2016: Africa’s Year Of Grave Concern

February 2nd, 2016

In spaces where a handful of elites from governments, civil society organizations (CSOs), and the private sector are exclusively invited, great and well- prepared speeches on Africa are heard. Yet experience has shown that often there is a great disconnect between avenues like the 26th African Union Summit and the people of the continent. The 6th Citizen’s Continental Conference pre-summit event however, presented a forum to bridge this disconnect.

Human rights, democracy, governance, civic space and especially taxation were some of the issue areas covered at the conference. However, let’s focus on one particular area which is, ‘Economic Justice for All; Inequality and Illicit Financial Flows (IFFs)’ which should be the most exceptional of all for Africa, particularly at this time when resources are scarce and inequality at its greatest.

The non­realization of economic rights in Africa is a serious drawback to sustainable development on the continent. African people need to identify people oriented strategies to address IFFs, tax evasion and avoidance, and unequitable distribution of resources, in order to enhance pro­poor, gender responsive sustainable development in the continent and stem the loss of vital public resources.

Simply put:
  • Africa loses more than US$ 50 billion annually in terms of illicit financial flows.

Why this is vital is because, resources that would have paid for essential public goods and services, and advance general development in education, food, quality healthcare, security, good infrastructure etc. are instead siphoned from economies that need them and instead hidden in off-shore jurisdictions facilitated by a global financial architecture that not only legitimizes this practice but shelters it.

  • Inequality; social, political and economic is fast growing on the continent.

The control of wealth and power is in the hands of the 1% who have managed to amass huge amounts of wealth. Africa is now home to more than 160,000 people with personal fortunes worth in excess of $1m (£642,000). Meanwhile, the number of poor people in Africa – defined as those living on less than $1.25 a day – increased from 411.3 million in 2010 to 415.8 million in 2011, World Bank data. As a priority, this inequality and power nexus is particularly important to understand. Inequality is about power and Africa is at a place where an urgent end to concentration of power in the hands of a few is needed.

  • Women’s rights continue to be sidelined even when the main focus for Africa in 2016 is women.

Despite progressive laws and policies in some African countries, lack of political will to implement these provisions continues to cause grave harm to women all over the continent.

The link between economic justice and gender is one that has just begun to get recognition but there is indeed a very long way to understand and articulate this area as an actual issue. There is not enough data disaggregated by gender which in turn perpetuates the problem because as the saying goes “what doesn’t get measured, doesn’t get managed”. There is still a need to acknowledge gender dimensions when addressing issues of economic justice.

Where we go next is up to us…

So whose fault is it that the continent remains developing associated mostly with poverty, disease, famine, inequality and conflict? The answer lies with us­ ‘we the people’. Shocking as this is, we are to blame as we wait and depend too much on others; the ‘externals’, our ‘policy makers’ you name them; to give us solutions. We never look into ourselves and the power that we have to change policies, to advance gender rights, to end illicit financial flows and ride inequality from the continent. For decades we have disappointed ourselves, attending summits where space is there for us to articulate our real issues, real demands.

The people are the most important constituent Africa has, the people are a resource, and the people are the power Africa needs to move forward. We need to stop putting out the beggar’s bowl and demand for better, for our communities, nations and the continent. Let us get the information, it exists, it is out here more importantly it is free! Then let’s use this information to be informed, aware, educated and most importantly to act. We the people need to be visible not closed out when our heads of state and policy makers meet to decide on our priorities, and destiny like they were recently at the 26th AU Summit.

Bring out your voice, look into yourself and contribute towards ending extreme inequality, poverty and most of all stopping illicit financial outflows from the continent.

Written by Crystal Simeoni, Luckystar Miyandazi & Robert Mwanyumba

Crystal is Policy Lead on Tax and International Financial Architecture at Tax Justice Network - Africa, Luckystar is Tax Power Campaign Coordinator for ActionAid, and Robert is Coordinator for the East Africa Tax and Governance Network.

This post originally appeared on the blog of Tax Justice Network Africa, a Coordinating Committee member of the FTC.

Image used under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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