What inequality looks like

West Africa is rich in natural resources, yet the vast abundance of the region has not been used to benefit its people. As a result, West Africa remains among the world's poorest regions, where a tiny segment of the population has unparalleled access to power and wealth while the majority remain impoverished.

Millions of West Africans continue to struggle under the burden of extreme poverty. Unequal opportunities for education, employment, voice, and participation severely limit the horizons of people from poor communities, especially youth and women. Growing unemployment has left record numbers disengaged from the economy, fueling public disenchantment—and demonstrating that reforms to the political process must go hand in hand with economic opportunity.

Confronting inequity to promote change

Against this background, we see ample reason for hope. Over the past decade, elections in Ivory Coast, Ghana, Senegal, and most recently Nigeria have unseated incumbents and strengthened the conviction that governments that fail their people can be voted out. New policies—such as parity laws in Senegal that have increased the representation of women in Parliament to 43 percent—are opening up new opportunities for political engagement. Increasingly and in many sectors, women and young people are leading the drive for inclusion.

We believe there has never been a better or more important time to put youth and women at the center of efforts to address inequality in West Africa—and that inaction will come with significant costs. As political processes become more open, we strive to ensure that all people in the region, particularly those from marginalized communities, are able to connect with networks and acquire the knowledge and skills they need to address the challenges facing their societies.