Views, ideas, inspiration, vision and practical tips for a better more prosperous Malawi

Addressing the roots of Economic Disparities

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 I choose to write about these things because the plight of my people is tied to historical events which most of them do not know about. We are poor today, but how did we become poor. Have we always been poor? Were we created poor? Did evolution design that we would be poor? What happened before the here and now? Every one of them needs to know the unadulterated truth. Unbiased. Pure. I pray to the creator of the heavens and the earth that one day they will know such a truth…and I’ve made it my mission to make sure that as many as are interested, do get to know the truth.

“Sometimes history needs a push.”  — Vladimir Lenin

For the powerful, crimes are those that others commit.” ― Noam Chomsky, Imperial Ambitions: Conversations on the Post-9/11 World

“The best way to predict your future is to create it” ― Abraham Lincoln

I began writing this article over a year ago, and I’m so glad I dithered. Because between then and now, a number of events took place which prompted people who are probably better placed than myself to delve into the debate on inequality, armed with better evidence and statistics.

Firstly we have Suzanne Moore writing for the guardian in an article titled Inequality isn’t inevitable, it’s engineered. That’s how the 1% have taken over in which she says:

 ‘Most wealth, though, is not earned: huge assets, often inherited, simply get bigger not because the individuals who own them are super talented, but because structures are in place to ensure this happens.’

This view is echoed by  Laura Sullivan, Tatjana Meschede, Lars Dietrich, & Thomas Shapiro of the Institute on Assets and Social Policy at Brandeis University, who co-authored a report with Amy Traub, Catherine Ruetschlin & Tamara Draut of Demos, a public policy organization. The report titled The Racial Wealth Gap (neatly summarised by this article on Forbes here) which looks at the racial wealth gap in the United States says:

“The racial wealth gap is reinforced by federal policies that largely operate to increase wealth for those who already possess significant assets,” wrote the authors, noting that more than half of the $400 billion in annual federal asset-building subsidies, such to promote homeownership retirement savings, economic investment and access to college, flow to the wealthiest 5% of taxpaying households. The bottom 60% of taxpayers receive only 4% of these benefits.

It’s main findings include:

‘..in 2011 the median white household had $111,146 in wealth holdings, compared to just $7,113 for the median Black household and $8,348 for the median Latino household…’
‘…While 73 percent of white households owned their own homes in 2011, only 47 percent of Latinos and 45 percent of Blacks were homeowners…’

‘…in 2011, the median white household had an income of $50,400 a year compared to just $32,028 for Blacks and $36,840 for Latinos. Black and Latino households also see less of a return than white households on the income they earn: for every $1 in wealth that accrues to median Black households associated with a higher income, median white households accrue $4.06 …’

If the world’s largest economy can have such debilitating inequality, it wouldn’t be surprising at all if data emerged that showed that the problem is far worse elsewhere?

Allow me please to get satirical by introducing a new character from an old YouTube clip by Stan (Warning: Very strong language):

Ignoring Stan’s annoying robotic accent – which reminds me of the adobe acrobat text-to-voice reader – I was struck by just how blatantly forthright his assertions (or allegations if you like) are. But what’s my point with all this:-

1. Inequality and Poverty is engineered.
mndlaNelson Mandela said so, when he said

“Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like Slavery and Apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. YOU can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom.”

And it doesn’t matter if you live in Tanzania, Togo, Brooklyn or in a refugee camp in South Sudan. If political leaders across the world wanted to, they could act to combat inequality. Unfortunately they don’t because:-
–Selfish Interests
— Ignorance. There are leaders of countries, and of black communities who were raised to believe they have to be subservient to white supremacy.
— Some of these leaders are afraid of upsetting big business, which funds their political parties
— Among those who genuinely want to orchestrate change for the masses, for the poor, such as Elizabeth Warren in the US, and say Julius Malema in South Africa, you will find that most of these leaders do not have the resources to create an alternative on their own.

2. Religion has been a debilitating cancer upon people of African origin.

If you have been following commentary on African troubles, the chances are you couldn’t have missed this one. Not only have many of the wars that have divided communities which previously lived harmoniously alongside each other been religious in nature (Muslim vs Christian), religion has driven adherents into poverty, allowed systematic and unchecked exploitation of resources by nonreligious often white minorities while the religious majority suffered, praying and believing for salvation or help from some messiah or deity.
I think this picture is much more pronounced in Africa than anywhere else on the globe. It has caused genocides, created poverty that has led to the death of millions of people. It has impeded scientific and personal development, entrenched ignorance and encouraged misinformation.
Religion has created pockets of powerful and extremely wealthy but irresponsible elites living in proximity to extremely poor and vulnerable populations that are tossed about by every wind of ideology, by one heist after another, but which are incapable of successfully challenging the elites;
Religion has created extremism (the likes of Joseph Kony) extremist groups (Boko Haram, Al Shabab) claiming to be fronting some religious line, but who are in all manner and form terrorists bent on terrorism using brutal tactics that instill fear in those who disagree with them.
Religion has also created a dependency culture, where you don’t work hard enough, ‘because God will provide‘, where people say ‘its not by my own strength but by the Lord
And I do agree that whether you believe in a god or not, the paintings of the white Christ (which interestingly have been shown to be historically inaccurate – see here and here) are not exactly confidence-instilling stuff to the undiscerning African youth.
But I’m not saying that there have been no positives to having a faith, no that’s not what I’m saying.
What I’m saying is that it is idiotic for a people who by even the least anthropological research are one, be it in Nigeria, Sudan, Central African Republic, Uganda or Somalia to fight, kill and displace each other from homes and family, in their millions, because one’s pilgrimage is to Mecca, while the other faces Rome or Jerusalem. Its stupidity of the highest order!
If you need more convincing Consider these two articles here and here

3. Africans and black people have for long been made to believe (directly and indirectly) that they are inferior or at least not as good as white people.

The most honest and unbiased books on the subject include Peter Fryer’s Aspects of British Black History and Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain.
DSC_0001_20This assertion is not only false but inherently racist. As I tried to explain here and here, and as my colleague clarified here, this inferiority was invented.
Growing up in Malawi, a deeply religious country, one of the most annoying things I often heard was that ‘Mzungu ndi wa Nzeru‘ (the White man is Clever). I heard it everywhere! From friends, family, even domestic servants used to mention it. They’d say the statement when marvelling at something which they believed to be a western creation (to these people everything fantastic had been made by a white man – and obviously they didn’t know about innovations by non-caucasian people). No doubt they got this message somewhere, someone must have told them that ‘Mzungu ndi wa Nzeru‘?
Fortunately, my immediate family didn’t succumb to this kind of confidence-diminishing tosh. While my family were religious, they knew better and did not subscribe to this racist line. Instead, I was told by my immediate family that my father had been a very intelligent man, and that in our family we were extremely capable.
That if there were people who could do it, it was us.
I was told that no one had failed among my siblings in my father’s family. That if I failed, I would be the first one to do so, and my failure would be a huge disgrace to our whole family, and I would be the object of shame. I was told that my father would be extremely disappointed in me if I didn’t do well. So, from the word go, the pressure was on. I had to perform, there was no other option.
However way you want to interpret this kind of embellished encouragement, the result was that academically, I did very well, won two scholarships and was consistently in the top four of my classes.
My point here is that ideology that shaped western societies has been somewhat dishonest about the mental faculties of black and African people. And too little has been done to correct this anomaly.

4. Both historical and present events have created severe economic disparities between White and Non white people.

Unfair Advantage. That’s the real cause of the Racial Wealth Gap report I refer to above. You will find that this term Unfair Advantage is avoided or sugar-coated in discussions about poverty. When a writer brings it up, it’s often pushed under the carpet.
But it is unmistakably true; the actions of Europeans (and recently the US) throughout the last 500 or more years have given them an unfair advantage over others. And this unfair advantage translates into immense wealth for a significant section of white families, and poverty for the majority of non-white families.
As an example how this wealth trickles, I know a lady in Nottingham, whose husband is the 5th generation owner of their house. The house has been in their family for over 100 years.
But how many people from ethnic minority groups across the UK (or even in the US) have had a property be passed down through the family for over 100 years? Further what percentage of the wealth derived from colonial proceeds have trickled into white families today?

But is it really historical, this inequality?

Economists Graziella Bertocchi & Arcangelo Dimico writing on The historical roots of inequality, on VOX CEPR’s Policy Portal say that:

.. we turn to the impact of slavery on current income disparities and we find that it is indeed associated with a higher degree of income inequality. In other words, former slave counties are more unequal in the present day. They also show a higher poverty rate and a higher degree of racial inequality. Moreover, the data say that the impact of slavery on economic inequality and poverty runs through its impact on racial inequality, and not vice versa.’

So how do you fix it?

Well, as I wrote here, almost 2 years ago now, what should help are a combination of fixes including addressing educational outcomes for black and ethnic minorities. This also means changing the way black people have been taught, with a message that empowers.

You cannot have an empowered black population without a decent level of education that deconstructs the negative stereotypes. And while we are on this topic, giving black people handouts or free money will not help without addressing some of the other problems. Giving them preference in the form of positive discrimination on its own is also unlikely to go very far.

5. There are people who don’t want things to change. Who depend on systems within law that negatively affect black people and ethnic minorities more than they do white people.

Systematic Discrimination. Repression of Black, African and ethnic people. My observations based on a small sample of people I know, and others I’ve read about is that it doesn’t make a difference where you live. Black and African people have been victims of the system.

Whatever the real intentions of that system, the effect has been the same: Subjugation and dispossession leading to debt, poverty and all the associated ills….including bad credit histories, which affects their ability to get loans, which in turn affects their abilities to start businesses and be independent. A perfect storm.

As an example, read this, titled Trillion Dollar Scandal, and tell me how such a thing could be happening in the 21 century? Yet strictly speaking, not all form of siphoning money from developing countries are a crime. So the question becomes who made the rules that allows such plunder to be legal?

6. Black and African people are generally terrible at organising themselves

Again most of the people affected know this, but it’s not thought about any deeper than to accept the situation. Which sounds a bit like: ‘I know I’m disorganised, but what can I do about it’
It’s accepted as the way things are, a permanent disposition than cannot be changed. And when you take this to a community, organisational or even personal level it’s even worse.
In the UK, I’ve been deeply disappointed by some of the African businesses I’ve conducted trade with:-
— the Shipping company that said they would come on a Monday to pick up a consignment but turned up three weeks later on a Friday. No phone call, no email, not even a text to say, ‘Look we’re a bit tied up’ or ‘Theres a problem, we are sorry‘;
— then there was the computer repair shop that promised that my laptop would be fixed by a certain date, only for me to find it hadn’t been fixed when I went to collect it on that date. They didn’t care enough to inform me that the work hadn’t been completed, even a text would have sufficed and I wouldn’t have had to drive 3 miles for nothing. How the hell do they expect to grow as a business if they are so disorganised and have virtually no customer service?? This behaviour may be okay to other Malawians, but it’s not acceptable on a professional level.
— Then there is the church which wanted an event for their youth team. Having bent over backwards to request help from a dance collective run by some Brazilians in London, who put in a lot of effort in planning and creation of a schedule for the youth team, I was disappointed when the whole thing was trashed, after we’d put in so much effort to help them. There was no acknowledgement of our efforts, and in the end I had to apologise to my Brazilian friends for the trouble…
And then there is the time keeping, which frankly can be terrible…. Several years ago, one of my closest friends once turned up for work drunk and with a hangover from the previous night only to inform the befuddled and unamused manager that he wouldn’t be able to stay for work??

I can give many other examples, but I won’t.

However, when these habits permeate into other aspects of your life, such behaviour will vex the majority to the point businesses run by African or black people can lose clients/ potential customers.

The consequence of all this is disorder. And with disorderly conduct, you can’t operate successfully at a higher level or deal with people who have a sense of professionalism. And if you can’t operate a successful business, then you can’t have an income that allows you to train and empower your young people for a lifetime. And if you can’t train and empower your young people and create a positive culture of discipline that is patronised and passed down, then your young people have to find jobs elsewhere, working for someone who may neither give  the right transferable skills (that will help them be independent in the long run) nor pay them adequately.

7. Black and people of African origin are among the most undereducated people on Earth

Allow me to give some links to others who have studied this issue better:-

Why the Poor Stay Poor
Unemployed And Undereducated: Study Finds Black Youth Are Disconnected

14,000 British professors – but only 50 are black 

Black students and the class ceiling

My view is that the situation is a lot worse globally.

8. A historically peaceful disposition and accommodating culture of people of African origin has been used against them

While the arabs were fighting wars in crusades against ‘invaders’ and much recently while militants in Afghanistan and Iraq have been fighting against occupiers, using terrorism and brutal killings (none of which I support) as part of their campaign, in comparison with Africa, the African chiefs of the pre-colonial era were either largely fighting against each other, or welcoming and accommodating foreigners. Dancing to them, selling them slaves, carrying them on chairs. In Malawi for example, most people grew up being told we were ‘friendly people’. And in this fashion, people who for hook or crook took away what belonged to us, were tolerated, even celebrated

sedan-chair

source: usslave.blogspot.com

The result was that while Europeans found it hard to get a foothold in the Middle East, and were knocked back again and again, their attempts in Africa were significantly easier.

In Malawi today we have extremely wealthy foreigners living side by side with very poor people. Their wealth has been passed down the years from generation to generation, whereas the majority of Malawians living in Malawi fail to overcome the grip of poverty.

Inequality is a problem that’s not going to go away unless it is squarely addressed with the intention of ending it. I can bet my life on that.

Other links

About Sang N.

Writer, Entrepreneur & Activist. Interests: History, Entrepreneurship, Business, Motors, Architecture, Aviation, Travel, Food and Art.

4 comments on “Addressing the roots of Economic Disparities

  1. Mkotama Katenga-Kaunda
    April 9, 2015

    This is very enlightening. I hope a lot of our people will read this!

    Like

  2. Pingback: Should we pay #reparations – The Big Questions @Xosei | Malawi Ace

  3. Pingback: Supreme Court: Institutional Racism Is Real |

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This entry was posted on April 9, 2015 by in Opinion, Philosophy, Thoughts and tagged , , , , .
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