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West Africa wealth inequalities reaching extreme levels: report

A report by Oxfam and Development Finance International shows that the wealthiest 1% of West Africans own more than everyone else in the region combined.

Ivory Coast is among the world's 10 fastest-growing economies. Picture: Primedia

DAKAR - West Africa suffers the most inequalities on the continent but many governments prefer to ignore problems despite economic growth, a report by Oxfam and Development Finance International said on Tuesday.

According to the "West Africa Inequality Crisis" report, six of the ten fastest-growing economies in Africa were in West Africa, with Ivory Coast, Ghana and Senegal among the world's 10 fastest-growing economies.

"In most countries the benefits of this unprecedented economic growth have gone to a tiny few," the report said.

"Inequality has reached extreme levels in the region, and today the wealthiest 1% of West Africans own more than everyone else in the region combined."

The report said the vast majority of West Africans were "denied the most essential elements of a dignified life, such as quality education, healthcare and decent jobs".

In Nigeria, for example, the wealth of the five richest Nigerian men combined stands at $29.9 billion – more than the country’s entire budget in 2017, the report said.

Rather than tackle inequality, some of the region's governments were underfunding public services, such as health and education, and failing to tackle corruption, Oxfam's regional director Adama Coulibaly said.

The report called on governments to do more to promote progressive taxation, boost social spending, strengthen labour market protection, invest in agriculture and strengthen land rights for smallholders.

For example, it said the region loses an estimated $9.6 billion annually because of corporate tax incentives offered by governments to attract investors.

But not all governments were tackling inequality the same way. Cape Verde, Mauritania and Senegal were among the most committed to reducing inequalities, it said, while Nigeria, Niger and Sierra Leone were among the least.

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