Saturday, July 21, 2018

Africa Sinking

In the early 2000s, wily state and corporate PR agents masquerading as journalists began talking about an “Africa Rising”. Whereas the continent had been seen in the modern era as hopeless, corrupt and politically dependent hell-holes that had failed the independence experiment, the new narrative told of double-digit growth, rising incomes, a middle class and even solid, stable democratic values. The ruse didn’t last long. “Africa Rising” exposed itself for the farce that it was. 

It became clear that economic growth – where ever it may have been booming – was not solving the conundrum of income inequality. As economies in Europe slowed around 2008-2009, investors were playing up the “Africa Rising” card: they talked of expanding mobile phone networks, building shopping malls, and technological innovation in Kenya, Ethiopia and Ghana as IT hubs were sold as the continent’s short-cut to development. Then the global economy shrunk again in 2015. South Africa and Nigeria – the continent’s biggest economies contracted, too. But the myth of “Africa Rising”, didn’t die completely. Now, analysts spoke of “Africa Rising in certain countries”, like Ethiopia and Rwanda.

A report, published by the US-based Brookings Institute, and based on a projection by the World Poverty Clock, shows that some 643 million people across the world live in extreme poverty (less than $1.90 (R14) per day). This is an acute, dangerous level of poverty, in which families are on the verge of starving, or living in destitution. Africans account for around two-thirds of the total number. If current trends persist, Africans will account for nine-tenths by 2030. 14 out of the 18 countries where extreme poverty was increasing were in Africa itself.

Nigeria is said to have the highest number of people – about 87 million people – living in extreme poverty while the Democratic Republic of Congo has 60 million people. But also on this list are Ethiopia and Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda. These are large, important economies on the continent, and this did not happen overnight. Six Nigerians fall into extreme poverty each minute. Likewise, for all the talk of Ethiopia’s economic boom over the past decade, 23.9 million people still live in extreme poverty.

Africa is not a country, and the insistence on treating it as such is not merely an irritant; the one-size fits all plans by global institutions continue to fail. When investments have come in, they have almost always benefited the political and ­social elite. When loans have come in from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), it has come with woeful conditions: privatisation, reducing government spending, and deregulating the market. The high levels of inequality meant that those excluded fall even further down the chain. The population is growing, and bigger incomes aren’t able to pull larger families out of poverty as a result. Lastly, the amount of money being stolen out of the continent is still astronomical. A 2010 study by the Global Financial Integrity group showed that $854 billion was illicitly transferred out of the continent between 1972-2010. Out of that, $89.5bn came from Nigeria. It is the illicit transfer of money that is among the biggest culprits for poverty on the continent. Neither can we ignore the many nefarious trade deals that keep many on the continent at bay. Consider the recent decision by Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda to ban second-hand clothing to their countries, so that the country can develop its own clothing industry. The US promptly suspended the duty-free status of Rwanda’s textile products as punishment.

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