The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Theresa May, has painted a grim picture of economic inequality in Nigeria and many other countries in Africa.
May, who is visiting Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa this week, made the comment in Cape Town, South Africa on Tuesday.
The Prime Minister said many individual Nigerians were enjoying the fruits of “a resurgent economy.”
She, however, stated that 87 million Nigerians were living below $1.90 a day, making Nigeria “home to more very poor people than any other nation in the world.”
The Prime Minister paid tributes to two great Africans: the late President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, and a former secretary of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, who died this month.
May said: “The life stories of these two great men encapsulate the ebbs and flows of history. They demonstrate just how much can be achieved over the course of a lifetime. But also that progress can never be taken for granted – the fight to secure our gains is constant.
“Mandela was born in 1918 with the world on the brink of peace from a war that was meant to end all wars. But when Annan was born just 20 years later, those dreams of a lasting peace were about to be shattered once again, claiming millions of lives, including many from this continent.
“It was in the aftermath of this devastation that the United Nations, the organisation that half a century later Annan would go on to lead, was founded. And despite false starts and mistakes along the way, global institutions and co-operation established in this period have delivered great gains for development.
“It was at the same time, that independence movements of a generation of new nations, took on a renewed urgency. People across the world won the right to self-determination, constitutions were written and countries were born.”
According to May, the embrace of free markets and free trade has acted as the greatest agent of collective human progress the world has ever seen.
She stated that in countries that had successfully embraced properly regulated market economies, life expectancy had increased and infant mortality fallen.
“Absolute poverty has shrunk and disposable income grown. Access to education has widened, and rates of illiteracy plummeted. And innovators have developed technology that transformed lives,” she added.
May said wars and state-based conflicts had declined and replaced by new threats. She stated that in the past five years, terrorists had killed around 20,000 people in Africa.
The Prime Minister stated that Africa had made remarkable progress.
“In 2018, five of the world’s fastest-growing economies are African. The continent’s total GDP could well double between 2015 and 2030. By 2050, a quarter of the world’s population and a quarter of the world’s consumers will live here,” she stated.
Citing African countries that were recording progress, she stated: “From the Western Cape to the Mediterranean come stories of increasing stability, growth, innovation and hope.
“South Africa, for so long blighted by the evils of Apartheid, is free, democratic, and home to one of the continent’s largest economies.
“In Cote D’Ivoire, United Nations peacekeepers have gone home and GDP is growing three times faster than in Europe.
“And Ethiopia, for a generation of British people often associated only with famine, is fast becoming an industrialised nation, creating a huge number of jobs and establishing itself as a global destination for investment.”
She, however, lamented that the economic prosperity was not uniform around the world as well as emergent democracies and growing economies.
May stated: “Africa is home to the majority of the world’s fragile states and a quarter of the world’s displaced people.
“Extremist groups such as Boko Haram and al-Shabab are killing thousands. Africa’s ocean economy, three times the size of its landmass, is under threat from plastic waste and other pollution. Most of the world’s poorest people are Africans and increasing wealth has brought rising inequality, both between and within nations.”
Explaining inequality in Africa, the Prime Minister stated: “For example, much of Nigeria is thriving, with many individuals enjoying the fruits of a resurgent economy. Yet 87 million Nigerians live on less than $1.90 a day, making it home to more very poor people than any other nation in the world.
“Achieving not just growth but inclusive growth is a challenge faced by governments in the UK, Europe, North America and beyond. And as African economies become more successful, it is an issue that is being confronted here too.”
She said that in the years ahead, demographic change would present further economic challenges and opportunities for Africa.
The Prime minister stated: “Before arriving here this morning, I visited the ID Mkize Secondary School in Gugulethu. The teenagers I met there were an inspiration, full of ideas and enthusiasm about their own futures and full of pride about the future of their country and their continent.
“It’s an outlook they share with so many Africans, 60 per cent of whom are aged under 25. Such a young population represents a phenomenal level of human capital and potential. With their innovation, dynamism and creativity, Africa’s young people could enrich not only this continent but the world economy and society at large.
“But to make the most of this promise, it needs to be properly harnessed. Between now and 2035, African nations will have to create 18 million new jobs every year just to keep pace with the rapidly growing population. That’s almost 50,000 new jobs every single day, simply to maintain employment at its current level.
According to May, this would be a huge challenge for any continent, particularly where economic growth is still fragile and markets are still developing.
She added: “It is indicative of the need to redouble our efforts to ensure the forces shaping our world deliver for all our people. Because the challenges facing Africa are not Africa’s alone. It is in the world’s interest to see that those jobs are created, to tackle the causes and symptoms of extremism and instability, to deal with migration flows and to encourage clean growth.
“If we fail to do so, the economic and environmental impacts will swiftly reach every corner of our networked, connected world. And the human impacts – from a loss of faith in free markets and democracy as the best way to secure global growth and human rights, to greater conflict and an increased susceptibility to extremism – will be similarly global.”
May said that as a Prime Minister “who believes both in free markets and in nations and businesses acting in line with well-established rules and principles of conduct, I want to demonstrate to young Africans that their brightest future lies in a free and thriving private sector.
“One driven and underpinned by transparency, high standards, the rule of law and fairness. Only in such circumstances can innovation truly be rewarded, the potential of individuals unleashed, and societies provided with the opportunities they want, need and deserve.”
She noted investment would not be attracted nor growth achieved in the absence of security and stability.
May added: “By 2030, 80 per cent of the world’s extreme poor will live in fragile states. Even in countries considered relatively stable and prosperous, pockets of fragility persist.
“The UK is already providing support for African governments that are meeting this challenge head-on. Nigerian troops on the frontline against Boko Haram have received specialist training from Britain.
“Counter-terror operations in Mali are being supported by British Chinook helicopters. British troops in Kenya have trained African Union peacekeepers heading for Somalia, while also working with international partners to reform the Somalian security forces for the long-term.”
Explaining her presence in Africa, she said: “This week I am visiting three countries, South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya, that I regard as key partners in achieving this goal. With thriving democracies, strong international ties, including through the Commonwealth, and fast-changing economies, they are typical of 21st century Africa; an Africa very different to the stereotypes that dominated previous centuries, and that some people still believe even today.”