We are in the midst of a national emergency and no one is talking about it

The title to this article is actually not fully correct. Every now and then, especially around the elections in March 2018, I would hear people in the streets, in the taxis and kekes complain. They would complain about the fact that life for the ‘small borbor’, the common man and woman, has become harder, while the rich become richer.

Based on the Global Rich List, I am definitely among the top 10% richest people on this globe. That also makes me more blind and deaf to those claims, as it is not my experience the people on the streets are sharing. I listen, keenly, and try to live in a way to mitigate some of these effects, both with the way I deal with my personal finances and my professional life. I try to give generously, my friends and I provide unconditional cash transfers to a community school in the East of Sierra Leone and I focus my work on providing the evidence needed to solve problems in the health sector with local, sustainable solutions.

However, being a numbers person, reality really only hits me when I see statistics. Numbers can tell me whole stories.

And I heard such a story scream at me, when I read the report from the Sierra Leone Integrated Household Survey (SLIHS) 2018, which was just released. The overall headlines already are not great – food poverty increased in the last seven years, which basically means more Sierra Leoneans now go to bed hungry than seven years ago. The overall poverty rate in rural areas has stagnated – despite the fact that based on information from the Ministry of Planning and Economic Development, more than USD 4 billion have flown into the country from various donors. And despite all this, extreme poverty has increased across Sierra Leone. That in itself is reason enough for a national outcry.

But then, on page 193, it hits me: “The Gini coefficient calculated on per capita income is about 0.701 compared to 0.297 in 2011.” Let me explain – the Gini coefficient measures the income inequality in a country. The closer it is to 1, the more unequal a country is. That means that in the last seven years, Sierra Leone has become a VERY UNEQUAL society. It used to be about as unequal as Austria, and now joins other African countries who are much more unequal. It also means that the billions of dollars that have flown into this country have gone to the richest 10%, in its totality. The report even states that the household consumption of all but the richest 10% has decreased in the last seven years (page 273).

This is a national emergency, hidden on page 193 in this report. It deserves a national outcry, it deserves its own commission of inquiry, it deserves a lot of personal reflection. I have been here for five out of these seven years in between the two reports, and I also have not done enough to prevent this. We need to urgently revise not just our own personal finances, but also the way we do development – how do we achieve it to be inclusive? How do we make sure that more of the money that flows into this country reaches those that it should actually reach?

I am a strong defender of (un)conditional cash transfers – and it is not just my opinion, but there is a lot of strong evidence supporting the fact that really, we should focus development work on providing cash to the poor. And the rest – let governments and private sector figure that out, and citizens hold them accountable.

I know many Sierra Leoneans who have good solutions to the problems here, so please – make your voices heard and make sure in seven years we see a reduced poverty rate, reduced inequality and happier people on the streets.

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