Inequality in Africa: Effects of the Ruling Class

Wednesday, May 4, 2016 - 10:15

A 2016 statement by the joint inequality alliance noted that:

The world faces an inequality crisis that is spiraling out of control. Across the world we are seeing the gap between the richest and the rest reach extremes not seen in a century.

The 200 richest people in the world control more wealth than the whole of Africa. An inordinate amount of power is in the hands of the richest. Whether in democracies or in authoritarian dictatorships, elites are finding ways to capture the mechanisms of nation states.

This article argues that the voice and contribution of the common citizens who make up the majority group, needs to be at the center of discussions on ending poverty and inequalities in Africa. A point that is often missed by the ruling class — mostly composed of those who are relatively well off — in spearheading political, social and economic reforms in Africa.

People’s expectations from the ruling class versus reality:


To get the politics right

Citizens in Africa expect the ruling class to uphold a moral political standard, good governance ideals as well as to honor human dignity and individuals' right to privacy. That their leaders will seek Africanised solutions to African problems based on the contextual needs of the respective nations. Nevertheless, the opposite is usually the case; the real problem is politics, not policy, notes a recent discussion paper by ActionAid on the topic of inequalityPeople centered service delivery is the desired practice but is usually the exception rather than the norm. Transparency International Chairman, José Ugaz, in 2015 noted:

Corruption creates and increases poverty and exclusion. While corrupt individuals with political power enjoy a lavish life, millions of Africans are deprived of their basic needs like food, health, education, housing, access to clean water and sanitation.

To get the economics right

Citizens in many African countries are positive but nevertheless critical about how their leaders and professionals in various sectors run the economy. According to data compiled in 2015 by Bloomberg, during the past 10 years the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the 11 largest Sub-Saharan countries increased by 51 percent, more than twice the world's 23 percent and almost four times the 13 percent expansion of the U.S., the largest economy. Moreover, according to the World Bank, GDP in Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to pick up to an average of 4.4 percent and 4.8 percent in 2016 and 2017 respectively.

Despite the reported high economic growth, economic inequality within states continues to grow. The narrative of growth increasingly seems to be a facade as it mostly reflects a boost in income for the well off, while the situation of the poor remains the same or worsens. This is illustrated by the fact that many of the world’s poorest countries are in Sub-Saharan Africa. Incomes, assets, and access to essential services are unequally distributed and the region contains a growing share of the world’s absolute poor, who have little power to influence the allocation of resources.

To get the social issues right

African citizens expect their leaders to bridge the wide societal gap between the rich and the poor, for quality education, access to healthcare and food security to become a reality. However, the belief system that has been created promotes the notion that access to basic quality goods and services is more of a privilege than a right for all. As World Bank data shows, the number of poor people in Africa (defined as those living on less than $1.25 a day), who also have poor access to social amenities, increased from 411.3 million in 2010 to 415.8 million in 2011.

The Fight For Equality

The scale of the inequality crisis has gone too far! Many of the Africa’s poorest and most marginalized communities are already part of this struggle. The real problem now is deliberating on pertinent issues in the political, social and economic spheres to achieve Africa’s collective goals of sustainable development and transformation. A good start in realizing the 'Africa we want' much sooner than later would be to require that any established developmental framework has to have the potential of being a powerful driver of sustainable pro-poor growth in African countries.