality that inequality is growing significantly.
A recent study undertaken found that the continent’s Gini coefficient had increased from 0.22 to 0.35 between 1998 and 2013. Another measure of inequality, the ratio of income share of the richest 10 percent population to the income share of 10 percent of the poorest population, in 2013 is 4.09. This suggests that income share of 10 percent richest population is more than 20 times than the share of 10 percent of the poorest population. The ratio of the mean expenditure of the 10 percent richest to that of the 10 percent poorest households, has made significant increase of 80 percent from 2003 to 2013. Similar trend has been observed in the inequality of opportunities in education, health, clean water, sanitation and formal labor market. Another study shows growing regional disparities.

Increasing inequality harms growth and triggers social unrest challenging political stability as the South Africa is experiencing now with multiple of strikes that has significantly affected one of Africa’s economic powerhouse. South Africa does not need to look far to witness the political consequences of inequality. In the region, Nigeria is going through years of social upheaval and unrest putting economic growth of the country at risk courtesy of groups like Boko Haram that claim to have been sidelined in economic empowerment by successive Nigerian governments. Another recent report I read recently indicated that inequality, the downside of development in Africa, recommended policy changes, such as setting targets and indicators to reduce inequality to measure success in the Government’s medium-term development plan, balancing bank interest policies to reduce unemployment like the Kenyan government has done, increasing tax revenue, increasing social spending , reforming agriculture sector.It also argues for institutional reforms to strengthen the delivery of a plethora of national programs. Interestingly, inequality has been discussed and debated during the political campaign process all over Africa and political manifestoes clearly outline targets for reducing inequality.This is indeed a welcome sign and this itself is a pioneering example in a continent where poor people are largely ignored when it comes to formulating policies. 
It is not that policymakers are not aware about this growing phenomenon of inequality or that they do not know how to tackle it. It is more about political will and backing to act on it. At the same time, Africa is also increasingly vulnerable to disasters and to the impact of climate change.The leadership in Africa can introduce and deliver innovative and bold national policies and programs in addressing poverty, inequality and vulnerability.

Contador Harrison