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Declare war on inequality and prosper

Monday October 14 2019

By BITANGE NDEMO
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Did you know that gender and geography work against sustainable economic development and equality? The 2019 Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s annual Goalkeepers Report says where you are born and if you are a woman predicts your future chances of succeeding.

This grim observation can be changed if there are many more Goalkeepers. Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation defines Goalkeepers as leaders who take a stand on the issues they care about and innovate in their communities to achieve the Global Goals.

The Foundation, therefore, has endeavoured to monitor on an annual basis the world’s progress towards the achievement of the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The focus of the 2019 report is on “Examining Inequality”.

The report says that although fewer people than ever before live in extreme poverty around the world, some may never make it out of poverty. Leveraging on data, they plotted health and education as key components of human capital and established that “investments in human capital today help people increase their incomes tomorrow. But without human capital— that is, for those who are unhealthy and uneducated—it is virtually impossible to escape poverty.” Predictably, achieving zero poverty by 2030 will be a tall order for many countries especially in Africa. Other Goalkeepers like World Data Lab have numbers to show as indicated in the figure below.



Source: World Poverty Clock

Source: World Poverty Clock

LAYERS OF INEQUALITY

The report details its findings with data highlighting what it refers to as layers of inequality and identifying every aspect of the layer that work against development. One of the key aspects the report identifies is gender, especially in Africa. On average girls in sub-Saharan Africa get two fewer years of schooling than boys and 21 percent of the girls are married before 18 as the graph below shows. In the end such discrepancies lead to wide inequalities as the same graph shows.



Source: Examining Inequality 2019 Report.

Source: Examining Inequality 2019 Report.

On gender we have buried our heads in the sand while hiding behind oppressive cultures that continue to undermine development. Women are three times as likely to work without pay as men. The value of the unpaid work is in excess of $10 trillion (Sh100 trillion). Although this is mostly in North Africa and Western Asia, sub-Saharan Africa also has a significant number of defaulters in paying women working as maids. In most cases the rich are the culprits. The report notes that inequality is what is making it more difficult to achieve the SDGs.

Women with less education, are likely to die as a result of maternal mortality, fail to understand the benefits of family planning and child mortality incidences as well as stunting of children is higher. For example, a child born in Chad is 55 times more likely to die than a child in Finland. Sometimes statistics become incomprehensible but once you dig deeper you begin to understand that the problem isn’t too far away from you. A 2015 policy brief, Reducing Maternal Deaths in Kenya, shows that a woman bearing a child in North Eastern Kenya is 10 times more likely to die than one giving birth in Nairobi.

The report says investment in primary healthcare could reduce some of these risks. Contributing to the Report, Dr Githinji Gitahi, AMREF’s Chief Executive explains what countries like Rwanda, Ethiopia and Thailand are doing right to deliver basic care to all their citizens as well as what other countries can learn from their experience.

Rwanda and Ethiopia are among the leaders in the region in reducing maternal and child mortality. Their approach was simple but effective. They “recruited tens of thousands of community health workers, women who are chosen by their neighbours and trained by the government to take care of people’s health.”

DOMINO EFFECT

The report demonstrate how aligning technology and policy can have a surprising domino effect in India. The country is cited in the report as one of the countries that is effectively dealing with poverty by using technology to help citizens overcome layers of bureaucracy. The country started to leverage technology early by “creating smart policies built around digital technology that improved both the quality and reach of government services.”

In an effort to provide cooking gas subsidy to the poorest, the rich took advantage of the system and misappropriated seven time more gas than the poor could get. The introduction of a biometric identity system, Aadhaar, enabled the government to link subsidy to the identity and the phones of the subsidy recipient. The outcome led to the government saving $9 billion (Sh900 billion),75 million rural poor women benefiting from the program and more than 36 million redundant accounts removed.

This will not have happened without a policy enabling affordability and accessibility of telecommunications services. Many African countries heavily tax broadband sometimes double taxing both broadband and social media. Yet access and affordability to broadband has greatly contributed to more tax revenue and economic expansion. Technology devices too have become taxation targets and further undermining inclusivity such as this example from India. Some countries simply shut down Internet services at will. It is no surprise therefore that most countries in Africa lag behind other countries in terms of moving their population out of poverty.

UTILISED DATA

Unlike many reports measuring progress, none has ever utilised data like Goalkeepers report has done. Practically every layer that complicate the eradication of poverty has been explained by data. The report highlights parts of the world that are doing the right things to achieve the SDGs. For example, on food security, in 2015 Ethiopia faced a drought similar to the 1984 one but were able to weather the scourge without outside assistance. The country introduced an army of extension officers to assist farmers achieve greater productivity. They also leverage on data to mitigate climate change.

Data has shown that poverty is not a curse but something precipitated by underlying policies. At the minimum, sub-Saharan African countries must remove taxation of ICTs, invest in community health, criminalise marrying of underage girls, encourage equality in employment and equal opportunities in education. Culture is only good when and if it positively impacts on humanity.

Goalkeepers Report has focused fast-tracking the achievement of Global Goals by leveraging data, powerful stories, and partnerships “to highlight progress achieved, hold governments accountable and bring together a new generation of leaders to address the world’s major challenges.” Emerging economies must read the report, embrace the concept of leaving no one behind to salvage Africa from the throws of poverty.

The writer is a professor of entrepreneurship at University of Nairobi’s School of Business. @bantigito