By Standard Digital reporter
Cape Town, South Africa: Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga has asked African governments to give priority to policies that will help narrow income inequality among segments in society and promote opportunity for the poor, as the Continent's growth picks up.
Raila said that while African countries form the majority of top ten growing economies in the world today, their growth is marching neck to neck with extreme poverty, where almost one out of every two Africans lives in extreme poverty.
Raila spoke at the Annual Conference of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, Pacific, Africa and Caribbean in Cape Town South Africa.
He said poverty and rising inequality spell doom for democracy in Africa.
“Poor citizens feel voiceless and helpless in the debates that shape elections.
“They feel they have no power to determine what is important and what is not in an election year. They believe democracy is on sale and leadership goes to the highest bidder. In the end, this is a threat to democracy, to growth and to stability,” he said.
The former PM called for far-reaching and all-encompassing economic reforms if growth is to have impact on people's lives.
He added that reforms Africa has implemented since the fall of the Berlin Wall have focused on creating a suitable environment for the multinational and multilateral players in the hope that the benefits will trickle down to the poor, which has not happened.
"Economic reforms in Africa have hardly paid attention to people struggling to meet the demands of their daily life at the bottom of the ladder. They have never focused on ensuring upward mobility for those at the bottom and on assuring the parents of today that they will bequeath their children success and a better station in life tomorrow,” Raila said.
He noted that as Africa discovers oil and other minerals, the challenge is going to be how to spread the benefits of the growth to all the citizens and sustain it.
He said economic growth “is a myth” if it is not reflected in the human and physical development of citizens.
“Growth ought to be reflected in more gainful employment, increased wages, job security, food security and better health and education for all,” the former PM said.
While lauding efforts to create a conducive environment for investors to move in and for technology to drive growth, Raila said Africa must devise means to ensure children of the poor can also access quality education which in turn will give them a fair chance to compete for high paying high technology jobs.
The former PM said the setbacks being witnessed on the Continent including unrest in the Central African Republic, Mali and now South Sudan have roots in economic opportunities and claims of inequality.
He said problems in CAR, South Sudan and Mali are not simply governance challenges that can be addressed by emphasizing peace and security and sending in troops.
“They have deep economic roots and claims of exclusion from opportunities and development,” Raila said, adding that high prices of food, income inequality and massive youth unemployment amid growing economy marked the landscape in Egypt and Tunisia as revolution sneaked in.