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Coronavirus and Societal Inequality- Nonny Ugboma

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Coronavirus image: credit politico

In reflecting on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the world, there is a huge realisation that  the world has reached a critical juncture and  there is a harsh wake-up call of the impact of in-country inequality both in  advanced and developing nations.

The massive gap between the haves and  have-nots may  have exacerbated  the havoc caused by  the spread of the coronavirus! This means that we can no longer ignore, what is arguably, the worst global crisis–societal inequality.

Interestingly, inequality is not a problem found in the global south alone as it has also been growing in advanced countries like the UK and USA since the 1980s. In the USA in 2018, the total income of the top 10% is 1.8 times more than the total income of the bottom 40%, according to the Palma ratios published in the OECD report on inequality.  The figure for the UK was  1.6 in 2018.

The inequality statistics is even more alarming in the global south with the total income of South Africa’s top 10% being 7 times more than the bottom 40% as at 2015. It will be interesting to know what the 2020 figures would be across the globe.

So, solving the inequality crisis should be governments’ priority in 2021 and beyond. The pandemic has already shown that the state of our collective health can only be as strong as the weakest link– the very low income group – and that this monstrous virus does not care about income brackets or status as everyone is a qualified host.

When it comes to exposure to the virus, the fact is, in addition to front-line health workers, low-income earners are also exposed and are more likely to be transmission vectors because they are key to the provision of essential services as cleaners, cashiers, waiters, couriers, and drivers to name a few.

The bottom line is that we are all vulnerable because these essential members of our society come into contact with people at different levels of society and they are faced with choices that touch every stratum!  For instance, whilst the extremely rich and middle-income professionals are able to take time off, to work from home or self-isolate, the lower income group, usually hourly-paid or zero-hour workers, cannot afford to stay home because without work they will not be paid, and without pay they cannot provide for themselves or their families. The implication is that they are more likely to put themselves and others at risk.

However, we note that the level of devastation of this virus in Sub-Saharan Africa has not been as pundits had expected with these countries’ high poverty rates and poor health systems. Experts are speculating that, paradoxically, it appears that these harsh conditions may have helped insulate the mostly young population from dying from Covid-19. Nevertheless, this does not mean that inequality in Africa is not negatively affecting the transmission in the poorer countries.

On the contrary. Residents of developing countries like Nigeria should be a lot more concerned because they live in extremely connected and linked societies. The more resilient and asymptomatic poor  are often in close contact with the working class and affluent as they are employed as cooks, domestic workers, drivers and artisans. Also, no matter how isolated people keep their domestic workers, they eventually have to come in contact with others in the markets ,the over-crowded public transportation systems or poor housing facilities.

The resultant effect of the inter-connectedness of the different levels of the society is that the elderly, as well as those who lead more insulated lifestyles with various underlying health matters are more vulnerable and more likely to develop serious symptoms and complications. Furthermore, the number of existing public health facilities are not adequate to handle the treatment and private facilities are too expensive thereby resulting in more deaths for this group of the society. 

Therefore, it can no longer be business as usual because the more unequal the society continues to be, the more unsafe it will be for the rich in all aspects! Governments, especially in developing countries, should see this as a wake-up call to rethink policies to address inequality in the long-term,  not just by providing short-term reliefs. Instead of focusing on growth indices, governments would need to work collaboratively with the private sector and other sectors in a mission-oriented approach to build public infrastructure and to ensure the establishment of more inclusive institutions and systems that sustainably create social value.

Author: Nonny Ugboma – Executive Secretary at MTN Foundation

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Tapping into African Diaspora

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By: Nchimunya Muvwende (Photo: ADN)

In a famous quote, an author penned down the words “No matter where you go, always remember the road that will lead you home.” There are many Africans that left their countries in search of green pastures in the diaspora but it seems that they have become so comfortable with developing the already advanced countries and do not seem to remember their roots. While foreign investors are rushing to invest in the opportunities present in Africa, very few foreign based Africans do the same but rather focus on helping family members through remittances that have no sustainable impact. This status quo is not helpful and there is a need to harness a working relationship between nations and their people that live abroad in order to have inclusive development.

Harnessing diaspora resources

Many African countries are highly indebted and much of this debt arises from the ambitious development projects that governments are undertaking to improve the livelihoods of their people. Most projects cost more money than countries can manage to mobilize domestically and so, the countries are forced to depend on external aid and loans that are sometimes tied to adverse conditions.

On the flip side, there are many diaspora based Africans who have raised enough resources which when invested back in their countries, the rising debt crises could be mitigated. To do this, there is a need to provide specific incentives for the foreign based Africans so as to attract their resources to be invested in their home countries. Doing so will come with many benefits such as reduced dependency on borrowing, money remaining within countries hence stabilizing exchange rates, employment creation, economic growth and basically improved wellbeing of the people. It should be noted that no one will prioritise the development of Africa except its people regardless of where they are based and so, measures need to be taken to engage the children of the African soil.

Nations need to appeal to their people to remember those they left back home and think of ways of improving their livelihoods. It goes without saying that it is important to look strategically, systematically and critically at the diaspora’s role in the African development matrix and engage the huge reservoir of human and financial capital found in the large African diaspora.

Investment not remittances

When you give a child fish, they would still come back for more but if you build them a fish pond, teach them how to earn an income, the dependence syndrome reduces. There are many Africans that are in the diaspora that earn decent incomes and have to always remit funds to their families back home. However, this has created a continued financial dependence that has not necessarily improved livelihoods as it is not a sustainable source of income for the people back home.

The World Bank statistics show that remittances from the diaspora are estimated at about $87 billion annually and these amounts actually exceed official development assistance to Africa. Why always beg for help when Africans in the diaspora have more resources? It is time that the many Africans domiciled across the world begin to think of how they can reinvest their incomes into building businesses that will benefit not only their families but their countries as a whole. When critically analyzing cost factors, it would be cheaper to set up a business in an African country than in western countries.

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This is because the cost of labor, availability of ready market and investment incentives are more pronounced in many African jurisdictions. It should be a source of concern that foreigners find it easier to invest in Africa than it is for the Africans who left the continent for greener pastures to think of taking back the resources to their roots. Imagine if every diaspora based African thought establishing at least one business in their home countries using mobilized resources and using the skills and knowledge gained, the development of Africa will be more pronounced. It is time to convert remittances into Foreign Direct Investments in order to grow African economies and deal with pressing challenges.

Diaspora Network

Most of the western countries have advanced skills and knowledge and attract the best minds around the world, inclusive of the many diaspora based Africans. There is a need to create effective diaspora networks that can help replicate, transfer and build the knowledge to actualize Africa’s potential. There is a need for building capacity in the management of businesses. Financial prudency, sourcing financing among other skills in the people in Africa and this is a role the African diaspora could take up when effectively engaged. In addition, they can help create opportunities for Africans to acquire skills and knowledge from the best schools and experts and use this to develop Africa. The networks could help create market linkages for the many products produced in their home countries.

The abundance of natural resources and wildlife make Africa a good and attractive tourist destination but the lack of effective advertisement and expensive costs have hindered reaping benefits. The African diaspora needs to be engaged more in marketing their home countries, and this could come at almost no cost because word of mouth advertisement is rated the best.

African Governments should not look at the African diaspora as deserters of their continent but rather as ambassadors that could be instrumental in dealing with the many challenges faced in their home countries. This calls for effective engagement with the African diaspora. In the same vein, the African diaspora should be reminded to remember the road that leads to their roots and that if they do not take part in uplifting the lives of their people, financial burdens will keep falling on them. Therefore, working on a win-win situation will be the best way to achieve a prosperous African continent.

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Presidential Candidates Nigerians should not consider voting for in 2023 – Adaku Efuribe

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Nigerians would be going to the polls in 2023 to elect a new president. I have written a lot of articles in the past regarding qualities of a great leader, but going by the understanding of most Nigerians, it would be more sensible to discuss the character of candidates not suitable for the job to enable us to separate the goat from the sheep so to say.

In solving mathematical equations, we sometimes use elimination methods to arrive at the correct answer. if we all know who we shouldn’t vote for, perhaps we could pinpoint who the possible suitable candidates are.

If we want to improve our economy and place Nigeria in its rightful place in world affairs then we must make conscious effort to ensure people with certain character flaws do not come anywhere close to the office of the president

Nigerians must not consider voting for candidates with the following character flaws/history.

Liars

Some of the candidates who have declared interest have been known to tell false tales to Nigerians in the past. A good example is a notorious fella who once made Nigerians doubt their cognitive ability. A few thought they actually suffered from short term amnesia. I wouldn’t tell you who to vote for but do not vote for liars, especially the one that woke up one morning shouting enough is enough! he went ahead to say he would be staging a protest against the present Government, he talked about a dream he had in which God revealed to him what he must do…Then the next day ..he said he wasn’t referring to this Government.

Treasury Looters

Anyone who has been involved in advance free fraud, misappropriation of public funds or lack of accountability must not be voted for if we want to move forward in this country. A leopard cannot change its spots. To be forewarned is to be forearmed.

People with unaccountable wealth

Any candidate who cannot explain the source of their wealth is not to be trusted. Some people just spring up from nowhere to tell us God made them rich and no one can comprehend their source of wealth. We have had public servants who could not give account of the budget of their former office or keep an open book on how they spent public funds, such people will only continue to loot the treasury if given the opportunity.

Aspirants who do not believe in cutting down the cost of Governance

The GDP in Nigeria has depreciated over the last 8 years and part of the reason why we cannot come out of economic hardship is the cost of Governance. We spend a lot of money on the welfare of elected Government officials and legislators, more than most developed countries. There is definitely something wrong somewhere. Any candidate who does not believe in cutting down the cost of governance will only do one thing i.e.- continue to use public funds to fund their lavish lifestyle while the masses die of hunger and economic hardship.

Aspirants with no proven track record of effective leadership

Anyone who does not have any proven track record of leadership should not dream of becoming Nigeria’s next president. This country has sunk really low and we don’t have to operate anymore experiments. We don’t need the usual ‘I can do’ attitude. It’s either the proven experience is there or not.

Once again, the power would be placed in your hands to redecide the trajectory of our beloved country Nigeria. I intend to vote and my vote must count this time around. I know exactly who I will be voting for as I do not operate with sentiments. For us to see our country rise up again from the dunghill, I enjoin you all to have an open mind and consider the future of this country with any decision you make.

Article by Adaku Efuribe, Health Promotion Ambassador/Political analyst.

 

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World War 3? Africa’s opportunity

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It has often been said that when elephants are fighting, the grass is the one that suffers the most. And this statement is highly applicable to Africa in the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict. Whereas the European countries are fighting a physical war, Africa’s fight against economic challenges such as poverty, unemployment, trade deficit and starvation is worsened by the conflict. Barely a fortnight into the conflict, global commodity prices have been on the rise and had adverse effects on import dependent countries. What lessons can African nations pick from the conflict and what low hanging opportunities can be explored? 

Agricultural market

Both Russia and Ukraine are important players in agricultural production, supplying about 30 percent of the world wheat and barley. In 2020 alone, African countries imported agricultural products worth about $6.9 billion from the two countries. However, the conflict has caused a disruption in the global supply chain of agricultural products. Essentially drying up exports as evidenced by the supply ban imposed by Ukraine, resulting in higher prices and stockpiles reducing. The global citizen report estimates that over 500 million people would be forced into hunger because of the food crisis arising from the conflict. There is a supply gap created which will lead to importers to seek alternatives markets. And therein lies the opportunity for African countries to stand out as global suppliers of these agricultural products and fill the gap.

Historically, Africans are farmers who have survived on agricultural production mostly at a micro level. Africa is blessed with arable land and good climatic conditions that support the growth of various products but productivity has remained low over the years. To take advantage of this situation calls for deliberate efforts to direct resources into growing the agricultural products in large quantities and benefit from the sales. To boost productivity faster, farmers could be incentivised through the use of outgrower schemes. Which are systems that link networks of unorganized smallholder farmers with domestic and international buyers. The identified agricultural market requires that both farmers and countries expand their capacities by investing in equipment and modernisation for higher output. The after effects of the crisis are projected to last for extended periods of time but for those countries that will emerge as gap fillers stand to benefit for a long time. 

Trade reorganisation 

While it can be argued that globalisation and trade have been a key driver for growth and economic expansion for many nations, the gains have not been fairly distributed especially in Africa. Intra-Africa trade when compared to external trade accounts for a smaller percentage and hence the observed vulnerability of African trade to external factors. Imagine, while Africa is neither physically involved in the Russia-Ukraine conflict nor imposing any sanctions on these countries. The effects of these two factors in derailing economic progress is worse in most African countries. Oil is a key input in various sectors of economies and the affordability and access to it has an impact on economic growth.

The crude oil prices are daily breaking record prices and for the many oil importing countries especially in Africa are at the receiving end of the spillover effects. Such as high cost of doing business and rising inflation which is detrimental to their economies. It defeats economic logic that African countries import oil from outside the continent, spending huge funds on transportation despite having neighbouring oil producing countries. The oil producing African countries should consider prioritising African nations for their exports to ensure that the continent is oil secure and the economies are thriving. Where possible, a differentiated preferential price which should be lower than the global price should be considered to ensure affordability and support to African nations. 

The implementation of the Africa Continental free trade area, which has been envisioned as a game changer in African trade, has stalled with frequent postponements to actualisation. The current European conflict should be viewed as a catalyst for trade reorganisation in Africa and ACFTA implementation. This is because the crisis has indeed created a gap in trade and there is no guarantee that African nations could be prioritised in importing from the European countries that also have pressing needs. Self-sustenance in intra-Africa trade should be the target because, decades after independence, Africans cannot forever be dependants. Who are vulnerable to external factors which do not directly concern them.

Strategizing opportunity

While the conflict has devastating effects on some countries, it actually creates an opportunity for others. The identification of the comparative advantage that nations have in either current production or potential production is what should preoccupy those not participating in the physical fight. The current capacity in most African countries to manufacture products may not be able to compete with developed countries that have advanced technology. But in terms of primary produce, African nations have huge unexploited potentials. 

Each country should introspect, organise its people and resources in targeting the global market. This is a matter of expanding what is already being produced and organising smaller businesses in bundling their produce. Working out strategies that will see individual countries to be a solution to a looming global crisis and benefit their nations in the process. If the opportunity is well taken and African nations stand out as solution providers, it could be a turning point for them to recover from indebtedness and economic challenges they have perpetually faced.   

The looming crisis could just be a test to examine the capability of developing countries to switch from being dependents to being solution providers. The focus should not be on the current investment costs to be incurred. But rather the benefits that have potential to erase economic challenges when potential is exploited and opportunities seized. 

By: Nchimunya Muvwende, Economist

 

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