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

The Congo Still Ravaged by U.S.-Funded Conflict and Plunder

The Congo Still Ravaged by U.S.-Funded Conflict and Plunder via Global Reasearch.ca

 

 …The Rwandan/Ugandan invasion has opened up the DRC’s wealth to unlimited plunder by Western mining companies, including Canada’s Banro Corporation. Canadian mining investment in the Congo is estimated to be as much as $3 billion. A 2002 UN report accused eight Canadian mining companies, including Banro, of “pillaging the Congo.” As reported in Le Monde Diplomatique, Banro and Barrick Gold (the biggest Canadian mining company) have been accused of “funding military operations in exchange for lucrative contracts” in the Congo….

….In addition to the millions of Congolese killed, the Western looting of the country’s resources has resulted in 400,000 women being raped, 2.6 million people being displaced, and 7,000 children being forced to become soldiers. Rape has been used on a horrifying scale as a weapon of war. According to Carol Mann, president of the NGO FEMAID, ….

Wholesale Plunder – how international Mining companies continue to steal from Malawi

Malawi could be losing about $15 billion in revenue every year due to dubious mining operations by exporters of precious stones. According to a report from the Malawi Miners Task Force (MTF), shipments of gemstones, especially Nyala ruby of exceptional quality, are regularly being illegally  exported and smuggled out of the country. More here via Nyasa Times

So, while you work hard and wonder what is happening to your beloved country, there’s wholesale plunder of it’s resources by the very same people who you considered the usual suspects.

And if you look around your new / adopted surrounding, you see your country’s citizens ( be it in the US, in Britain or in South Africa) toiling, suffering, discriminated against left right and centre, as the societies they live in sugar coat their suffering, and generally use the media to ensure their suffering is invisible, I see Malawians being real victims of the system almost everyday, victims of abuse, working in terrible underpaid jobs, being on the receiving end of verbal abuse, mistreament by employers, or work colleagues, victims of extortion by public bodies… while back home in Malawi – a country from which they left in pursuit of better pastures, an unholy alliance of unhinged businessmen (driven by greed and aided by spineless clueless ignorant politicians – the same politicians the West continue to support), the Chinese (who were said to have recently sent 40 tonnes of rare earth mineral niobium to China as a “bulk sample”), and international organisations advocating free market policies, plunder the country’s wealth…oh, great, that’s just great.

But wait a minute… What is being done by the authorities in Malawi about what is clearly an illegal activity? I know there is an election in a few months, and people have to campaign, but what are the authorities doing to curtail or prevent this behaviour? Further, what is being done by the authorities in the US who no doubt have identified the fraud? Will anyone be prosecuted? Has an investigation been opened? Will the practise be stopped?

Similar

Imagine an African continent…” – Kofi Annan

Among the comments underneath the video on YouTube are:

1. “I want to be optimistic but judging from the butt licking seen at a recent Africa Business Forum (held in Dubai), I can assure you the African has a long way to go. It’s about change of mindset. Nobody is interested in HELPING you, they want your RESOURCES stupid! I almost plucked my lashes on hearing Prime Ministers, Ministers and top African leaders trashing each other and worshiping foreign. Over 50+ years after independence, you still cannot put your house in order! African Union my foot!”

2. “I wish this message is played over over in the bedrooms of these insensitive leaders in Africa.”

and

3. “Bless u Papa”

The issue Annan addresses is one that is critical to Africa’s economic development. Africa will not develop if African leaders are squandering African resources. If they are giving away Africa’s riches liberally. It appears like few African leaders ever question whether the contracts they sign with investors are truly in the country’s best interest. Do they ask third-parties for comment, or solicit views from across the country? Is there even a consultation?

Remember my observations here, about ENI which has been given a 70% interest in a Natural Gas finding off the coast of Mozambique? That’s precisely the unwise decisions which Annan refers to. Surely, there is little justification in giving away such a large interest, when Mozambique has more need for such resources which are essential to help it in eradicating poverty. Mozambique could have bought the required equipment and done the appraisal or exploration themselves. In the current global economic crisis, where jobs are scarce, I’m not convinced that anyone would have struggled to find the right talent, with the right experience to do the job to a satisfactory level of competence. In any case, no Mozambican (or African) company is likely to ever be awarded such a large interest in a natural resource in Italy (or indeed in Europe, America, or in Asia).

It’s simply not going to happen, and the Italians would never allow their government such obtuse liberties. Certainly not to the tune of $10 billion.

How then can African leaders justify giving away that much wealth, when their country folk are poor, and when the technology for mapping, finding and extracting Natural gas is somewhat elementary? And readily available. It’s not Space Science, or Nuclear Physics. But even if it were, in the current recession where governments are pushing for cuts throughout the western world, how many Nuclear Physicists or Space scientists, or Geophysical surveyors or Engineers out there are currently out of a job, and would relish such a challenge for less than $150,000 a piece, saving Mozambican government billions? Did the Mozambican government even consider doing the exploration or extraction itself using employed staff?

Lastly, I’ll leave you with a sobering question. Despite the fact that ENI have already sold part of that stake to the Chinese, do you know where the money they get from this deal will go? As in what does a company that makes billions in profits do with an additional $10 billion or more?

Will it be used to build schools or hospitals in Mozambique, some of which unfortunately look like this:

Or would the majority of such funds be used to multiply ENI’s wealth, possibly to issue dividends to ENI’s shareholders in Italy & Europe (or other industrialised and rich countries), where their schools and hospitals look like this:

Where will the majority of this money be invested? In Italy, in Europe? Or  in Africa?

If you showed the contents on this blogpost to any Mozambican, and asked them where in their view those resources are most required, what do you think they will  answer you?

I’d like to know how much (if any) of the actual monetary benefit ENI receives from this interest eventually remains in Mozambique ( for use in development, for Mozambican banks to make investment in foreign markets, etc). Surely if we are to take what Annan seems to clearly allude, Mozambique is the rightful owner of the natural resource. Why then should they receive peanuts from it? Shouldn’t they receive the lions share?

I’m not saying that ENI hasn’t contributed to social programs in Africa, or in other parts of the world, where they have operations,no that’s not what I’m saying. To the contrary ENI has supported social programs, most recently in Libya.

My point is, if European and American companies display wildly unrestrained greed in the form of behavior that suggests that they do infact own African resources, and African politicians are unable, unwilling or pressured from objecting to grossly unfair deals that are ‘discriminatory’ in every meaning of the word, and clearly unfair; and if civil society is unable to force African governments to renegotiate these unfair contracts (ideally before they are signed), how does anyone expect the continent of Africa to ever achieve economic development??When the resources that matter, and could make a huge difference to millions of lives, are given away so easily, moving only from South to North, or only from South to East, or from South to West??

Similar:

1. Who Owns the Land? Cameroon’s Large-Scale Land-Grabs

2. ‘The Resource Curse’: Why Africa’s Oil Riches Don’t Trickle Down to Africans

3. Africa Debate: Will Africa ever benefit from its natural resources?

4. Scramble for Africa

5.  Resource curse not the only reason for Africa’s poverty

6. Gazprom Said to Seek Stake in Eni’s Gas Assets in Mozambique