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Life Reflections

World Bank income rating of countries, does it make sense?

By August 2, 2020June 6th, 2023No Comments

July 31, 2020

If there is any subject I never had any inkling about in my now-distant education, it’s Economics. The reason was never the subject per se; it was the teacher.

In our fifth year of secondary school, only two of us were Rwandan refugees, in the Economics class. The citizenship forgeries we’d acquired deceived no one but, still, all’d have been hanky-dory.

Only, for any topic on the subject, the loathsome teacher never failed to requote the example of one of the areas that had hosted Rwandan refugees till the Red Cross pleaded for their transfer after sleeping sickness and cholera had laid almost everybody to waste.

“As an example,” the repulsive teacher quoted for the nth time, “we’ve cited how the three factors of production, land, labour and capital, can lie redundant. The land factor in said area would’ve been useless hadn’t refugees happened by. They were decimated by tsetse and cholera but left fertilized and habitable land!”

The class hollered as we shrank in our stateless skins. To give thanks where it’s due, though, some students were disgusted.

And with reason. Because, to this day, the land is as good as useless. Some households are eking out a living with a few banana, maize, finger millet, bean and other crops for home consumption. Labour, yes, but what value are they reaping from their land? And any capital?

There is no capital without creative ideas, innovation, is there? In fact, even that capital, without entrepreneurship, wouldn’t it be like a locomotive without wheels of a kind or another?

Those who took up the land live today as they lived then: small, unhygienic grass-thatched houses that almost always lead to being ravaged by jiggers; scabies; measles; malaria; festering incurable wounds; the dirty lot. Hardly any access to clean water, electricity, healthcare, education; all nil. They still inhale the burning firewood fumes today, as those 47 years ago!

Our teacher, if he still has breath inside him, is most probably in the same condition.

Not that, don’t get me wrong, I bear ill-will against anybody. No, only pity.

That apart, even with my nix knowledge of Economics, I know good news when I hear it.

Which is why we should celebrate the news of Tanzania attaining lower-middle-income status!

Coming after Kenya that hit the mark in 2014, it bodes well for the rest of our East African Community (EAC) countries and acts as a good morale booster. Indeed, “Yes, we can!”

As the EAC countries, with good leaderships and working together in concert, we can cross the per capita threshold Rubicon of 1,036 US dollars, which I’m told is what’s required.

This, I am made to understand, is what we as citizens are supposed to earn each year for our country to attain a lower-middle-income status, as judged by the World Bank. If we work even harder, we can stretch that to 3,995 USD but shall still be lower-middle-income category.

Ignoramus though I be, I smell something fishy about all this. This gross national income (GNI) per capita or the other gross domestic product (GDP) growth, do they exist in a vacuum?

If not and they actually concern living, breathing humans, does the World Bank visit individual families to see their living conditions? I haven’t hosted any visit!

For the GNI, I am told they consider the dollar value of a country’s final income in a year and divide that by its population. Then they sit back in their easy chairs and declare your status!

That’s where I have a quarrel with these GNIs and GDPs.

Do these World Bank honchos know that that whole country’s dollar value can be in the hands of dozens of a country’s fat cats only? And that, meanwhile, the rest of the citizenry will still be languishing in those unhygienic grass-thatched houses, hungry and inhaling firewood fumes in contrite confines? In “middle-income” lofty talks, where does the latter sorry lot feature?

However, allow me to confine myself to Rwanda, where I can vouch for individual lives.

In one of my past ramblings, I talked about Viziyonariya, head of one of the poorest of the poor families of this land. Her food security is ensured by a government monthly emolument. She is housed in one of the model villages (in truth, modern housing estates) that are being rolled out by government, and even by individual groups, for all vulnerable families.

The houses are connected to all amenities and are fully furnished.

The Viziyonariya family has health insurance cover (Mutuelles de Santé). Her children receive free education. The family is part of the Girinka Programme (free cow, veterinary services and the rest of all accompanying benefits).

In case of any legal problem, government provides a lawyer and foots the bill. If her family is enterprising and wants to start a business, it’s entitled to seed capital that can amount to as much as 200,000 Frs (209 USD). And, no, in case of success, no pound of flesh is expected!

Tell me, how do these Economics gurus at the World Bank rate such countries against high-income countries? What’s more than 12,055 USD when winter is killing people on the streets?

Methinks corruption and population-inequity should have a pull-down effect, too.

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