Leave No Man Behind: A Solution to Africa’s Poverty

The American military polarized the term, “leave no man behind,” which referred to a principle in most armies that when a fellow soldier is behind enemy lines, or has been caught by enemies, it is up to the other comrades to rescue that soldier, leave no man behind.  The belief in this principle was that no life was more important than the other and it was up to each and every soldier to value their life as important as the next person. 

Now, imagine if we had the same principle in our economic policies, programs, plans and activities. Below are some figures that show the exponential growth of the middle and the rise in the billionaires and millionaires in Africa. Take note of these facts:

  • In 2000, there were 4.6 million African households defined as middle class. Today; there are 15 million.
  • South Africa has 71 000 US dollar millionaires.
  • Nigeria has the second highest growth in new champagne consumption (2011-2016) trailing France.
  • Between 2013-2023, the number of super-rich will increase by 116% in Ivory Coast, 97% in Ethiopia, and 93% in Ghana.

What essentially this means is that as the figures show, Africa is the new horizon of economic growth. It is now home to the fastest growing economies, a growing middle class full of youth who have 30-45 years of work ahead. The idea however should not be ‘’economic growth’’ but more importantly ‘’inclusive economic growth’’ that leaves no man behind.

My argument essentially is that in the broader picture, our current economic policies and beliefs leave multitudes of Africans behind. What do I mean? The economic theorist Karl Marx pointed this out 2 centuries ago in his works. He stated that essentially, the capitalist economic structure creates a situation of the haves and have nots, rich and poor, resulting in the situation where there are the upper, middle, and lower class.

This is one of the reasons why when Africa gained independence, there was such a huge drive for socialism. Education for all policy in Tanzania under Nyerere, Health for all in Kenya under Kenyatta and the remnants of socialism today can be seen in Robert Mugabe’s land reform program in Zimbabwe.  Essentially, these leaders were not dogmatic about the economic ideology, but rather their aim was to pull as many Africans out of the economic shackles snared on them by colonialism.

A number of African nations due to international pressure of neo-liberalism have abandoned that socialist approach.  Testament to this are the Gini-co efficient figures which is one measure of inequality. Africa has one of the highest pre-tax Gini coefficients. According to CIA Gini index rankings, the top 6 most unequal countries are in Africa led by Namibia, South Africa and Lesotho. 

The Achilles heel to the capitalist structures we are accepting is this idea that lets make a lot of money first and then when we have enough rich people, the benefits will start trickling down. However, Africa’s development can be more inclusive, and we can do a better job than the West did in terms of economic equality and improving standards of living.

What I am calling for does not mean abandoning free market orientated policies, the problem essentially is not making money but rather how we are using that money. The Scandinavian nations (Norway, Sweden, Finland etc.) have created a general framework that has focused on pulling people out of poverty.

Conclusively, why we should leave no man behind? Firstly, Africa has remnants of ubuntuism in its cultural makeup which means the individualistic system that we are adopting is counter-productive to what we hold dear, and that is helping each other. One can only truly defines their success on the positive impact they have had on their society. Secondly, the reason why the Millennium development goals this year will become the sustainable development goals is a testament that the system that existed pre-2000 was structured to increasing inequality. And lastly, policies that are skewed to the rich only result in us ultimately, having to come back to pick them (the poor) up.  So from the onset we might as well leave no man behind.
Kudakwashe Manjonjo
Harare, Zimbabwe

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