International aid charity group Oxfam has released a new report that paints a damning picture of the region and how the wealthiest continue to amass wealth at the expense of the poor.
According to the report co-authored with financial consultancy Development Finance International many governments in West Africa are not committed to dealing with economic inequalities.
The three most committed West African countries to reducing inequalities are Cape Verde, Mauritania and Senegal.
The report added that the three least committed are Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Niger.
Oxfam said “wealthiest 1% of West Africans own more than everyone else in the region combined”.
In Nigeria five of the country’s richest men have a combined wealth of US$29.9 billion – more than the country’s entire national budget for 2017.
But about 60 per cent of Nigerians live on less than US$1.25 a day, the threshold for absolute poverty.
Increase in wealth
According to the report 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).
But 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.
The inequality levels are not helped much with ECOWAS countries losing an estimated $9.6 billion to corporate tax incentives offered to multinational companies.
Adama Coulibaly, Regional Director of Oxfam in West Africa said “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,” Coulibaly said.
Adama Coulibaly said “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.”