When Wealth Breeds Rage

When Wealth Breeds Rage

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When Wealth Breeds Rage by John Githongo Across the Middle East and North Africa, superficial political calm has been shattered by convulsions of rage. Idealistic young protesters have toppled some of the most ruthless and well-resourced political strongmen on the planet. In sub- Saharan Africa, many are asking: will the Arab Spring spread south? Thus far, the authoritarian leaders who dominate the continent have withstood protests, stubbornly maintaining that tribalism will save them. They and their loyal supporters insist that African societies are so fragmented along ethnic, sectarian and regional lines that it would be impossible today to whip up the perfect Tahrir Square storm; instead, they believe, an outcome like Libya’s civil war or the messy departure of Yemen’s president is more likely. And yet many of the underlying realities are the same. As food and fuel prices rise, inflation is driving millions of Africans below the poverty line just when the world’s great aggregators of economic data have been preaching the opposite: that growth will benefit all. Radical and growing economic inequality animated much of what was at stake in the various Arab uprisings, and it will play a major role in shaping African politics for year to come. The Tunisian street vendor who set himself alight was not so different from the disaffected young men of Nairobi’s and Kampala’s slums. They are Africa’s overwhelming majority: poor, marginalized and angry about corruption and soaring food and fuel prices. It is those young men and women who endure the daily humiliations of poverty, struggling to find jobs as elites crow about “growth” and an African renaissance. But the much-vaunted middle class remains a tiny sliver of the population in most African countries – one that is largely dependent on state patronage for its survival. Africa’s middle class has grown in recent years, but its members are
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politically and economically vulnerable and their lives can be overturned by the whims of elites who rule instead of govern. Meanwhile, the poor are assaulted daily by the potent symbols of rising inequality: glitzy malls filled with designer goods and status-enhancing baubles that cost 10 times the monthly minimum wage. Jealousy of ill-gotten gains is particularly acute among members of the giant youth bulge across Africa and the
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This note was uploaded on 09/27/2011 for the course SOCIOLOGY 290 taught by Professor Jeffwilhelms during the Spring '11 term at Rutgers.

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When Wealth Breeds Rage

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