Currently, 935 million people globally live in extreme poverty and about 800 million people go hungry.

July 18, the day former South African President Nelson Mandela was born, was declared by the UN in 2009 to be the Nelson Mandela International Day for freedom justice and democracy. 

This year’s theme is Action against Poverty. So, I am giving insights into the current poverty and borrow lessons from Mandela on how to eradicate poverty globally.

Currently, 935 million people globally live in extreme poverty and about 800 million people go hungry. While 19.7% of people in Uganda live in extreme poverty, in DR Congo is 77%. A world of gross income inequality has been created where the eight richest people own as much wealth as half of the world’s population (OXFAM, 2017).

Origins of inequality

According to Prof. Jeffrey Sachs, three centuries ago, poverty was global and the levels of development in Japan, China, India and Europe were similar. Around 1820, the income in the West to that of Africa was 4:1 compared to today where it is now 25:1. So what changed?

The industrial revolution around 1800 was the driving force behind rapid development of the West over the rest of the world. It then fueled financial and military power that led to the political dominance of the world by Europe and the US.

This dominance then made the West togenerate pseudo-ideologies of superiority in race, genetics, religion, culture etc.  These resulted in the suppressive and exploitative policies of slavery, racism, apartheid, colonialism, imperialism and neo-colonialism. Then the poor countries get blamed for their poverty.

The poverty trap

The above scenario has led developing countries into the poverty trap where they cannot get out of it. Currently, developing countries are trapped in foreign debts. Uganda’s debt alone is $8.7b, equal to the national budget for 2017. The countries spend more of their income paying back loans instead of investing in human development.

In Uganda, 9.9 trillion which is 35% of its 2017/18 national budget of 29 trillion will be spent on debt repayments. That is more than the combined budget for health, education, agriculture, social development, justice, water and environment.

In trade, Africa shares only 3.3% of the global trade. Though it’s partly because of the industrialisation of the west, the trade rules also do not favour the poor countries. Negotiations to reform international trade rules have not yet delivered any tangible results.  The current trade negotiations between East African countries with the European Union has also stalled.

In aid, while the rich countries (OECD) agreed in 1970 to give more than 0.7% of their gross national product (GNP) as overseas development assistance, only six have met the target. The rest have not.

Development aid today stands at $140b annually, which is only 0.2% of the GNP of the rich countries. Their priorities are elsewhere like in fighting terrorism. But countries like Somalia are the breeding grounds for terrorism because of poverty.

Although poor countries are often blamed for poor governance, which is partly true, itis not the core issue because even well governed countries like Tanzania and Ghana have remained poor.

The above issues are man-made and can be overcome.

Eradicating poverty

What is needed now is to take bold actions. These are; cancel all debts of the poor countries, have a just international trade system where poor countries goods enter the West and increase aid to 0.7%  of the rich countries’ GNP. For aid to deliver results, it should be comprehensive, substantial, predictable and consistent.

The UN estimates that $1.4 trillion is needed per year to implement the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) successfully. To eradicate the poverty and hunger alone, Sachs, who designed the Millennium Development Goals, estimates that $175b is needed per year, the World Bank estimates it at $187 b per year.

While the UN estimates is at $267b per year to end poverty and hunger by 2030. That is just half of the annual military budget of the US alone, which is $622b. If funding is not raised, the UN says we shall still have 400m people left behind, living in poverty and facing hunger by 2030.

Aid is vital because globalisation and the private sector does not get attracted to poor countries. And areas within a country with poor infrastructure, illiterate and sick people like Karamoja cannot attract investors. Aid would address human development as well as ensure a working justice system.

To complement aid, there is also need for poor countries to improve governance in order to ensure an inclusive and equitable development outcome. To achieve this, we need to galvanise a global social movement rallying for everyone to live in dignity.

Just like slavery, colonialism, racism and apartheid, which were so entrenched but were dismantled, so can extreme poverty. Because we now have what it takes; wealth, science and technology, globalisation and the spread of democracy.

Lessons from Mandela;

Former South African President Nelson Mandela, said in London in 2002 at a make-poverty-history campaign that: ‘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.’

So, let us take action, inspire change and make every day a Mandela day in order to end poverty and bring sustainable change and development that leaves no one behind.

Written by Oscar Okech Kanyangareng, this post was published on the New Vision website.