By Ramesh Jaura
“African countries, especially those in West Africa, are simply not doing enough” to “ensure that no one is left behind”, declares a new report, unveiling shocking figures that underline extreme inequality and poverty rampant in the region. West Africa is the African region “least committed to the fight against inequality”, says the report titled ‘The West Africa Inequality Crisis’.
And this in a year that marks the fourth year of the implementation of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which aim to address global challenges such as poverty, inequality, climate change and environmental degradation – as envisaged in Goal 1, Goal 10 and Goal13.
2019 also marks the mid-point of the first 10-year implementation plan of the African Union’s Agenda 2063, which seeks to promote “a prosperous Africa based on inclusive and sustainable development; and an Africa whose development is people-driven, relying on the potential of African people, especially its women and youth, and caring for children”.
The highlights of the report published by Oxfam and Development Finance International (DFI), correspond to the Sustainable Development Goals Report 2019 launched in New York on July 9, the opening day of the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, which is based on the latest available data, and remains the cornerstone for measuring progress and identifying gaps in the implementation of all 17 SDGs.
Among its key findings are increasing inequality and extreme poverty among and within countries and the rise in global hunger after a prolonged decline, prompting UN Secretary-General António Guterres to assert: “It is abundantly clear that a much deeper, faster and more ambitious response is needed to unleash the social and economic transformation needed to achieve our 2030 goals.”
The Oxfam-DFI report reviews the performance of African countries in realizing the global and regional development goals to which they have committed themselves. It notes that in 2018, six of the 10 fastest-growing economies in Africa were in West Africa: Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Benin and Guinea. Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Senegal were among the 10 fastest-growing economies in the world.
“The region has seen impressive economic growth in the past two decades, and in a few countries this has been matched by a significant reduction in poverty levels. However, in most countries the benefits of this unprecedented economic growth have gone to a tiny few,” finds the report.
Subsequently, “inequality has reached extreme levels” in the region: today the wealthiest 1 percent of West Africans own more than everyone else in the region taken together. Providing a breakdown, the report says: “In Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, the richest man earns about 150,000 times more from his wealth than the poorest 10 percent of Nigerians spend on average on their basic consumption in a year.”
Pointing to stark anomalies, the authors of the report calculate that even if the richest Nigerian man spent at a rate of $1million a day, it would take 46 years for him to spend all of his wealth.
Also, the wealth of the five richest Nigerian men combined stands at $29.9 billion – not only more than the country’s entire budget in 2017, but also far more than the cost of about $24 billion a year required to lift all Nigerians above the extreme poverty line of $1.90 a day.
The report points out that Nigeria’s blatant inequality is comparable only to that in Brazil, where the richest 5 percent of the population have as much wealth as the remaining 95 percent. The six richest men in Brazil have as much wealth as the poorest 50 percent of the population of about 100 million people.
In West Africa’s second biggest economy Ghana, one of the richest men earns more in a month than one of the poorest women could earn in 1,000 years. In the decade ending in 2016 the country saw 1,000 new U.S. dollar millionaires, but only 60 of these were women. While a few people grew super-rich, nearly one million more, mostly from the Savannah Region of the country, were pushed into the poverty pool, and thousands of those who were already poor sank even deeper, reveals the report.
The wealthiest 10 percent of Ghanaians now account for 32 percent of the country’s total consumption. This is more than the consumption of the bottom 60 percent of the entire population combined. The very poorest 10 percent of Ghanaians consume only 2 percent.
The report finds that inequality is also rife in the provision of public services, such as education and healthcare. For example, women from rich families in Mali are 15 times more likely to have received a secondary education than those from poor families. In Nigeria, a woman from a poor family is 26 times more likely never to have been to school compared with a woman from a rich family.
In Ghana a girl from a poor family is 14 times more likely never to have been to school than one from a rich family. An estimated 70 percent of the poorest girls in Niger have never attended primary school; among those who have attended, school supplies and materials account for almost 75 percent of spending on education for the poorest households.
According to the report, Niger is the least educated country in the world, with the average length of schooling being just 18 months. Only one in two girls goes to primary school, one in 10 to secondary school and one in 50 to high school.
While some governments are doing little or nothing to tackle inequality, and some through their actions are even making it worse, a few – such as Senegal – are taking a different route, adds the report. The country has increased its public spending on health services and education, making it the 13th highest-spending country in the world in these sectors, proportionally as a percentage of GDP. Senegal also has one of the largest safety net programmes in Africa.
The stunning figures are based on the The Commitment to Reducing Inequality (CRI) Index, devised by DFI and Oxfam, which has analyzed data from 157 countries around the world, and ranked them according to three major policy areas that are recognized as being key to tackling inequality.
These include progressive spending on assets such as schools, hospitals and social protection, taxing the better-off more than the poorest people, and paying workers a living wage. For this review, CRI data have been used to assess the performance of all 15 member countries of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), along with Mauritania.
The report asserts without beating about the bush: “There is nothing inevitable about the crisis of inequality that defines the West Africa region, but without concerted effort by governments the crisis is likely only to get worse.”
In short, adds the report, the key is for West African governments to radically increase their commitment to tackling the issue. “It falls to national governments and to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA) to reverse the trend by prioritizing a regional plan to fundamentally change the status of West Africa as the African region least committed to the fight against inequality.”