The world over, people are facing various challenges in their daily life.
Some of these challenges are unusual, but others are man – made. It is not possible to enumerate all the challenges. What may be attempted should include the following as representative sample: inequality, injustice, alienation, denial of participation, decline of social welfare, dependency, the decline of family, HIV/AIDS, STI, , EBOLA, health care, poverty, Instability in the political process, misconception of empowerment, submission of the oppressed to the subjective sense of powerlessness, uncertainty of economic policies, food security, decline in enrolment at higher institutions of learning, the education, fee fury (demand for free education), abuse of discretion, antagonism, anarchy, and violence (eg in the Middle East), apathy (low election turn – out), culture of silence, etc.
The debate on equality, liberty and rights will continue. In particular, the discourse on equality will intensify because there is increasing threats to equality as an institution. Equality is desirable. It embraces the principles of liberty and justice. The use of the term inequality in the above list indicates the absence of equality. Inequality exists wherever conditions XX are guaranteed to V, but they are denied to G. This means that equality requires the presence of conditions of having equal opportunity, dignity, rank or privilege as other members of the community may enjoy. Equality does not permit discrimination on any ground, religion, wealth, creed, descent, language, social status, sex, and other discriminatory practices.
In politics, equality requires that all citizens must have equal opportunity to take part in the management of public affairs. They should also have equal rights to hold public office.
In economic field, equality means a lot: the most important is that there should be no concentration of economic power in the hands of very few elitist groups. There must be equality in the distribution of national wealth. There should be equality in the appointment of citizens to key positions in the government or other institutions in the state. As a contemporary writer claims “equal rights and opportunities for all to play their part in a competitive pattern of life” is important for democratic governance in a democracy.
Injustice is rampant the world over. Can society eliminate injustice? Yes, it can if it can articulate conditions precedent for the elimination of injustice. So far society has not been successful in this area. The blame must lie at the door steps of the political leadership. The incidences of injustice are numerous. When someone is denied his or her human rights it constitutes injustice because that person will not be able to enjoy those rights. There is widespread economic injustice represented by economic deprivation and unequal distribution of resources. Everywhere people are facing acute poverty. This is the greatest injustice of our time. Another example of injustice is the failure of employers to conform to the requirements of decent pay or minimum wage.
When one discusses injustice, one’s attention must be directed to social injustice and economic injustice. Social injustice refers to the norms of general interest. It focuses on the protection of the vulnerable in society and the elimination of all forms of poverty and illiteracy. Economic justice is concerned with outlawing discrimination between members of the society based on economic values. The area of concern is freedom of production, and just distribution of goods. That national wealth must be used to promote common good. These are difficult tasks government alone cannot deal with them satisfactorily without the cooperation of the private sectors.
Poverty has become a focal point in discourses on the contemporary welfare state. It is supposed to combat poverty. But it seems not to be the case for most African, Asian and Latin and Caribbean states. Poverty prevails in countries which can be described as rich because they possess huge natural resources, eg crude oil, minerals, etc. This shows that the availability of rich natural resources does not guarantee the elimination of poverty. What is required is that national wealth must be shared equitably among the people of the nation – state so that the rich do not become richer and the poor get poorer. It is noted that any household which is at the bottom of the income distribution of resources is classified as very poor. It cannot buy the required quantity of food for the family. It has no decent shelter. It cannot afford modest clothing for the members of the family. It cannot go for medical treatment except to poorly managed dispensary. It cannot take children to Levy Stadium to watch football match between ZANACO Football Club and ZESCO Football Club. It may not be able to send children to school because it cannot afford to buy uniforms, shoes, exercise books, and so on. Millions of households across the globe are in this category of people living in absolute poverty. The end of poverty will be on sight only if the problems of unequal distribution of income, inadequate shelter, food insecurity, lack of proper healthcare systems, free education all the way to university, etc, are addressed.
Family is another area where challenges would appear to persist. Welfare states are paying greater attention to the family. Because it is said family is the ‘gendered institution of human societies.’ Its role is to reproduce and transmit norms of social behavior to all its members from infancy to the grave. The burden of the extended family rests with the family. However, extended family as an institution is under threat as it is being progressively eroded to keep up with modern changes. This is far from the truth. It is just a sign of failing to assume responsibility towards the members of the family.
The challenges of the family are becoming more ominous than ever before. There are many examples one can give: child care – taking and home economy was assigned to women. Men used to pursue works that provide for the family. Division of labour as described is coming under increased challenge from feminist groups in Africa and elsewhere. The married couple based family known to most readers has undergone drastic changes. The number of single parent families is on the increase, and soon will become the order of the family. There is another peril: more men of married age are living alone. This will reflect negatively on birth rate in any given society. The number of children who live with their mother as the sole parent is also on the increase. Divorce has become common than was the case in the past. The greatest challenge to family as an institution is the new trend of same sex marriage. Africa is still comparatively safe from this new threat to family.
Advocates of traditional family will agree with Judge Brok who said in FRANZ V THE UNITED STATES (1983) that “the reason for protecting the family and the institution of marriage is not merely that they are fundamental to our society, but that our entire tradition is to encourage, support and respect them.” To this one may add that it is still the prevailing conviction that marriage is an institution that should be entered into exclusively by one man and one woman. And this must be defended, and protected by individuals, society and State.
It may be justifiable to include health matters, especially health care as those challenges that merit to be treated as urgent by governments anywhere on our planet. Health care should be understood as goods and services that are provided by governments or private entities, intended to improve the health of citizens. The goods and services may include prescription drugs, consultations with medical officers, hospitals, clinics, physicians, nurses and other health care professionals. The provision of high quality health care has improved the quality of health of people the world over and has helped improve the standards of living of people in most countries of the world, with modest changes in developed countries. Notable changes have occurred in the availability of advanced diagnostic equipment, treatment of high blood pressure, treatment of cancer (eg Zambia now has a Cancer Hospital. This will help reduce deaths due to cancer, and prolong the lives of cancer patients), the development of vaccines against meningitis, and new surgical procedures, such as, endoscopy, etc. High standards of health care can contribute to high life expectancy. For example, England in the 1700s had life expectancy of about 34 years. Today, life expectancy in England is reported around 80 years. This improvement is due to the tremendous rise in the standards of health care. Things can get better in the developed countries if more resources are directed to health care, education and food security.
The list set out above contained a number of challenges which cannot be outlined in this article. They may be dealt with somewhere else. All the challenges call for urgent actions by governments in Africa and governments in other parts of the world. They call for new thinking, new philosophy, and new approaches in order to achieve meaningful results that will promote development. There was a headline on one of the world TV network: it reads ‘Tough Time Ahead’. The reality is that ‘Tough Time is Here’ we must face it bravely and prudently.
The author is an Associate Professor at Zambia Open University.