Fighting inequalities in Africa : the role of the State is crucial !

Today, we need to struggle against the biggest disease on our continent: inequality. Indeed, of the 10 most unequal countries in the world, 7 are in Africa. We cannot ignore that anymore: inequality leads to lower and less sustainable growth and thus less poverty reduction (Berg, Ostry and Zettelmeyer 2012). We definitely need to act on these barriers that prevent all people to benefit from the economic growth. As I heard in Côte d’Ivoire: “La croissance ne se mange pas!” (We can’t eat growth!). Let us change that shocking sentence!

The 2015 World Bank Report “Poverty in rising Africa” emphasized the fact that the share of the African population in extreme poverty did decline from 57% in 1990 to 43% in 2012. Nevertheless, the fact that Africa’s population continued to expand rapidly resulted in an increase by more than 100 million of people living in extreme poverty. That demographic expansion is indeed a cause, but we should not forget that inequality in Africa is the product of many forces.

First there are spatial inequalities (differences between urban and rural areas and across regions). They are reinforced by public infrastructures such as schools or hospitals which do not cover efficiently the territories: it can result in huge gaps within a country. Besides, the place where you were born directly affects your future. This is all the more true for people who were born in a rural area, to uneducated parents…and this is unacceptable.

Second, we need to act on concrete things such as corruption and illicit financial flows. Research by the Global Financial Integrity (GFI) revealed that these two scourges have cost African countries as much as $854bn between 1970 and 2008. It is twice the amount that Africa received as official development aid over the same period. Corruption costs to Africa in an economic but also in a social way: how can Africans trust their institutions if each day they can experiment corruption? This is absolutely horrific: such a plague kills Africa day after day !

Today, more than ever, we need to bring back the State inside the debate. I believe the main solution for overcoming inequalities relies on State institutions that operate in the general interest. It is the State which is (or has to be) effective in addressing risk, vulnerability, social exclusion, health and education. This is why we should not reduce public effort and strengthen good governance. It will definitely improve the accountability and capacity of the institutions. Thanks to the State we will be able to “redistribute development”, ensuring that all sectors of the population are socially and politically integrated, that roads and other infrastructure are extended to geographically remote areas and that economic policies emphasize activities that stimulate the creation of jobs. Let’s encourage the African states to take on their responsibilities !

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