Family, our source of strength and inspiration that we often take for granted. They teach us quite a lot even through the simplest of encounters. Do you have a relative that relates everything that happens in the world to just one concept or phenomenon? Money, sex or power? Well, I do. Tamara relates everything to poverty, both financial and mental. The meal is exceptionally tasty and Tamara will say “if not for poverty, it could have been tastier. Tamara has a way of connecting any and everything to poverty; and believe me, she will effortlessly show you the nexus. Overtime, I became used to her chain of thought. After few of such conversations, I decided to rent her view of life from the lens of poverty for a couple of hours and…….
“In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of” – Confucius.
In the context of Africa, I do not agree with Confucius. I concur with Tamara. Poverty is the bane of our people, processes, policies and general experience. Poverty is the reason we are badly governed. It is the fundamental cause of our detour as a people away from genuine and organic development. Poverty cooks the corruption barbeque, and greed is just a pinch of salt. To put it into perspective, I will borrow an experience credited to Prof. P.O. Lumumba in Kenya. It reads: “I held 250 town hall meetings. I articulated solutions to our problems in my constituency. My opponent did not campaign at all. He gathered money and showed up one day to elections. He distributed money and won. Africans are not moved by ideas, their stomach leads”.
Poverty is the reason we care without giving. It is the reason we are pissed but act like we are not; it also explains why we behave like we have forgotten the pains we remember.
Poverty is defined as the state of lack of financial resources to cater for the basics of life; but believe me, this definition is criminal because it violates the principles of full disclosure. Poverty as I discovered after a deeper study is much more. It is now a weapon, especially within Africa. A minute powerful few have weaponized poverty for the attainment of their individual and collective objectives; this explains why the numerous efforts of the international communities and series of “Poverty Alleviation Programmes” have not yielded anything celebratory.
Poverty is a convoluted problem which the World Bank defines as ‘living on less than $1.90 a day, or about $700 per year’, which puts one tenth of the world’s population below the global poverty line. Poverty is not entirely about surveying family income, income disparity, or the need for economic advancement. Poverty defines and alters everything about an individual’s reality.
The numbers are disheartening! According to the United Nations, 1.3 billion people in 104 developing countries, which is approximately 74% of the world’s population, live in multidimensional poverty. About 50% of the 736 million people living in extreme poverty globally live in five countries: India, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, and Bangladesh. Sub-Saharan Africa has both the highest rate of children living in extreme poverty at 49% and the largest fraction of the world’s extremely poor children at 51%.
The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) stipulates various indicators in its Human Development Index (HDI) to gauge poverty in Africa as well as all other countries in the world. This includes: life expectancy at birth, average school attendance period, expected school attendance period, and per capita income. The bulk of the world’s poor have an African address and according to the World Data Lab, over 150 million people living in extreme poverty are from – Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
This kind of data only leaves an African livid and apprehensive especially if you are Nigerian. The rationale for this scale of poverty is sincerely untrue and unfair for the hardworking, dedicated and sincere African. Available data states that the grave poverty in Africa is caused by: rapid population growth, war and conflict, and climatic conditions. It is disappointing to note that the crucial contributor was conspicuously omitted. The weaponization of poverty to ensure that generations remain poor and are never lifted out despite the numerous efforts. Policies and initiative that will guarantee life upgrades are never supported because certain interest will blossom when the status quo is maintained. So, education and the capacity for independent critical thought is deliberately stolen; people do not have a mind of their own and so cannot objectively question and challenge every and anything happening around them.
It will be cliché to state that rich countries create unfair trading structures by shielding their markets with high tariffs and massive aids. This decelerates development on the African continent, causing it to suffer from the get go. The governments of the west and other prosperous countries like China contribute to poverty in Africa with their policies and trade terms. What is most appalling is the fact that we Africans have joined in the foray forgetting that the larger population of those at the borderline of deprivation and annihilation are Africans. This reality explains why poverty speaks to Africa soul to soul. Only a vulture rejoices to prey on dead bodies. Anyone in advantaged position benefitting from the weaponized poverty in Africa is nothing but a vulture.
So how do we preach salvation to the lepers in the head of Africa?
If we are to have any form of self-worth which is becoming a luxury in Africa, then the elimination of extreme poverty must be the bedrock of any comprehensive development strategy for Africa, irrespective of the stakeholders developing the blueprint. Individually and collectively, the only way to be immune to the “weaponized poverty” is to be kitted in education, discipline and skills.
Education in this context is the broadening of the mind to objectively assess situations and not exclusively the four walls of formal education. Discipline because delayed gratification will make us all richer; you don’t have to drive a Mercedes Benz today because you want to are all your peers already do. Condition your mind to recognize the appropriateness of time because for everything there is a season; before a child runs, it must first walk. Skills are crucial because we must add value to the general basket. Learn something or upgrade on the skill you already have. Most of all, acquire the skill of harnessing and leveraging on relationships because we can hardly achieve much alone.