Why Zimbabwe is not the poorest country in Africa… and why this is the wrong discussion to have

A week ago, a French company posted a report titled Africa 2016 Wealth Report suggesting that Zimbabwe is the poorest country in Africa. Predictably, the report was echoed far and wide, especially by Zimbabweans themselves, too eager to be recognised for their poverty.

Here’s what the report says:

As reflected (table below), people living in Mauritius are the wealthiest individuals in Africa with US$21,700 in wealth per person, whilst people in the Zimbabwe are the poorest with US$200 per person.

Contributing factors to Zimbabwe’s poor performance include:

  • The erosion of ownership rights in the country. Ownership rights are key to facilitating wealth creation. In Zimbabwe, business owners are unsure as to whether their businesses or property will still belong to them a year down the line, which creates a situation where no one will take the chance of investing in the country.
  • Ongoing political intimidation and the fixing of elections in 2002, 2005, 2008 and 2013.
  • The banning of the independent media in the early 2000’s, which has created a situation where it is impossible for investors to tell what is happening there. Foreign journalists are also not allowed inside Zimbabwe. The only TV footage that comes out of Zimbabwe comes from state-owned TV stations.

Notably, back in 2000, Zimbabwe was one of the wealthiest countries in Sub Saharan Africa on a wealth per capita basis, ranked ahead of the likes of Nigeria, Kenya, Angola, Zambia and Ghana. However, now it is ranked well behind these countries.

The report has this list of 20 countries with their Wealth per capita listed
Wealth-Country

 

Let’s break this down and see how much sense this makes.

  1. Wealth per capita definition

    Nowhere in the contents of the report released is there a definition of what Capgemini’s Wealth Per Capita is so the basis of referring to people in one country being poorer than those in another is actually not know. How therefore journalists would echo a result without understanding the methods used is just a sign of laziness.That said, there are globally accepted methods of measuring wealth in a country. The Gross National Income (GNI) per capita, PPP (constant 2011 international dollars) for example, whose definition by the World Bank is:

    Aggregate income of an economy generated by its product and its ownership of the factors of production, less the incomes paid for the use of factors of production by the rest of the world converted to international dollars using PPP rates. divided by midyear population.

    Now Zimbabwe’s GNI per capita for the period 2014 is $1,615. Compare that to the other countries in the list and others not included in the Capgemini report:

    How therefore Zimbabwe is the poorest country in the report is surprising.

    That said, Zimbabwe has its problems, significant ones. In 2000, the country’s GNI per capita was $2,363 which shows what a significant drop in economic performance the country has gone through.

  2. Contested Elections

    Agreed. Zimbabwe has had contested elections and there was serious political violence and intimidation especially in 2008. However, if this were as big a factor in the determination of poverty, I’m sure Angola (where a rapper and his colleagues have just been jailed 5 years for planning a book club) and Egypt (who have had political chaos for the better part of the last several years) would score worse than Zimbabwe.

  3. The banning of the independent media in the early 2000’s, which has created a situation where it is impossible for investors to tell what is happening there. Foreign journalists are also not allowed inside Zimbabwe. The only TV footage that comes out of Zimbabwe comes from state-owned TV stations.

    Anyone who has been in Zimbabwe in the last 5 or so years, would laugh at this statement. Zimbabwe actually has an active independent print and online media industry. Privately owned media companies have been in existence for the past decade and more. Foreign journos not allowed here? Most global news companies – Aljazeera, BBC, France24, AFP, etc… all have journalists operating here freely. See this Hard Talk episode featuring a BBC journalists reporting while he walks the streets of Zimbabwe and later asking hard hitting questions of a government Minister in his government offices.

After all this has been said, we’re only writing this to show how the lies can spread so fast unquestioned. The bigger point is that this is totally the wrong argument to have. We should not argue about who’s the poorest in Africa;  it should be about how we lift the whole Africa up economically, instead of ranking each other with one country arguing it’s not as bad as another. These kind of arguments will not get us anywhere.

Even worse, the media proudly regurgitating the lies they are fed by some research company in France is shameful. We should ask questions and learn to tell the truth with our own stories so we can build up this continent ourselves. We need to stop falling for this so old trick. Believing these lies is no different to believing that while the wars raged in the Middle East in 2009/2010, and Zimbabwe had a peaceful functioning unity government it was somehow still the most politically unstable country in the world according to this global report.

Featured image credit: ihennigs

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