Tearing us Apart: Inequalities in Southern Africa

“Watch it. You can kiss reconciliation and forgiveness goodbye, unless the gap between the rich and the poor -- the haves and the have-nots -- is narrowed, and narrowed quickly and dramatically” - Archbishop Desmond Tutu
 

Deprose Muchena

June 28th, 2011
“Watch it. You can kiss reconciliation and forgiveness goodbye, unless the gap between the rich and the poor -- the haves and the have-nots -- is narrowed, and narrowed quickly and dramatically” - Archbishop Desmond Tutu
 
Poverty and inequality undermine human dignity, human development and society’s progress towards sustainable democracies and open societies. For those committed to the struggle for free societies, enjoyment of basic rights for all and accountability of the state, the presence of inequality anywhere, must be seen as a threat to democracy everywhere. Grotesque forms of inequality such as those that exist in Southern Africa hugely undermine economic growth and development. But if governments and civil society are going to be successful in efforts at reducing poverty and inequality, understanding the cause, nature, level and impact of inequality on society, on the economy and on governance is a central objective of that endeavour.
 
Therefore documenting information on poverty and inequality trends is a primary and important first step in building knowledge necessary for much needed evidence-based advocacy, policy dialogue with governments and development of policy alternatives. What is discernible in Southern Africa is that inequality in all its forms is so massively entrenched, tearing whole communities, people and societies apart. The absence of aggressive and well thought out social policy regimes that target inequality aids and abates the problem. This entrenched nature of socio-economic inequalities in Southern Africa really represents a serious attack on human dignity, social development and a just society. Efforts towards a reversal of this trend and investments in human development are necessary and must occupy the minds and exercise the minds of bureaucrats, governments, civil society and donors alike and should be increased. In fact they must constitute a central objective of all government social and economic development programmes in our region.
 
The idea of a book on the state of inequality among Southern African countries was always going to be an ambitious but necessary exercise. The work of the Labour Resource and Research Institute of Namibia (LaRRI) coupled with a few years’ experience in implementing and supporting economic justice programmes and initiatives in Southern Africa for the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) informs such an ambition. The book itself was conceived to address among other things, six central objectives, including:
 
• To accurately document the prevailing levels of poverty and inequality in Southern Africa;
• To identify the historical and structural causes of poverty and inequality;
• To examine the nexus between inequality, poverty and socio-economic policy;
• To document the impact of poverty and inequality on human development in the chosen countries and draw regional lessons;
• To identify areas of intervention to reduce poverty and inequality; and
• To provide a series of pro-poor alternatives needed to provide lasting solutionsto the problem.
 
While this book is evidently not exhaustive and by no means holds the place of the last word on inequality, it certainly demonstrates the growing needs for policy research, policy analysis and policy alternatives. It offers some insights on the similarities and trajectories of poverty and inequality in a region whose history political economy and struggles tend to be similar.
 
Research on inequality in Africa is a recent phenomenon. Most studies began in the early 1990s, with increased availability of household budget surveys for countries on the continent. The advent of Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) and Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which moved the debate towards issues of pro-poor growth, also required discussion on the nature and trends of inequality. Another reason was the important lesson coming from a number of countries that although growth may be necessary, it is not sufficient for a significant reduction of poverty and inequality. Additional policy measures were needed to direct proceeds of growth towards social policies that fight poverty and inequality.
 
With the exception of a few cases, most of Southern Africa lack knowledge and information on inequality although the experience of inequality is alive. There seems to be not many studies around that examined the relationship between poverty, inequality and growth on the one hand and social policy on the other. Only a small number of studies examined the underlying factors driving inequality. In the last few years, however, efforts in that direction have become more common with the use of assets or capability-based measures of inequality (and poverty) and the use of computer general equilibrium (CGE) models to asses impacts of various policies on both growth and distribution.
 
It is imperative that a knowledge bank on inequality be developed, so that advocacy for policy changes needed to reduce inequality is evidence-based.
 
Resource-rich and poor human development paradox
 
Southern Africa is a region of paradoxes. It is a resource-rich region and houses a significant number of “middle- income economies” relative to the rest of the continent’s other sub-regions. Precious and high value commodities are readily extracted from the region to feed the metropolis under various forms of export-led development strategies. In recent years, the region has been posting high rates of economic growth averaging six percent, with Angola, Mozambique and Malawi being touted amongst the fastest growing economies in the world registering much higher economic growth rates.
 
Yet, despite these developments, statistics glaringly show that poverty and inequality have in fact worsened in the last two decades. The paradox of being rich in mineral resources but poor in human development has produced some kind of resource curse2 in countries of the region. The region remains one of the poorest in the world. For example conservative estimates point out that forty five percent of the population of SADC lives on US$1 per day. Life expectancy has declined dramatically in many countries of the region, from a previous high of 60 years, to a current low of 33 years3. Current development strategies are failing to eliminate inequality which appears to be entrenched, existing within countries and between countries of the region. It is driven by historical factors of politics, race, gender, ethnicity, class, region and  geography, income and assets.
 
For this reason, it is important to continuously document trends and experiences of inequality with a view to influencing public policy choices and development endeavors.
 
Tearing us Apart: Inequalities in southern Africa (edited by Herbert Jauch and Deprose Muchena) provides detailed analysis and expert insight and some thought-provoking policy options.

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