There is some good news. A key theme of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is “no one should be left behind.” I thought I had buried the debate about inequalities. Like many other citizens or watchers, I took interest in the debate organised by Oxfam. Fact. Where inequalities are rampant, justice sleeps, crime thrives and corruption plus other vices breed. Consequently, we reward criminals, mediocrity, kill hard work, innovation and human dignity.
For scholars, inequality is some number with a meaning. One former vice-president nominee was spot on with the Gini-coefficient. It is a measure of inequality and takes a value between 0 and 1. The closer to 1 the higher the level of inequality. On the other hand, the closer to zero, the higher level of equality. I liked the fact that inequality as an issue was brought in a presidential debate, no matter whether politicians mean what they say. At least they have ruled the republic since 1964 and must be responsible for it. There is no question of if or not.
Countries at the top of United Nations (UN) Human Development Index such as New Zealand, Norway and Sweden have low levels of this coefficient. Inequalities are minimal and all most all of their citizens enjoy some equality. Similarly, such countries are the least corrupt on the basis of the Transparency International Corruption Index. They also score highly on the ease of doing business. Is it a coincidence? Or can we can ask the question. Does reducing inequality lead to high quality of life? I think it does. It is this simple. If all of us have access to good education and health, our productivity goes up. It is not at the moment. The number of children from poor families entering university is declining rapidly. Such children are likely to be in public secondary schools, poorly funded. The K500 million education budget cut is just an example to contextualise how inequality is sowed and bred over time.
Ironically, our level of inequality as measured by this coefficient is around 0.6 and the other measures of progress trending in the negative scales. High levels of corruption and the general difficult of doing business or even earning a living are well documented that even doubting Thomases opt for a nap when presented with facts.
This was just for the numbers. Listening to the voices engaging in the inequality debate, I got tempted to reflect on inequality as matter of common sense or lack of it. It makes it easier for one to understand it, at least in the context of our God fearing country, or thereabouts. Either we deal it or continue basking in the demeaning tag of being the poorest nation on earth yet never been at war.
Except for those that are tactically blind for whatever reasons, there is a huge food crisis at the moment. It is one way to exemplify inequality. Pictures of hungry and desperate people queuing for days at Admarc depots have become quite common. These are people that are desperate to simply get a few kilogrammes of maize. But this is one story. Now come to think about few other things.
A few urbanites are complaining too. Some are saying it takes too long to have their order of some unhealthy deep fried chicken at an international fast food franchise taken. Others are worried that their homes need huge banqueting halls to feed the gluttons. Similarly, others are indeed freaking that the two airport buses are broken and it takes a couple of minutes to walk from the aircraft while carrying heavy loads of duty free stuff, some taxpayer funded. Compare this group to those people you see sleeping at Admarc depots or scores of people scavenging at garbage dump sites or maize mills in search of husks or gaga. Would you still put the Gini-coefficient at 0.6? Unfortunately, this is not about a number. It is about inequality. This is its manifestation. It comes with costs though, besides erosion of human dignity.
Human dignity must be preserved at all costs. That is why we criminalise murder. I admire a few colleagues that have done great in business. The lessons I learn from them are so enlightening. I also reflect on their stories, particularly their perception of inequalities in society. It’s impact on human dignity. The chicken-human life comparison is one sad experience someone shared with me. While driving to his poultry farm, a group of his workers showed great admiration. Not of his business, but rather of the animals he was breeding for sale into some downtown supermarkets and restaurants. Theirs was a story of desperation and how inequality undermines humanity. They argued the animals were better off since they had food in the form of maize husks, a similar commodity that had found way into their dinner table, but yet unavailable or affordable. They admired the chickens even though I am not sure a trip to some prophet to change them into winged birds was in the offing. This should ring a bell about the reality of inequality prevalent in our society.
Like all human beings, we seek coping strategies. Those negatively affected by inequality will find alternative ways to keep going. Similarly, those benefiting from any kind of inequality or injustice normally invest in the status quo. They surely become disenfranchised and for such reasons will lobby the system to help themselves. n