Thursday 6 May 2021
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The illusion of solving inequality with food banks

Namibia is suffering from a sickness whose cure is known but the doctors choose a distant alternative.
Inequality is a challenge that has bedeviled many countries in the past and continues to be an albatross in the shoulders of all and sundry, developed, developing and under-developed. Great and small, one by one every country has at one time or another tried to address the question of inequality. Some succeeded, some did not. If everyone joins and sings from the same hymn book as others; the hymn book of Food Banks, not only will our beloved country fail, it will be embarrassed.
The concept of food banking was born in Phoenix (United States) in 1967. A man in the name of John Van Hengel saw a widow and mother of ten children, looking for food in the trashcans behind grocery stores. He helped her to find edible food and then convinced the stores to give him products instead of throwing them away. Thus, the first « food bank » was born.
Those of Judeo-Christian faith may argue and say that is not Food Banking. Food banking in another form is seen in the Bible, when a young Prime Minister of Egypt by the name Joseph, predicts a seven years of heavy famine, and then in the bid to stop the effects of the famine the government started storing food that will feed the country when the famine comes.
It is paramount that fellow Judeo-Christian countrymen understand that this author has no problem with their form of Food Bank, it is however irrelevant for the purposes of this article. Developmentalists are suggesting the Phoenix type of Food Banking as a way of addressing the challenge of inequality.
The former President of South Africa once described the class that benefits from the Food Banks as 2nd Economy, “The second economy (or the marginalised economy) is characterised by underdevelopment, contributes little to GDP, contains a large percentage of our population, incorporates the poorest of our rural and urban poor, is structurally disconnected from both the first and the global economy, and is incapable of self-generated growth and development.”
On June 15th economists at the IMF released a study assessing the causes and consequences of rising inequality. The authors reckon that while inequality could cause all sorts of problems, governments should be especially concerned about its effects on growth. They estimate that a one percentage point increase in the income share of the top 20% will drag down growth by 0.08 percentage points over five years, while a rise in the income share of the bottom 20% actually boosts growth.
But how does inequality affect economic growth rates?
The single biggest impact on growth is the widening gap between the lower middle class and poor households compared to the rest of society. Education is the key: a lack of investment in education by the poor is the main factor behind inequality hurting growth.
“This compelling evidence proves that addressing high and growing inequality is critical to promote strong and sustained growth and needs to be at the centre of the policy debate,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. “Countries that promote equal opportunity for all from an early age are those that will grow and prosper.”
Rising inequality is estimated to have knocked more than 10 percentage points off growth in Mexico and New Zealand over the past two decades up to the Great Recession. In Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States, the cumulative growth rate would have been six to nine percentage points higher had income disparities not widened, but also in Sweden, Finland and Norway, although from low levels. On the other hand, greater equality helped increase GDP per capita in Spain, France and Ireland prior to the crisis.
The most dangerous assumption being made in our country by the Food Banks Approach, is that fellow Namibians want handouts from those with money. The second danger with this approach is the supposition that industrialists and shops are willing to handout to the poor.
With my last 50cent as author, I can bet that Namibians want education and indigenisation more than they want donated food. In fear of being labelled a pessimist, I will not openly say that industrialists would rather throw away food stuffs than give it to the suffering masses. It is however paramount that as human beings we find it awkward to give someone leftovers, we would rather not give them anything at all.
Instead of food banks, we should look into more lasting and durable solutions like education, indigenisation and promotion of disruptive entrepreneurship. Above all, the Girl Child should be prioritised and given preference in all these.
As an afterthought, can you imagine a whole country like Namibia telling the world that it has addressed inequality and co-currently empowered the girl child through food banks? That is of cause unthinkable, un-stately, laughable and extremely preposterous. It is high time people man up and engaged the brain as compared to this copy and paste syndrome that has bedevilled our country.
George Hidipo Hamba is a youth activist and co – author of Affirmative Repostioning: Awakening Generation

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