While the world is still reeling from the shocking revelation that just eight men own the same wealth as half the world, Oxfam, the organisation which found this out is now looking to governments the world over to do something about this reality which if not reversed stands to rip our societies apart. Given the widely reported inequality in Botswana, this calls for action.
Oxfam, a confederation of 19-member organisations that work together with partners and local communities in more than 90 countries to find practical, innovative ways for people to lift themselves out of poverty has come under fire for challenging a deeply entrenched capitalism system which it boldly demands to be changed to include in it the human perspective.
Capitalism is defined as an economic system in which the maximisation of profit plays a central role in the pursuits of private investors, which Oxfam argues only benefits the 1 percent at the top leaving behind the bottom 99 percent.
“Ultimately it is governments which are responsible for the rules, regulations and policies that govern our economies and shape our societies. Governments can, if they choose, use their power and policy tools to have a huge impact on reducing inequality in a country, and work in the interests of those towards the bottom of the economic distribution and of society more broadly. Or they can stand back and let the gap between the rich and the poor grow, exacerbating the inequality crisis,” says Oxfam.
In 2015 the World Bank wrote that Botswana remained one of the world’s most unequal countries. “The level of inequality in Botswana is the world’s third highest, after South Africa and Seychelles,” it said. It estimated Botswana’s Gini coefficient at 60.5 percent, which is a measure used to determine the level of inequality, adding however that it fell from 64.7 percent to 60.5 percent between 2002/3 and 2009/10.
It attributed the decline to welfare improvements in rural areas, mentioning however that the inequality in cities had on the other hand increased. This indicated that inequality was observed more in cities than it was in rural areas. “Vulnerability was significantly reduced between 2002/03 and 2009/10. However, half of Botswana’s population remains either poor or vulnerable, with close to 31 percent classified as vulnerable,” says the World Bank, which also mentioned the risk of people falling back into poverty.
Given the current status quo in Botswana, the reversal of high inequality cannot be left to the free market, in which private investors dictate the production of goods and services based on the supply and demand and then determine the prices to exchange them with very minimal government involvement. Oxfam suggests that the role of government is important in addressing the issue of inequality through policies on minimum wages, protection of workers’ rights through means of collective bargaining as well as in tax to allow wealth to trickle down from the riches to the poorest. Oxfam recommends a new economic system it calls the human economy in which the government works for the 99 percent benefits, not the 1 percent. “Markets are a vital engine for growth and prosperity, but we cannot continue to accept the pretence that it is the engine that steers the car or decides on the best direction to take,” says Oxfam.