African Countries Should Consider Basic Income Grants (BIG) For Their Citizens

By Jackson Kariuki

African governments particularly in the Sub-Saharan Africa should consider BIG for their citizens as a way and means of dealing with poverty levels. I think and believe that considering BIG would move  the people from marginalization and narrow the escalating gap between abject poverty and survival realm. This is a better way forward for many governments and people of Africa.

I will take an example of a country like Kenya. Last year, Kenya held her general elections. The people spoke with one voice and underlined that it was time for change!!. In doing so, they voted out the Kanu regime, which had become a heavy burden on their shoulders, the country, and even to itself by being ill disciplined, dictatorial, corrupt and almost brought the country to halt.

I suggest that the issue of poverty should be addressed sooner than later by the new NARC government.   The need to create a welfare system, where every citizen should receive a Basic Income Grant of approximately  (K.shs 2000.00) (depending on the form of currency of each Nation State) a month should be in the minds of the ministries of planning. 

Sceptics and those opposed to the BIG system will advance strong arguments sighting inherent problems with such systems in other countries in Europe, USA, Canada, and Australia etc. One thing to remember here is despite the inherent problems the welfare remains. The point therefore is on removing the problems rather than the system. We in Africa should not be talking of problems when we even don’t have the system.

Other opponents of the BIG give economic arguments and ask the question of affordability of the system? Where will the money come from? How will it be financed? Can the present economic conditions in Africa allow such a system? These arguments hinge on the warnings from donor and lending institutions like IMF and the World Bank. These are valid reasons and should be looked at with a view of not throwing away the idea, but of thinking the system through to make it work and affordable. Can African governments afford it? Look at it this way, many African governments choose to spend huge sums of money in buying arms. How about corrupt deals of payments of shoddy contracts? Do most need the arms? How about spending millions of money on commissions whose reports remain concealed? One can go on and on with a list! of expenditures which are dubious.

In planning and if desiring to introduce a BIG system, the Treasuries will have to raise additional funds in a year, mostly through higher taxes. This will be unpopular among the rich minority but a slight reduction in their incomes seems a small price to pay for the benefits BIG will bring to the poor majority. To add to this positive view is that the BIG money will be ploughed back into the treasury through the value added tax and other taxes. Consequently recycling the money.

Think of it this way, the total populations of each country never exceeds the total revenue collections per year for example; Kenya's population is 35 million, the government collects revenue approximating of K Shs 230 billion; South Africa’s total population is approximately 45 millions, collects revenue to the tune of 440billions; etc (figures on the high side). Put these figures into perspective what are we talking about. Is there any rationale as to why Kenyans or South Africans should remain pathetically poor? Can these figures ever be compared? One could argue that the allegations of individuals siphoning large amounts of money into foreign banks is as a consequence of a lack of rightful planning, management, and administration of the countries financial resources. If the money is there and no one wa! nts to spend it, Canning and greedy few will be tempted to find a way to enrich themselves. This is a very plausible argument.

Other arguments against BIG are generally weak as they hinge on dubious premises: I address some

·         Incentive to work 

This is an ideological argument used by Western and donor governments advance this Ideological argument arising from the desire to reduce their payouts of unemployment benefits. Is there any one in Africa particularly Kenya or South Africa who will believe that K.Shs 2000.00/ R. 200.00 will deter a person to work or taking a job? Another thing to remember here is how fast will the economies of these countries grow to absolve the vast majority of the un-employed, let alone the un-employable?  Is it not the case that even when the economies make a turn around only a few of the millions of unemployed will ever get a job, irrespectively? !

·         Increase dependency among the poor

The poor are already enormously dependent. A BIG would give them a chance of life and some independence together with the capacity to pay for things like medical costs, school fees, water and electricity, which they struggle to pay now. (One needs to appreciate the efforts of some Governments who provide free primary education and health services. But the list of needs right now for the people is so long and heavy. BIG would be a way to empower the majority of the citizens and who would in turn take care of their other needs.

·         Is it impossible to organize paying the BIG to every one?

Like all other tasks, yes it will be difficult, but not impossible. How would it work, through the banks like the post office bank, other commercial Banks.  The money would go straight into an individual’s bank account if the individual has one. But in case an individual has no bank account, a system of issuing them with electronic cash card would be preferable as that would allow one to draw their money from ATMs or similar devices. Alternatively each country would devise their preferable and   workable method. Just to bear in mind that ‘where there is a will, there is a way’.

 ·         On what and how will people spend the money?

There are no guarantee that some people will not spend the money un-necessarily, but, there is strong evidence that poor households in fact use the little money they have very carefully and wisely. I do trust that many people will do the right things with their money. Just because a few people will misuse the money should not be the criteria to judge or  prevent the many from receiving a BIG.

Consider the benefits, which Big will un-leash to the people, the country, and the governments. 

  • The strength of BIG is its simplicity. It directly reduces the level of grinding poverty which is the plight of the majority of our citizens. It also directly reduces our extreme degree of income inequality. It will inject funds into poor communities and provide people with a chance of building local economies. To you and me, the money means very little, but to a poor person this will be manner from heaven. 
  • The system will empower the purchasing capacity of the consumer thereby widening the consumer base. Once the country broadens the consumer base, there will be a higher and greater demand of goods and services. Most African economic systems are modelled on a capitalistic consumer market. As such, it needs a very broad consumer base for its success. In short capitalism cannot thrive without a consumer market. This reality is the basis behind welfare systems in the most of the developed world no matter what and how the system is riddled with implementation problems. The owners of capital and the manufacturer of goods know very well that they need an empowered consumer, for manufacturing and trade to continue. 
  • Another factor which strongly enthuse the building of a BIG system is the knowledge that a capitalistic market system has a way of generating social exclusion. This dearly affects  majority of the populations who are socially and economically excluded from fruitful participation in the daily functioning of their societies.  Consider the havoc plaguing the majority of the populations due to current farming and draught in most of the African countries. These are currently dependent on food Aid.  
  • Empower the purchasing capacity of the consumer through the BIG, then challenge them to provide for their daily basic needs and requirements and we will realize how determined the people are to shape their future destiny. BIG is not economic or political populism. It is by far the most effective method available to reduce destitution and poverty among the population and citizens of Africa and they deserve it.  After all they are the people who vote in current governments and in doing so, they expect their governments to lead them into prosperity.  Is there a reason not to consider the BIG system? It would be wise to borrow ideas from other countries in the world at large, and face the challenge for the good of the people and Africa. On the shoulders of the African government leaders rests a bequeathed and conferred authority and responsibility to govern and lead African Peoples.

Kariuki. JM, Sociology Department, University of Natal Durban, South Africa.

 

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