Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Politics of Poverty

This kind of stuff frustrates me to no end...


The irony is not lost on Swazis: the population is among the world's poorest, and yet the kingdom is classified as a "middle-income country". How come?

According to Musinga Timothy Bandora, resident coordinator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), "A nation's wealth is measured by several factors; this includes gross national product." In the case of Swaziland, ruled by sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch, if the nation's wealth were equally distributed, each Swazi would receive US$100,000.

In per capita income terms, Swaziland ranks somewhere between Armenia and Paraguay, with export earnings based on agriculture and textiles; but, in terms of the share of the national wealth, the richest 10 percent of Swazis control over 50 percent of the country's income, a level of inequality worse than in Brazil or South Africa, and beaten only by Namibia.

"Swaziland isn't a poor nation when you measure its gross domestic product; the problem is that the wealth is being siphoned off by a few people, with the king and the royal family top of the tree. What's left, and it isn't much, goes to the people," said Richard Rooney, associate professor of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Swaziland.

UNDP figures show that about 70 percent of Swazis live in chronic poverty. A record 60 percent of the population relied on food assistance from the World Food Programme and other aid groups in the past year due to drought, and the country has the world's highest HIV prevalence rate.

The Coordinating Assembly of Non-Governmental Organisations (CANGO), has expressed concern that Swaziland's classification as a middle-income country - despite the desperate need of its people - hinders fund raising for development projects.

"It is not fair that poor people be denied aid because Swaziland is so small that a handful of super-rich skew the income demographics to make the country look richer than it is."

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