Global statistics including those in the wealth inequality report released by Oxfam early this year point to an ever-increasing gap between the rich and the poor. In my view, there is an urgent need to address family wealth imbalances in communities across the globe. Whereas everybody would assume that being wealthy or having is purely attributable to one’s hard work, that may not entirely be the case all the time. It is a fact that acquisition and maintenance of economic resources requires great effort. But, today, one’s descent matters most. In modern social discourses, it is becoming common to be asked the question of which family you come from in order to determine whether one will get the wife, the job, the business deal, or any other opportunity that one seeks. And as good as this is for those who have powerful names, where does it leave the rest who are not so fortunate?
In a system that values higher education, and a system that cuts off failures from government and private sponsorships in further education, the children born to the middle class and first-class members of society, with opportunities for private caching and access to better facilities grab a great percentage of the available opportunities and the few who fail will most likely self-pay for their higher education. Children from poor backgrounds on the other hand most often stay stranded with shattered dreams and are forced into subsistence living, usually on menial and petty jobs, their entire lives. This inhibits their ability to provide for their children, give them better education, and in effect, the vicious cycle of illiteracy, poverty, disease, over-reliance on the raw natural wealth for survival, lower life expectancy, lower happiness indices and higher mortality than societal average will repeat themselves in these families across generations.
Moving forward, it is my take that inheritance is going to be a major factor in wealth ownership. Left over cash from monthly salaries after expenditure will not be enough to constitute or build up wealth. The world is shrinking as the global human population grows. In effect, ownership of land, a home and other forms of capital will not be a guarantee as they grow more expensive beyond what the average induvial earnings can afford. Most people will be forced to survive on their daily labor, basically, working for others who own vast inherited resources. Talk of farms, estates, shares in companies and factories that produce goods for the entire world. The owners of such resources will determine how people live and who has a say in how society should run in future. The have nots who will constitute over 90% of population by virtue of what entail to be classified as having will not matter. They will not have any options other than to struggle so hard in order to survive. And the picture only becomes clearer when one looks at the political and economic happenings in Syria, the USA, China, Russia, Tanzania, Burundi, Congo, Spain and in Kenya where a few wealthy and ‘powerful’ individuals determine how the rest live and the so called rest are forced to toe the line based on their perceived lack of power, fear and their dependence on the regimes to survive from day to day. These societies set systems in a way that makes the poor believe that their wellbeing hinges on the continued dominance by the mightily powerful few decision makers.
For a world characterized by cut throat competition, there are individuals and families with an inheritance of rental estates and farm lands that are already raking in billions of shillings for them and their future dependents. The so-called children (or generally, descendants) of the haves are lucky to have good and famous names to themselves that they expect to open doors for them wherever they go. They are not required to know much or have much in order to get accepted into positions of influence. Their names are the miracle wand. All they have to do is to shove a name card and their capabilities will have explained themselves. Yet, there are those who are being brought into the world with nothing to their names. In fact, their surnames are a liability that will close doors instead of opening them. The blood they carry has nothing to show for its existence; talk of the old sins of fore fathers that descendants have to pay for through lifelong poverty. These individuals will be expected to fend for their parents and extended relations, and still find a way to try and compete at the same level with the descendants of the haves, so as to also leave wealth for their future generations. Naturally, it would be expected that they will try to play catch up their entire lives and so will their dependents after them. Such is the imbalance that characterizes our world.
Two extremes, an engineering, medical, psychologist, or any other graduate from the lower end of the string will be expected to look for a job, start from the bottom and grow slowly before he can actually make a name of r himself. Children of the rich on the other hand use their parents’ names, connections and wealth to get managerial positions on graduation, or to start businesses that immediately become competitive at the global state based on how much different types of capital are all the time at their disposal. It makes it very hard for those beginning from nothing to make it for themselves, leave a lone making it for their descendants on a globally competitive scale. Saying this should not create the assumption that I am trying to take away hope from the poor. My intention is to point out a skewness that should be addressed if all humans are going to be equal and have uninterrupted equal rights and chances at life and personal fulfilment.
Already, within the 21st Century, dominance of the political systems in states is majorly by families that have accumulated wealth and grown it over time. To confirm this, one needs to find out the cost of running a political campaign for the post of a state president, a regional governor or a member of the national assembly in most nations. Getting into political leadership is very expensive and demands that one has a very stable funding base; most of which money is usually contributed by the candidate himself and wealthy financiers who want to protect their business interests in the next centuries. Africa is not exempted from this trend. Similarly, starting a business and making it successful demands that one is ready to compete with and outperform companies with decades if not a century of experience in doing the same thing.
These trends did not just begin today. In Africa, as is the case elsewhere world over, for example, government jobs as well as political positions are dominated by descendants of former colonial chiefs and public servants who were loyal to the colonial governments, and the descendants of the connected few who benefitted from the transfer of power, wealth and the state to locals when the white colonialists closed shop at the advent of independent states. These former African chiefs and public servants took their children to the best schools (including abroad), who in effect also educated their children. If one was to trace their lineages to date, it would be confessable that they are among the richest in their communities and are generally considered as the ruling and middle classes. Those who did not fully participate in these initial government brokerages and their descendants are at the periphery of their societies. They are mainly seen as the national burden and embarrassment. They constitute the beneficiaries of state welfare programmes for the poor be it through free public education, medical care at public hospitals, homes for the homeless, food for the poor, and the like.
Sadly, the wealthy families are not entirely a product of sheer hard work. Following the formation of independent nation states, African bureaucrats for instance immediately embarked on aggressive looting of public coffers and other state, community and individual resources including land. The likes of Mobutu Ssesseseko got richer than the states they were meant to manage. Though the fate of Mobutu may have been different, many such global despots, and the Castros in Cuba come to mind here, went unpunished and their descendants are rolling large as a result of their ancestors’ loot. Such other people existed in the public service who may not have carried everything from the state, but who stole significant enough wealth to make them among the richest in their countries today. Further, the said individuals established themselves in their states’ trade infrastructure. Their companies are the ones that do business in billions of US Dollars today. This means that their wealth is not made to only benefit their current generations but several other generations to come within their genealogies which begs the question, what of the have nots?
In the world of trade, owners of businesses that have decades if not centuries of history such as white farmers in Africa who have made money since the 19th century should be better off than their ordinary neighbor families. There are families with hundreds of years of money making history. They own banks and have companies big enough to supply the whole world with a line of certain products. This translates to billions of cash getting into their families annually. Talk of the white farmer families that have grown tea, coffee and palm trees in Africa for the last 150 years, the banker families whose banks have continental if not global reaches, the black families that have owned and mined gold fields for the same period, or still, the royal families in the middle east that own rich oil fields and still keep acquiring more. Their wealth accumulates as the contemporary poor families struggle to manage from meal to meal or from one rent to the next, trying as much as possible to manage to pay fees from one term to the next for their children who, seemingly bright, are expected to ‘make it in life’ and lift off the family burden. But who, being depressed with all these things that happen around them, are sucked back into the exact cycle of poverty that has always characterized their family trees. The rich live in the world of gods.
Further, there are instances where the benefits that accrue to having public offices and trading with the state do not only trickle to certain families but to certain communities (tribes) that have closer relations with the state. Talk of the tribe of the president or the clan f the governor as is currently being witnessed by the devolved governance in Kenya, and has been experienced in Rwanda, Ethiopia, and in Nigeria before. Such practices tend to set certain communities apart as the special ones. Such are the richest and the best treated by the government. The practice creates dejection from other communities which get the impression that hard work does not pay but instead, having access does. Running public offices, in this case, become attached to having the opportunity to loot. In effect, competition for political power becomes more cut throat where enemies must be eliminated making political campaigns characterized with war and genocides.
There is an urgent global need to financially lift the down trodden, the completely have-nots. If this is not done, then we will have generations of individuals along certain family trees who have it all. People ho have trillions of monies that can only compare with the wealth of nations. On the other hand, there will be families that have gone through generations of abjection. The human society will have such a sharp divide among its people. Those who have all the understanding and the control on one hand and others who don’t have anything and don’t know where the future lies. Such a sharp divide will not only make it hard for governments to govern but will also result in enslavement of the poor by the rich, overreliance on the few to fund the running of governments as those within tax brackets reduce, conflicts between governments and their subjects, and class wars in societies that will be completely attributable to these imbalances. Societies will have more homeless, jobless, sick and illiterate people whose only salvation will be governments’ social support programmes, which will not be available. Societies win when everyone or a great majority of the people are empowered.
Changing the bad history that characterizes poor families in any state should not only be the responsibility of governments. Whereas it is true that the history of nations is marked with visible great efforts by states to provide food, health services and education to the poor and vulnerable communities/ regions, there is need for these states to switch from giving these handouts (read material or financial support) to actually educating the poorest on the dynamics that operate around them. They need to know where the world around them is moving to as they are busy trying to make ends meet from day to day. The poor need to know that they can do something about their situations and adopt sustainable livelihood methods with the support of their governments. Gone should be the regimes among the poor of living from hands to mouth all the time and then begging for support when hand to mouth fails. And as this happens, there is need to regulate profit by individuals so that extra income by the super wealthy is pumped back into empowerment programmes for the miserable poor who have potential.
The poor should be made to know the value of building their stock piles of resources, whether in food or finances, however painful this transition will be for them. They should be empowered to acquire that mind shift and know that they are treated as equals (which they actually are) in a community of peoples, families and clans, and that their transition from despondence to affluence (or economic stability) is good not only for them but for their descendants too. Everybody should learn to plant a seed for the future not only of their own but of their children’s children. That is what is entailed in the words and the spirit of sustainable development. Moving together as brothers and sisters and not as lords and servants. It entails planting a seed for the future. No child would want to be born into poverty and struggle. We should not allow any children to be born into such as others are born into a world of passing by without making any positive contributions to humanity because all that they need was made ready for them before they were born.
With devolved governance systems picking up across the world, local authorities should take up targeted isolation of marginalized and poor families and individuals who have potential to succeed in whichever ventures, whether business or academic, and facilitate them to participate in these fully. By so doing, such individuals and their loved ones may have some hope of turning their histories around with time. In particular, local scholarships and bursaries from government should specifically target these poor folks. Similar efforts should be put into business incubation and financing programmes for the poor determined investors who can benefit from low cost funding and other determine government incentives. Although such plans and efforts my already exist in many nations, they usually end up benefiting children and relatives of the rich public administrators trusted with managing them, or also come with so many other bottlenecks that stifle hope among the desperate entrants.
All in all, there is need for equitable need for equitable wealth acquisition and distribution to guarantee sustainable growth by all across generations, and in all communities. Lack of this does not guarantee the safety of wealth accumulated by the few rich at the expense of the majority poor who live in servitude. It is not possible to talk of fair business and employment environments if these do not provide indiscriminate opportunities for all under similar entry criteria. This does not disregard the fact that our world is a competitive one. There is still need for a balance and equity, either way or this will force itself on us in a nasty showdown, somewhere down in our history as humans as has been witnessed in some societies. We cannot just assume that Karl Max was wrong and will always remain to be that way, wrong.