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The link between the SDGs and socio-economic inequality

The adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015 by the UN General Assembly brought with it some hope of leaving no- one behind in development.  The drive for the agenda has been the promotion of a holistic approach towards attaining sustainable development. In line with the SDGs, the inequality debate has gained traction across the world, especially among political and business leaders across the world.  However, very little action has been taken by the said leaders towards curbing the growing levels of inequality.

The African gathering on fighting inequality in Arusha provided insights that ought to be critically considered. Discussions portrayed the will to fight inequality. However the main challenge remains inaction in curbing the growing levels of inequality on the part of the powers that be..  The rich discussions held in London a week later by The Elders during a global event for the ‘Walking Together’ campaign provided great opportunity for the world leaders to debate on inequality, noting the need for agreement, promotion of hope, inclusivity and consensus in the development of policies that work for all. The campaign is a year-long activity which is geared towards, among others, promoting freedom for equality.

How does inequality manifest or what are the indicators?

From the Arusha discussions it emerged that the inequalities being experienced can mainly be linked to the structural and systemic failures which can be associated to a number of issues.  These range from lack of consensus on action among leaders, exclusive policy formulation and fear from stakeholders in questioning the status quo. Moreover, the capitalism ideology, where a small group of wealthy people make policy decisions which only consider their interests, has propagated the inequality.  Economic inequality is the greatest manifestation, as great chunk of the means of production are taken from the majority and retained by an elite minority.

Enablers of Inequality

The main factors driving inequality are many and varied, with some having evolved and morphed over time while others are a creation of more-recent failures.

Cultural practices and the social system especially in African countries have been set up to provide preferential treatment for one group against the other groups in similar situations. In some cultural beliefs the space occupied and role played in some developmental activities is dependent on the individual class and gender stratification such that some spaces and roles that are the preserve of some individuals and not others. These practices deny the affected members of the society opportunities like access to land and education.  This leads to poverty and subsequently inequality.

Historical developments- There is a direct link between historical events and the current levels of inequality. Most developing countries were once colonised with huge losses in natural resources and indigenous knowledge as well as the destruction of the socio-political fabric.  With independence came the advent of neo-colonialism. Some policies championed by former colonial powers to further their interests are imposed on the citizens and subsequently contributing to inequality.  Further, after independence most governments were established by leaders who had become powerful during the colonial period. Such leaders in most cases were confidants of the few rich elites who continued with the oppression of fellow members of society. This vice has deeply penetrated into our contemporary society with those rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer by the day.

Poor governance- Most governments especially across developing nations do not encourage public participation in policy making. However inclusion in policy formulation has been shown to make people feel part of the process and subsequently ensures that policies and decisions made are all inclusive. The challenge though, according to Oxfam head, Winnie Byanyima is that “it’s hard to find a political or business leader who doesn’t say they are worried about inequality. It’s even harder to find one who is doing something about it.  Many are actively making things worse by slashing taxes and scrapping labour rights”.

What is the way forward?

There is need for a paradigm shift in the international economic policy architecture, with an appreciation of underlying factors ranging from cultural and social formations, making sure that the voice of the people must be heard in all debates that follow. The fight against inequality is a call for all of us from West, East, North and South.

Leaders should be at the forefront of doing something towards the levels of inequality.  Instead of making empty declarations the leaders should join hands in the fight against inequality.

There is also a need for a shift in the cultural set-up that holds back some groups from actively participating in all spheres of life.

Focus should be directed towards fighting the levels of poverty which remain a major obstacle towards attaining equality.  Overcoming poverty will foster the much-needed cultural change in the societies. There is need to promote inclusivity and action- driven decision- making where all stakeholders play their role as expected. Real change can only come from the people working together in addressing the challenges that face them.


Eradication of poverty is the first goal in the promotion of sustainable development.  Poverty is the key enabler of the widening levels of inequality.  This implies that a global fight against the growing levels of inequality will guarantee elimination of poverty. A study by Oxfam (Reward Work, Not Wealth) shows a worrying trend in the levels of inequality, with 1% of the global population controlling at least 82% of the world’s wealth. The report further emphasises that the solution to inequality is in building an economy for ordinary working people, not the rich and powerful.

*The author- Jared Maranga- is TJNA’s Policy lead on Tax, Investments and Extractives.

**Photo credit- War on Want


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About TJNA

The Tax Justice Network-Africa (TJN-A) is a Pan-African initiative and a member of the Global Alliance for Tax Justice. Launched in January 2007 during the World Social Forum (WSF) held in Nairobi, TJN-A promotes socially- just, accountable and progressive taxation systems in Africa. It advocates for tax policies with pro-poor outcomes and tax systems that curb public resource leakages and enhance domestic resource mobilisation.

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