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The Perspective, with Edward Bwalya Phiri

Social stratification as a progeny of tribalism

All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others; is a famous line in the illustrious, literally works of George Orwell (born Eric Arthur Blair) of the 1945 ‘Animal Farm’ fame: a satirical prose about injustices of the social inequality. The catchphrase is an epitome of the notorious inequality existing among the people in society today world over. Sociologists have called this phenomenon as social stratification. The Oxford dictionary has defined this social construct as the division of something into different layers or groups.

On The Perspective today, I am taking about social stratification as a legitimate offspring of tribalism. Stratification is as old as tribalism, but it is said to have surged in the mid-1700s, at the height of industrialisation due to the migrating rural dwellers that were subsequently hired in factories. This created two basic classes that were called by Karl Marx as the Bourgeoisie and the Proletariat. He argued that the Bourgeoisie exploited the Proletariat by only giving them a remuneration that was only enough for survival.

In last week’s write up, tribalism was defined as a conduct that displays one’s biased thoughts and feelings against a social group. Therefore, tribalism should not be misconstrued as a concept only referring to kinship and ethnicity; it goes way beyond people’s shared cultural heritage, to include ‘homieship’, comradeship and occupational relationships.

Today’s society is about who you know; people rarely get rewarded on merit. It’s either you have blood relations or friends in order to get connected. Beyond that, the narrative changes to the ‘do me, I do you’ or ‘scratch my back, I scratch your back’ syndrome. It’s a crazy society we are living in right?

Jeanne H. Bellatine & Floyd M. Hammack wrote that, “from an early age, we are socialized to be members of a social class and to develop strong loyalties to the values of our class, including its attitudes towards education.” These social classes are based on the hierarchical orientation. And they may take the form of either an open system, estate system or closed class (caste) system.

According to Keister and Moller, “Sociologists study stratification, defining the meaning of social class and discussing its significance and implications for individuals in society. Class has been described…as (a) multidimensional concept that is determined by three major variables: wealth, power, and prestige.” On the other hand, Geoffrey Hurd said, “stratification involves the wielding of power by some groups at the expense of others.”

Social stratification therefore perpetrates a myriad of problems such as gender parity, social exclusion, social segregation and deprivation, among other social ills. It ultimately affects unrestricted variables such as freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, voting rights, quality health care, quality housing, access to credit, access to education, access to justice, transportation, income mobility, access to labour market, goods and services, career progression and the list is endless.

This inequality is a global phenomenon. According to the Oxfam Briefing Paper of January 2020, the world’s 2,153 billionaires (about 3 per cent) have more wealth than the 4.6 billion people (about 60 per cent). It’s unfortunate that social equality is only a dream of an idyllic society that is free from tribalism and its progenies such as wealth inequality, gender parity, racial inequalities and income parity, among others. World over societies are faced with inequality.

The index used to measure the distribution of scarce resources (wealth or income) is the Gini coefficient. The ratio was developed in 1912 by an Italian statistician Corrado Gini. It ranges from 0(0 per cent) to 1(100 per cent). A Gini index of 0 represents a perfect equality and a Gini index of 1 implies a perfect inequality. The higher the value, the greater the inequality. The world average Gini coefficient is between 61 per cent – 68 per cent.

Many European countries have the lowest Gini coefficient. Among the European countries, the Nordic and the Central and Eastern European Countries are among the most equal countries in the world. African countries on the other hand are among the most unequal countries. Mali held the highest record of 90.2 per cent Gini coefficient recorded in 1990. Though the picture is not completely bleak for Africa, there are a few most equal countries such as Burundi, Egypt, Ethiopia and Liberia. However, the general picture leaves much to be desired.

According to the latest Gini index as monitored on the World Population Review website, Africa tops the list of the most unequal societies in the world. Out of the top 10, six are African countries and Zambia is among them. Leading the park is Lesotho and South Africa, scoring 63.2 per cent and 62.5 per cent respectively. Of the six countries, South Africa is regarded as the consistent most unequal country in the whole world. In South Africa, the richest 10 per cent of the population own 71 per cent of the country’s aggregate wealth and the poorest 60 per cent hold a paltry 7 per cent of the country’s wealth.

Zambia comes in the sixth place on the top 10 list with 57.5 per cent. Since independence, the lowest Zambia has scored is 40.2 per cent in 1991 and the highest is 60 per cent in 2002. According to data analysis by the International Growth Centre (IGC), in its Policy Brief 41304 of July 2017, covering the period the from 1996 – 2015, results showed that while the poor households were catching up with the middle income households, the gap between the middle and high income households had increased. This picture can only be reversed through concerted efforts because inequality is a construct that is aggravated by many factors ranging from cultural heritage, to occupational and comradeship.

It takes both the governors and governed to root out ‘tribalism’ and its offspring such as racism, crony-capitalism, nepotism and chauvinism.

By topping the list of the most unequal societies in the world, African is deemed worse than some of the racist societies in the eastern and western parts of the globe. While a few are basking in wealth and living in self-aggrandizement, we have masses living in abject poverty. Africa has openly castigated racism in America, Europe and Asia yet we have covertly been perpetrating inequality with impunity. Consciously, we are suffocating the lowest class in society; the poor who are living below the poverty datum line of $1.90 per day, and they cannot breath. Let us take off the inequality knee from their economic neck and allow them to breath.

Conclusively, income inequality affects the macro economy by slowing down the Gross Domestic Products (GDP). The micro economy is also affected through greater household debt, reduced income mobility, increased poverty rate, and the political landscape is affected through polarisation. It is important to note from the ICG report that there is a direct correlation between inequality and poverty. The fight against poverty should be coupled with the fight against inequality, a lapse in one area impacts negatively on the other.

I therefore want to take a knee and raise a fist to all the African countries and say, “Black lives matter.” Let us respect one another, we are one blood, one people and have one creator with one purpose for everyone. If you know what I mean, your salvation is more important than transient material things. What will it benefit us, if we gain the whole world and yet lose our souls? For today I will end here, Au revoir.
For comments: elbardogma@yahoo.com

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