IN October, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund released their Global Monitoring Report, which made interesting findings on global development progress between 2012 and 2015. It goes further to make some curious proposal on the future even though the current global context contradicts that.
The major finding of the report is that the number of people living in global poverty has declined, with an estimated 200 million fewer people living in poverty compared to 2012. Before, we scratch out heads looking at who among us has graduated from extreme poverty to a better life, most of these numbers are concentrated in China and India and have little or nothing to do with Africa.
Despite the huge criticism faced by China and India on their human rights records, it is undeniable that some of their policies have led to growth, which has benefitted and ushered large numbers of their people out of poverty.
Key to their success stories are their domestic policies that have stood firm against a lot of global pressure. Home grown policies that take into account local factors seems to have paid-off than those externally imposed.
The second highlight of the Global Monitoring Report is the shifting of the poverty indicator. The two global banks have now reclassified extreme poverty to mean living on $1,90 or less a day. This is almost double the previous a dollar a day indicator, which remained constant for nearly a century now. Measuring poverty based on a dollar has its history in the Industrial Revolution era, where wages were calculated on the basis of a standardised daily consumption. It was never meant to decide development, but a way of benchmarking profits against labour costs.
Using monetary income to measure standard of life has faced several challenges and criticism over the decades because it neglects the multidimensional nature of both lifestyles and the view of poverty in different contexts. For example, there are millions of people in Africa and other places across the world whose lifestyles do not revolve around money. Secondly, it also ignores the potential value of the environment as a source of livelihood and yet it cannot be easily qualified in monetary terms unless commercial interests are placed on it.
Because of the above reasons, the people in the villages who live off their environment, independent of the commercial world and are not wanting in any aspect of their lives, are still classified by the two banks as poor because their livelihoods cannot be monetarily quantified. The problem here is not limited to monetary classification. But the same villagers have historically been targeted for piecemeal development projects with the goal of transforming their lives to consume from the commercial production line which is not sustainable in many cases.
As a consequence, we have millions of people whose lives have been shifted and displaced from their local environments to become dependent on external consumption. While such transformation facilitates social and economic development measurability, it also impoverishes those whose livelihoods can no longer draw from the environment unless such environment has been exploited by external commercial interests.
Several observations can be deduced from only these two findings. Among some of them include that the two global banks are not ready to dump neo-liberal policies and allow developing societies to shape their own development agenda. It may also mean that, they may use progress in China and India to justify and refocus their attention to the return of multinational corporations back to Africa to purportedly expedite Africa development.
The refugee crisis is most likely going to be biggest excuse for the economic re-invasion of Africa. Already, the World Bank Group president Jim Yong Kim, has called for the right set of policies to ensure progress by taking into account the altering landscape. By this he elaborates that countries need “to spark their demographic transition, accelerate job creation, sustain productivity growth, and adapt to aging.” This could be spelling what is in store for Africa.
Part of the reasons why development has failed over the decades to usher Africa’s people out of this constructed poverty is that it centralises and universalises lifestyles and livelihoods neglecting the diversities of lives. The centralisation of development benefits the centre while the depriving the periphery of choices and decision-making power to pursue what is locally viable and these are some of the causes of out poverty today.
The other observation is that calls by activists for the banks to view poverty as multidimensional have fallen on deaf ears or on ears whose eyes are set on a new wave on the invasion of Africa using the refugee influx as an excuse. The Syrian refugee crisis is a global game changer, which has seen failures of European foreign policies transform into a domestic concern. But the refugee crisis is now being viewed, no longer from the Syrian perspective, but broadly. Remember the story of African migrants hogged limelight before the first wave of Syrians hit the shores of Europe. Perhaps this is what has been described by the World Bank as part of the era of demographic change.
Therefore, if African leaders cannot create conditions to stop their people from leaving their countries for Europe, then Europe can easily claim that they have a responsibility to protect its domestic interests by getting involved in those African countries to stop refugee outflows. One view on this is that if it brings development why not, but when last did Europe support proper infra-structure development in Africa?
●Tapiwa Gomo is a development consultant based in Pretoria, South Africa