West African Governments are the least committed to reduce inequalities in Africa

Published: 8th July 2019

Oxfam and Development Finance International have launched the first ever Commitment to Reducing Inequality Index (CRII) regional report. The index measures, compares and ranks West African governments’ commitment on 3 pillars: public spending, taxation, and labour markets. The report also includes a regional analysis of agriculture and land rights.

As the poorest continent, Africa is also one of the most unequal, with some of the most extreme divides between rich and poor in the world. Inequality is at crisis levels in West Africa, yet these governments are less committed to reducing inequality than the rest of the continent.

While a small but growing group becomes fantastically rich, a clear majority of the region’s citizens are denied the most essential elements of a dignified life like access to quality education, healthcare and decent jobs. 

“This index reveals that West African governments are exacerbating inequality by underfunding public services, such as healthcare and education. It also shows that ECOWAS governments are underfunding the agriculture sector on the one hand, while under-taxing corporations and the wealthy, and failing to clamp down on tax evasion, tax avoidance and corruption, on the other. This is unacceptable,” said Adama Coulibaly, Regional Director of Oxfam in West Africa.

The report also presents an ambitious policy agenda to address inequality in West Africa, both for national governments and for ECOWAS.

“There is nothing inevitable about the inequality crisis in the West Africa region, and without radically increasing the commitment to reduce inequality, the crisis is likely to only worsen. Governments can build a brighter future for everyone, including women and girls who are the most impacted by inequality – not just a privileged few” said Joel Akhator Odigie of the African regional organisation of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC-Africa).

Oxfam has released this index ahead of the High-level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development in New York, which is starting today and urges West African governments to prioritize fighting inequality. This year marks the fourth year the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and acting to cut down on inequalities is one of the 17 SDGs 

“it’s time for West African governments to act decisively. To strengthen this commitment, West African governments must promote progressive taxation, boost social spending, strengthen labour market protection, invest in agriculture and strengthen land rights for smallholder farmers. We cannot beat poverty without fighting against inequality.” said Adama Coulibaly, Regional Director of Oxfam in West Africa.

Notes to editors

• The three most committed West African countries to reducing inequalities are Cape Verde, Mauritania and Senegal. The three least committed are Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Niger. 

• ECOWAS countries lose an estimated $9.6 billion to corporate tax incentives offered to multinational companies. This would be enough to build about 100 modern and well-equipped hospitals each year in the region or seven brand new hospitals per country in one year.

• Burkina Faso is the only West African country among the top ten most committed to social spending in Africa. The West Africa region has the least population with access to water and decent education in Africa. Nigeria has the worst score on social spending, not only in Africa but in the world.

• West Africa’s universal health coverage is the lowest of all sub-regions of Africa. The average universal health coverage in the ECOWAS region is 38%. It is 47.2% in Eastern Africa and 50.2% in Southern Africa. 

• If all 15-year-olds achieved a basic level of education, the West Africa region could increase its economic growth by nearly 4%.

• Inequalities between rural and urban populations are particularly noticeable in West Africa. For example, in Ghana, 62.3% of urban households have access to treated water but just 17.1% of rural households, and 88.6 per cent of urban population are connected to the national grid, compared with 48.3 per cent of the rural population.

• The amount of wealth held in Africa rose by 13 percent between 2007 and 2017. The West African countries that recorded the largest growth in wealth were La Côte d’Ivoire (by 43 per cent), Ghana (39 per cent) and Nigeria (19 per cent). These increases in national wealth presented an enormous opportunity to improve the lives of the many, but unfortunately much of it benefited only a select few and has been hidden away offshore and untaxed.

• Five of Nigeria’s richest men have a combined wealth of US$29.9 billion – more than the country’s entire national budget for 2017. However, about 60 per cent of its citizens live on less than US$1.25 a day, the threshold for absolute poverty.

• West Africa is the most male-dominated region in Africa in terms of participation in the labour market. The gap is widest in Mauritania where only 31% of women of working age compared to 67.7% of men are in paid work. In Benin, it is 45.5% female, and 69.9% male. Ghana’s labour market is the most inclusive in the sub-region with 74.8% women, 79.2% men. 

• There are widespread labour rights violations across West Africa. The informal sector is the main source of employment. Informal workers, mostly women, live in precarious conditions, are poorly paid, sometimes far below the poverty line. For example, in Senegal, only 3.8 percent of jobs are in the formal sector.

• 35% of West Africa’s economy is agriculture, employing over 50 percent of the work force, especially women. Despite this, most West African governments fail to honour the Malabo commitments to invest 10 percent of their national budget in agriculture.

The report, methodology document explaining how Oxfam calculated the figures, and the data set is available on request.

Oxfam’s calculations are based on the most up to date, comprehensive data sources available.

Contact information

Claire Le Privé  |  +221) 78 140 47 93  |  claire.leprive@oxfam.org

For updates, please follow @Oxfam.

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