by Girma Bekele
As the 2019 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics winners, Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, put it we live in an “extreme concentration of economic power in the hands of a very small minority of the super-rich.” The gap between the rich minority and the poor majority is growing wider. According to the World Inequality Lab’s annual World Inequality Report 2022:
“The poorest half of the global population barely owns any wealth at all, possessing just 2% of the total. In contrast, the richest 10% of the global population owns 76% of all wealth. The World Bank estimates that 87% of the world’s extreme poor will be in Africa by 2030 if current trends continue. The global discourse to narrow the gap between the “haves and the have-nots” is meaningless without engaging this reality.”
There has been a growing awareness about Africa’s suffering, yet little has been achieved to improve the capacity of African nations to meaningfully develop toward being co-equal members at the global socio-economic and political table. Africans cannot be called global citizens. They have no credible clout in the economic and political equation of a globalizing world.
Poverty is not just the result of a lack of skill or moral and cultural crisis. It is correlated with the social, economic, and political dynamics dictated primarily by nations of the Global North. Of course, African leaders need to take responsibility for their share in the failures. Nonetheless, no African problem today can be understood without also reckoning with the policies of the Global North.
Foreign aid has not helped much in solving the root causes of our poverty. Consider the global financial structures: the World Bank (WB), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Trade Organization (WTO). These institutions were established with the intent to empower the Global South in its fight against poverty. However, their agendas and policies are often controlled and manipulated by the interests of the Global North and their transnational corporations.
There is also global political hypocrisy that Africa is yet to have a meaningful space in the global arenas of democracy. A clearer example is that the continent has very little say, certainly not voting right, within the Security Council. As we know, ever since its inception in 1946, the council has remained unchanged with all Member States obligated to comply with the decisions it passes. The fate of African countries is left in the mercies of members with veto power. For instance, Ethiopia has been subjected to the Council’s agenda thirteen times in the last two years, and the African Union, home to the largest human race in the world, had no right to plead the country’s cause. The harsh resolutions against the county have been averted — thanks to Russia and China! Ireland, barely 5 million, has more say over Ethiopia’s over 115 million people, the second most populous in Africa.
In global politics where opinions are dictated by the power of money and geo-political interests, billions of citizens, particularly the poor are affected. In the pretext of human rights, truth is often altered, misguided, and rewritten to favour tyrants and enable them to keep their power. Then follows harsh and unjust sanctions—in short of a weaponization of human rights. Foreign aids have hidden political strings. Ethiopia, for instance, during the Tigray’s People Liberation Front (TPLF) dominated-reign (1991–2018) of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), has been receiving an average of $3.5 billion per year from international donors.
Despite massive foreign assistance, during the reign of EPRDF, Ethiopia had been one of the least democratic countries in the world. According to Statista, from 2005 to 2014 Ethiopia’s Government Integrity was “below the world average for the entire period.” The 2012 US Human Rights Report described the regime as totalitarian, exposing arbitrary killings, torture, and the denial of due legal process to prisoners. The 2017 Democracy Index ranks Ethiopia 129 out of 167 countries and describes the regime as one of the most “authoritarian” with a score of 3.42 (out of 10). In 2018, just before the transition, Ethiopia’s debt was almost 60% of its GDP.
The Global North turned a blind eye to the “democracy deficit” and to the repressive rule of the TPLF-led EPRDF, as the latter was considered “a strategic ally” in the geopolitical dynamics of the Horn of Africa — a relationship that goes back to the ’80s to counter Soviet-backed Marxist Ethiopia.
Ambivalence and paradox characterize the Global North’s foreign policy towards Africa, and are dominated by the preeminence of “geopolitical and economic interest.” We see the interweaving of life-and-death issues of millions of people around the world subsumed under the national interests of a few corporate powers in the Global North. Isn’t this a massive structural sin from which the majority world is seeking redemption?
If the notion of solidarity is essentially a conviction that all human beings are created equal, and thus have equal access to the common good, then the Global North needs to re-think its policies on nations of the Global South. Their policies should be oriented towards true humanness, to serve human beings — and not to enslave! Human flourishing is global, i.e., the flourishing of each region is the flourishing of our world. Any socio-political and economic structure or policy that suppresses human development is not only denying human dignity but stands in opposition to the intrinsic worth of human life.
The Global North has a moral responsibility for the development of Africa in general and the billions of our World’s poor. This entails admitting Africa to the UN Security Council with a voting right. In the words of the newly elected Kenyan President, William Ruto, “A just and inclusive world order cannot be spearheaded by a United Nations Security Council that persistently and unjustly fails the inclusivity criterion. ”
It is commendable that Biden has advocated an idea of inclusiveness in his address at the 77th Session of the United Nations General Assembly. It could also be a late political awakening for the importance of Africa and a strategy to counter the increasing presence of China, Russian and other countries including India, Brazil, Turkey, Japan, and the Gulf states. Regardless, the global socio-political and economic table that has excluded Africa is no longer sustainable. It should become evident that U.S. military presence has done little to strengthen its ties with Africa. Four years ago, Ari Rickman and Salih Booker of the Center for International Policy said the following, and it is still valid: “the U.S. military is attempting to prepare African countries to fight an enemy they actually may not have (or at least not to the extent that Washington imagines), while the U.S. government is failing to help those same countries deal with the real killers — namely, poverty and corruption.”
In redressing the balance, African leaders are also equally responsible for their failed leadership. African, need to come to terms with the problems inherent in our leadership and be willing, with humility, to take responsibility for our actions. Some of our freedom fighters who managed to conquer colonialism between the 60s and mid-70s, promising freedom based on the rule of law, justice, and equality, have fallen into the same patterns as their colonial oppressors. Anarchism, nepotism, corruption, autocracy, and political violence should be addressed effectively. These are evil forces that have devastated the lives of millions of poor on our continent. Ethno-centrism and radical fundamentalism have destroyed social cohesion and have caused gross violations of human rights. There is a need to reject both global inequality and African corruption.
Girma Bekele is PhD Adjunct Professor of Missional Leadership in Postmodern World Tyndale University College & Seminary 3377 Bayview Ave, North York, ON M2M 3S4 Visiting Professor of Global Missions Covenant Theological Seminary, 12330 Conway Rd, Creve Coeur, MO 63141, Researcher and Consultant, Global Christian Missions
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