By Addis Getachew
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AA) - Exacerbating inequality in Africa has become a crisis, reaching a "critical point" in the continent's west, according to a paper presented at a seminar on inequality in Africa.
Organized by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) in collaboration with Oxfam, the seminar was attended by UNECA officials, representatives of development agencies and academics.
Presenting the paper: "The West Africa Inequality Crisis", Kwesi Obeng, Regional Program Advisor with West Africa Oxfam international said: "The wealthiest west Africans own more than anyone else in the region combined."
According to the paper, inequality has been deepening in West Africa in spite of impressive economic growth over the past two years with six of the 10 fastest growing economies in Africa being in West Africa.
Nigeria, according to the paper, tops the list of the most unequal societies.
"In Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, the richest man earns about 150,000 times more from his wealth than the poorest 10% of Nigerians spend on average on their basic consumption in a year," the paper said
It added: "It would cost about $24 billion a year to lift all Nigerians above the extreme poverty line of $1.90 a day. By comparison, the wealth of the five richest Nigerian men combined stands at $29.9 billion -- more than the country’s entire budget in 2017."
According to Obeng, most governments in West Africa were not giving enough attention to the issue, rather "choosing inequality crisis rather than addressing it."
Speaking on the occasion, Adam Elhiraika, Director of Macroeconomics and Governance Division at UNECA said: "Inequality in Africa remains very high and a very serious problem."
Inequality, he warned, "can create political and social instability in the continent."
Africa, according to him, remains the poorest and second most unequal continent in the world after Latin America.
As part of a list of recommendations, Obeng said countries on the continent should "spend sufficiently on universal quality public services that reduce the gap between rich and poor and reduce gender disparities."
He also called governments to redistribute from the rich to the poor through progressive taxation, rather than just levying taxes on consumption, which he said, would in most cases be tantamount to ‘punishing the poor’.