Society’s relationship with money is quite interesting. Depending on which part of the world you are from, what socio-economic group you belong to, the company you keep and of course, how much you have. From my experience, you can tell about the openness of a society by how much they talk, or not, about money.
A new study entitled the Africa Wealth Report showed analyzed data on where to find Africa’s newest millionaires. The report studied the increase of millionaires, in US Dollars, in African countries from 2006 to 2016 and outlined the top ten countries as well as the growth of this number. As it turns out Ethiopia is the 2nd in the list, right after Mauritius. The number of millionaires has grown by 230 percent in Mauritius and 219 per cent in Ethiopia. In third place is Rwanda with 107 percent.
What this number means is that there are three times as many millionaires in Ethiopia today than 10 years ago. I do not find that hard to believe, especially seeing the developments in Addis. In this city, if you have money, you show it. The number of fancy cars, i.e. luxury cars, mansions and expensive restaurants has exponentially grown in the past few years. Growing up, I remember that those that came from “good families”, regardless of whether they had money or not, and older men were granted automatic respect. This has now shifted to money, it does not matter who you are, what you do but flaunt a bit of cash, drive a “nice” car and in comes respect. It is not that I prefer one over the other, but that this change in social behavior makes the African Wealth Report seems accurate to me.
Displaying wealth is not unique to Addis. In fact, having visited cities like Lagos and Dubai, Addis is not even in the picture. In those cities, people own jets and have private wings at airports, so Addis is a long way from that. Now, this is not to say that we should not learn from the experience of those cities, especially in terms of how they manage, or not, the wealth gap.
I remember walking down a supposedly posh street in San Francisco with my cousin who was telling me that it is almost impossible to identify which people are millionaires and which ones are barely hundred-aires. She was right, everyone looked the same, rode a bike or drove an eco-friendly car, wore similar clothing. There were no luxury cars or fancy looking people, everyone was wearing jeans, shirts and sweaters, most likely with holes in one of them. And then my cousin said to me, “the one way to separate the rich from the not so rich is with the type of bikes they own”. That picked my curiosity. She said, although all the bikes look the same those with money have the lightest bikes made from aluminum and the not so rich have those made from heavier metals, making it hard to carry around. In that society, it seems that the goal is to fit in, and not stand out. How interesting!
It is certainly not my place to tell people how to spend their money, but I think that as the number of millionaires grows, so shall the good deeds. I believe that it is crucial that a part of the wealth is spread somehow, whether it is by increasing your employees’ salaries, helping those in need, establishing funds to support different causes or even donating to existing ones. With great wealth, comes great responsibility and ignoring that responsibility comes at a great cost. And, as the gap between the haves and the have-nots increases, keep in mind that the haves will have more to lose than the have-nots.