Poverty in Africa

Business a.m. - - COMMENT - NNANYELUGO IKE-MUONSO

IN COM­PAR­I­SON TO OTHER re­gions of the world, Africa is the land of the poor. Ac­cord­ing to the UNDP mul­ti­di­men­sional poverty statis­tics, 46% of sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa live be­low $1.9 per day while 43.4% live be­low the na­tional poverty line. Like the com­pound­ing law of pros­per­ity, poverty begets poverty. The poor ap­pear to be con­strained within the poverty ecosys­tem un­less a rad­i­cal ex­ter­nal fac­tor causes lib­er­a­tion. That is the think­ing be­hind the vi­cious cy­cle of poverty which demon­strates that poverty emits a con­stel­la­tion of dy­namic forces that re­in­force each other in ways that per­pet­u­ates the poor in the state of poverty. That is also con­sis­tent with the the­o­ret­i­cal cul­ture of poverty. Poverty also breeds crime as it is mostly a con­se­quence of the de­pri­va­tion of ma­te­rial needs. That is the un­der­ly­ing idea be­hind poverty per­pet­u­at­ing the cor­rup­tion that cre­ates it. The vast amount of nat­u­ral and other re­sources in Africa in com­bi­na­tion with the bil­lions of dol­lars in aid from mul­ti­lat­eral agen­cies in for­eign coun­tries should or­di­nar­ily mean that Africa would have been free from poverty. But that has never been the case. The cor­rup­tion-driven sel­f­rule ap­proach of African lead­ers en­sured that never hap­pened. Self-rule, in turn, ap­pears to be driven by a mind­set of poverty that stands on a per­cep­tion of eco­nomic in­ad­e­quacy.

The ef­fect of all of this is that the con­ti­nent drowns in mud­dled wa­ters cramped with un­de­sir­ables. These in­clude hunger, low life ex­pectancy, lit­er­acy, el­e­vated lev­els of un­em­ploy­ment, high in­fant mor­tal­ity rates and low per capita in­come. This con­stel­la­tion of ‘bads’ dy­nam­i­cally re­in­force each other and cre­ate an unwanted cul­ture and the vi­cious cy­cle of poverty. Per capita in­come in sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa in 2019 was $1,585.44. Although this av­er­age num­ber is a far cry from com­pa­ra­ble per capita GDP in other re­gions of the world, it masks the sever­ity of the in­come prob­lem on the con­ti­nent. For in­stance, the GDP per capita for coun­tries like Bu­rundi is $261.2 and $468 for the Cen­tral African Repub­lic. So­ma­lia’s per capita in­come [1990] is $127, while that of Su­dan is for­eign $441.5. Now, com­pare these num­bers with the world’s av­er­age in­come per capita, which stands at $11,428.57. Apart from Mau­ri­tius and Sey­chelles, with av­er­age in­comes of $11,203.5 and $17,401.7 re­spec­tively, no other African coun­try has an av­er­age in­come that is higher than US$8,500.

Even among the African coun­tries with rel­a­tively high per capita GDP of $5,000 and above, the in­come in­equal­i­ties are very se­vere with the poor, usu­ally more than 40% of the pop­u­la­tion. Equally, el­e­vated lev­els of ex­treme poverty in Africa mean high lev­els of chronic hunger. Ac­cord­ing to the SOS chil­dren’s vil­lages, 226.7 mil­lion peo­ple are starv­ing in Africa. This num­ber im­plies that the share of the world’s hun­gry pop­u­la­tion is the high­est in sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa, with ap­prox­i­mately 50% of the peo­ple liv­ing be­low the poverty line. Africa’s se­vere hunger and mal­nu­tri­tion con­di­tions have also led to high lev­els of stunt­ing among chil­dren. For in­stance, ap­prox­i­mately 40% of all the chil­dren in Tan­za­nia and in­deed, en­tire sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa are stunted. Stunt­ing af­fects men­tal devel­op­ment, which also has a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on pro­duc­tiv­ity in later years.

Ac­cord­ing to the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion, the global life ex­pectancy at birth in 2016 was 72.0 years (74.2 years for fe­males and 69.8 years for males), rang­ing from 61.2 years in the WHO African re­gion to 77.5 years in the WHO Euro­pean re­gion, giv­ing a ra­tio of 1.3 between the two ar­eas. The in­fant mor­tal­ity rate in the con­ti­nent is also one of the high­est in the world. Es­ti­mates show that 11% of the con­ti­nent’s chil­dren die be­fore the age of five. It is even worse in Sierra Leone, where 16% of chil­dren die be­fore they are five years old. Again, ac­cord­ing to UNESCO, sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa has the high­est rates of ed­u­ca­tional ex­clu­sion. 20% of its chil­dren aged between six and eleven are ex­cluded from school.

Sim­i­larly, 33% of those between 12 and 14 years of age are equally out of school. In gen­eral, the es­ti­mate is that a to­tal of 30 mil­lion chil­dren in sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa are out of school. Again, it is only about 6% of young peo­ple in sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa that are en­rolled in higher ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions com­pared to the global av­er­age of 26%.

Ide­ally, the poverty con­di­tions in Africa are eas­ily at­trib­ut­able to lousy lead­er­ship. Africa has had its great feel and share of cor­rupt and in­ef­fi­cient lead­er­ship. This ar­ray of pri­vate, pocket-fo­cused self-rule lead­ers was lit­tle mo­ti­vated to alter the so­cio-eco­nomic con­di­tions of their peo­ple. As they in­creas­ingly fo­cused on the cramp­ing of their pock­ets with the con­ti­nent’s re­sources, more of the lat­ter’s pop­u­la­tion sank into poverty. How­ever, while the lead­er­ship fac­tor has al­ways fa­cil­i­tated the deep­en­ing of the con­ti­nent’s poverty con­di­tions, other fac­tors played and con­tin­ued to play crit­i­cal roles. There is the bur­geon­ing pop­u­la­tion growth of the con­ti­nent, con­flicts and wars, cli­mate fac­tors, diseases and ill­nesses, in­ad­e­quate in­fra­struc­ture, the un­equal trade re­la­tion­ship with most for­eign coun­tries as well as for com­mer­cial qual­ity and the at­ten­dant pro­duc­tiv­ity. Ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions, the Africa pop­u­la­tion is to dou­ble by 2050. The pro­jected 2050 pop­u­la­tion size may still dou­ble by 2100. It is there­fore quite ap­par­ent that un­less the pro­duc­tiv­ity rate out­strips the rates of hu­man pop­u­la­tion growth by far, that Africa’s con­di­tions of poverty will pre­vail or even get worse. Con­se­quently, the lead­ers should find in­no­va­tive ways of fa­cil­i­tat­ing a slow­down in the con­ti­nent’s pop­u­la­tion in­crease.

Ad­di­tion­ally, nu­mer­ous con­flicts and wars also played sub­stan­tial roles in the frus­tra­tion of pro­duc­tion and in in­flict­ing more poverty on the con­ti­nent. Some of the notable ones in re­cent times in­clude the con­flicts between pas­toral­ists and herders in the north­ern parts of Nige­ria, Boko Haram re­li­gious in­sur­gency that af­fects both the north of Nige­ria as well as some parts of Cameroon, Niger Repub­lic and the Repub­lic of Chad. Oth­ers in­clude the South Su­danese Civil War, the con­flicts in the Cen­tral African Repub­lic, the pool war in the Congo Repub­lic, the on­go­ing Kamwina Ns­apu re­bel­lion in the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of the Congo, the So­ma­lian in­sur­gency, and the sec­ond Libyan Civil War. These con­flicts take a toll on the eco­nomic pro­duc­tiv­ity and so­cial life of the con­ti­nent. Cli­matic fac­tors such as flood­ing, famine and drought also have sub­stan­tial ad­verse ef­fects on the pro­duc­tiv­ity of the con­ti­nent. In the past decade, there have been sev­eral bouts of se­vere droughts and con­se­quent famine and star­va­tion in sev­eral parts of the con­ti­nent. Backed by sev­eral studies, the con­ti­nent ap­pears to be par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble to the ad­verse con­se­quences of cli­mate change. For in­stance, the dry­ing up of Lake Chad, which hith­erto sus­tained the agrar­ian life­style of mil­lions of peo­ple in the basin, caused ma­jor so­cio-eco­nomic dis­lo­ca­tion. Mil­lions have lost their means of liveli­hood and forced to mi­grate to other parts of the coun­try with se­vere eco­nomic con­se­quences.

Diseases and ill­nesses have also taken their toll on the con­ti­nent. Africa is in the malaria belt, but it has also been very sus­cep­ti­ble to the dev­as­tat­ing con­se­quences of the Ebola dis­ease as well as HIV in­fec­tions. Be­fore that, the con­ti­nent had high in­ci­dences of po­lio dis­ease and river blind­ness. Much of this gained strength on the back of its in­ad­e­quate in­fras­truc­tural fa­cil­i­ties, par­tic­u­larly hos­pi­tals. Again, with in­suf­fi­cient in­fra­struc­ture, ef­fi­cient pro­duc­tion is al­most il­lu­sory. Un­for­tu­nately, the con­ti­nent has much of it. It leads the world in the lack of the right kind of in­fra­struc­ture that fa­cil­i­tates en­hanced pro­duc­tiv­ity and es­cape into pros­per­ity. From the ab­sence of mo­torable roads and ad­e­quate sup­ply of elec­tric­ity to poorly func­tion­ing sea­ports, a se­vere in­fras­truc­tural cri­sis is a cru­cial set­back for the con­ti­nent. Poverty and the lack of ac­cess to long-term fi­nance com­bined with se­vere in­fras­truc­tural deficits, the con­ti­nent can­not pro­duce and sell at com­pet­i­tive prices. De­vel­oped coun­tries and their most so­phis­ti­cated trad­ing part­ners lever­age these dis­ad­van­tages to forge un­just trade re­la­tion­ships with the con­ti­nent. Through the am­pli­fi­ca­tion of the mind-shift­ing com­par­a­tive ad­van­tage the­ory, the con­ti­nent ap­pears quar­an­tined on the pro­duc­tion and ex­ports of pri­mary com­modi­ties while be­ing ham­strung by de­ploy­ment ca­pac­i­ties for so­phis­ti­cated in­dus­trial pro­duc­tion. Even com­modi­ties ex­ports are not left out. Va­ri­eties of bar­ri­ers are set by sev­eral trad­ing part­ners to min­i­mize the con­ti­nent’s share of the global mar­ket. Se­ri­ous hu­man re­source is­sues also com­pound all these. With less than 6% of the con­ti­nent’s pop­u­la­tion ac­quir­ing ad­vanced ed­u­ca­tion, the de­sired level of highly qual­i­fied hu­man cap­i­tal to drive en­hanced eco­nomic ac­tiv­i­ties ap­pears re­stricted. This hu­man cap­i­tal in­ad­e­quacy com­bines with poor ac­cess to longterm cap­i­tal which also fur­ther con­strains the ca­pac­ity for com­mer­cial pro­duc­tion.

For­tu­nately, the Brook­ings In­sti­tute re­port of March 2019 shows that poverty in Africa may be de­creas­ing. How­ever, they also stated that the fall in poverty is not fast enough. Ac­cord­ing to the re­port, more Africans are now es­cap­ing ex­treme poverty than are falling be­low the poverty line. They pre­dicted that if the trend con­tin­ued that by 2030 Africa would have re­duced the ranks of its ex­tremely poor by 45 mil­lion and rel­a­tive poverty would de­cline from 33.5% to 24%. The fu­ture for Africa; a fu­ture where poverty is ban­ished, and pros­per­ity en­throned will de­pend upon strong lead­er­ship at var­i­ous coun­tries lev­els as well as con­ti­nen­tal level. Such lead­er­ship will en­sure that con­di­tions, re­sources, and op­por­tu­ni­ties for cit­i­zen wel­fare ex­ist. It is a lead­er­ship that will not only be en­abling but adap­tive with the abil­ity to deal with the cri­sis faced by the con­ti­nent and make sig­nif­i­cant changes in re­sponse to the re­al­i­ties as they man­i­fest ef­fi­ciently and quickly. Africa needs such lead­er­ship that will also en­sure that cit­i­zens have more sub­stan­tial par­tic­i­pa­tion in the demo­cratic process im­ply­ing that the gov­er­nance mech­a­nism will be trans­par­ently open as well as re­spon­sive to the pub­lic’s mood in its pol­icy for­mu­lat­ing pro­cesses. This kind of lead­er­ship would go a long way in strength­en­ing the struc­ture for com­bat­ing poverty in the con­ti­nent.

Pro­fes­sor Ike-Muonso is Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor/CEO of Value Fron­teira Limited

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