Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) were opponents in an international football friendly played at the oil-rich city of Port Harcourt in Nigeria’s South-South few months ago, but they are hardly opposing in wealth and its unequal distribution. The two countries are both rich in natural resources but they remain home to some of the poorest people in the world.
According to billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates and his wife Melinda, by 2050, “more than 40 percent of the extremely poor people in the world will live in just two countries: Democratic Republic of the Congo and Nigeria”. The Gates noted this in a message titled Is Poverty Inevitable? which was used to introduce this year’s Goalkeepers Report.
The reasons for poverty in the two countries are not far-fetched. They have been ravaged by either war or bad leadership. Although decades of dictatorship have given way to democracy, the natural resources they are blessed with have become a curse. It’s worse in DRC where lack of government presence in some areas has encouraged widespread efforts by armed groups to control mining areas and fund rebel activities. Even government agencies such as the Police have to fend for themselves in some areas. A recent study by Raul Sanchez de la Sierra of Harvard and Kristof Titeca of the University of Antwerp found that in Kinshasa, the capital of DRC, traffic cops receive about 80 percent of their income from “informal tolls”.
Similar tolls come and go in Nigeria where road users can get away with just about anything if they speak the language of the officers. Corruption is getting worse in Nigeria, as well as DRC. The former ranked 136 on the 2016 Corruption Perception Index of Transparency International and the latter, 156. In the 2017 ranking they both fell to 148 and 161 respectively. The United Nations emphasized in messages put out ahead of this year’s anti-corruption day (December 9) that corruption can undermine social and economic development in all societies and could be an impediment to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This year, UNODC and UNDP have developed a joint global campaign focusing on how corruption affects education, health, justice, democracy, prosperity and development — all six things are below par in Nigeria and DRC. It is, therefore, not strange to read the Gates’ emphasis on what the future might hold if nothing is done.
The 2018 edition of the Goalkeepers Report focuses on youth population growth that will affect future world progress. By 2050, Africa will be home to more than one billion young people, but corruption persists and stands in the way of education, health, justice, productivity and development for these young people. This is the challenge African leaders have to tackle, otherwise poverty will keep rising in Africa.
“Today’s booming youth populations can be good news for the economy; if young people are healthy, educated, and productive, there are more people to do the kind of innovative work that stimulates rapid growth. This helps explain the amazing progress of the past generation in most of the world, and it is the key to spreading that progress everywhere,” Bill and Melinda Gates noted.
In areas like Nigeria and DRC where poverty is concentrated in Africa, the Gates explained: “Poverty in these areas is unique. It’s rooted in violence, political instability, gender inequality, severe climate change, and other deep-seated crises. It’s also tied to other problems, including high rates of child mortality and malnutrition.
“The conclusion is clear: to continue improving the human condition, our task now is to help create opportunities in Africa’s fastest-growing, poorest countries. This means investing in young people. Specifically, it means investing in their health and education, or what economists call “human capital.””
Recent events have shown what happens if large numbers of young people in the poorest countries are denied opportunities to build better lives. In South Africa, murder, among other crimes, increased. Despite recorded deaths, more Africans are trying to get out of the continent through illegal routes. However, in the midst of shrinking opportunities, there are several young people driving growth. Africa can enjoy the multiplier effect of this if it invests in its young people.
As the Gates wrote: “Investing in young people’s health and education is the best way for a country to unlock productivity and innovation, cut poverty, create opportunities, and generate prosperity. Human capital is not a magic bullet, but it has played a pivotal role in the success of emerging economies around the world.”
Nigeria and DRC have similar troubles in corruption and insecurity, but they also have similar failures in investment in human capital. The policy actions taken by their leaders now will determine their future.