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
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 dont 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 Africas 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
Other arguments against BIG are generally weak as they hinge on dubious
premises: I address some
7 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? !
7 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.
7 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 individuals 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.
7 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
- 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.