Equality for all? Just but bridging

11Feb 2016
The Guardian
Equality for all? Just but bridging

About 10 per cent of Tanzanians control the bulk of our country’s economy, according to Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa. What this means is that the economy is in the hands of a mere 5 million people.

Where numbers are concerned, this might sound an unacceptable if not impossible situation. In reality, though, that’s how things are not only in Tanzania but also across Africa and around the globe.

National Bureau of Statistics data show that Tanzania has a population of over 47 million, the bottom 90 per cent numbering around 42.3 million.

The government says it plans to introduce an economic empowerment programme to ensure that 90 per cent of our people – that is, who don’t own the economy – are also active in economic ownership.

This is a very positive idea. However, as we wait for its implementation, we need to take a step further and ask whether equality in economic ownership is possible or expecting as much is daydreaming.

All those active in this country, perhaps except those under 18, own our economy in one way or another – this largely depending on the level of empowerment, whether personal or state-driven.

A rural family with two cows, ten goats or a three-acre cassava farm also does own the economy, just like a rich one owning a milk-processing factory.

But the level of economic ownership heavily depends on, among other things, the environment, personal efforts and state-driven initiatives like what we have witnessed in South Africa in recent years – Black Economic Empowerment (BEE).

We would warmly welcome any measure by the government to enable more people to own the economy. However, we should remain realistic and appreciate the fact that nowhere does the economy allow for 100 per cent equality.

The continent’s economic superpower, South Africa, provides ample evidence of this: the inequality is particularly staggering, with just two people owning as much wealth as the poorest half of the population combined.

According to a recent Oxfam report, the richest 10 per cent of South Africa’s population had an income of $36 billion, while the poorest half had an income of only $9 billion, meaning some 3.7 million mainly White people earned four times more than 19 million mainly Black people.

Globally, the richest one per cent of the world’s population now owns more than the rest of humankind combined, the aid group said on the eve of last month’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

It said world leaders had increasingly talked about the need to tackle inequality, but “the gap between the richest and the rest has widened dramatically in the past 12 months”.

So, what’s the way forward for Tanzania? In our view, it is of fundamental importance to ensure that government economic policies focus on ways to minimise the yawning and widening gap between the minority 10 per cent controlling the economy and the majority 90 per cent ‘left in the cold’.

The truth is that, where economics is concerned, we have never been equal – which is a universal phenomenon. Still, as a nation, we can drastically reduce the gap between the rich communities and the poor ones by having the best policies.

We need to face up to the challenges this amounts to if we are to be taken seriously on our avowed desire to foster and promote social and economic justice.

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