Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Inequality, not poverty, is world’s top challenge: African leader

Huge disparities in wealth are fomenting rage to the point that narrowing inequalities within nations has becomes the most urgent development task facing the world. So says an African leader, John Githongo, most recently in an article published in the July 24 issue of the New York Times.

In that article, titled “When Wealth Breeds Rage,” Githongo, chairman of the African Institute for Governing with Integrity, draws on the recent outbursts in the Middle East and North Africa, where young protesters have toppled some of the most ruthless strongmen on the planet. “Radical and growing economic inequality animated much of what was at stake in the various Arab uprisings,” he writes, “and it will play a major role in shaping African politics for years to come.”

The resentment, he holds, has two important characteristics:

-- It is “particularly acute among members of the giant youth bulge across Africa and the Middle East.” For example, in Kenya, his native country, over 75 percent of the population is under 34 years of age.
-- It is “heightened by the tools of the information age, which remind them that they have been excluded from feeding at the trough enjoyed so blatantly by the nouveau riche – a lifestyle that is showcased by the newly minted wealthy on television, Twitter, Facebook, and the Web in infuriating detail.”

“Indeed, if the Arab revolutions have taught us anything, it is that inequality and perceptions of inequality within poor countries have now replaced poverty as the No. 1 development challenge. And consequently, the struggle to mitigate inequality…has become the most urgent task. Narrowing wealth disparities within nations rather than among them is now paramount.”
Githongo acknowledges that economic growth has brought about a huge decline in poverty, but adds:

“Across the world, as growth has spread and accelerated, so has inequality. It is clear that growth is often not enough to guarantee stable, cohesive societies. Rather than create a rising tide that lifts all boats, it can actually increase inequality in a society. And inequality, unlike poverty, is far more easily politicized, ethnicized and militarized, especially in African countries with heterogeneous populations and weak judicial and regulatory institutions. It is also far more combustible because it creates an identifiable enemy — a class that benefits disproportionately because of its unfair access to those who wield power. Mismanaging it can be catastrophic.”

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