African Poverty…just why?

Under the gazing minarets of the Fagikunda mosque and just a stones throw from Sainey Njie street lies the Hyde park Vous. No most of the chapped lipped, ashy looking high school students gathering at this location after a day of hard knocks at school have never been anywhere remotely close to London’s Hyde Park. Indeed we’ve never been anywhere outside the Gambia. Adorned by two home made wooden benches and a charcoal pot for the occasional “attaya”, we symbolize the African child. A slogan painted on the wall reads: NO CONDITION IS PERMANENT. Yup any metaphor hunting individual who has ever grace the continent of Africa will tell you that this slogan is written all over the place. The youngsters sitting and dreaming of changing conditions in my vous are grown men today, scattered all over the world in search of greener pasture and fulfilling at least for the families we left behind a dream that indeed no condition is permanent and in most of our cases those conditions were that of abject poverty in years yonder. Unfortunately this is not true for most of our brethren.

It is true that no condition is permanent, but some are recurring, especially when it comes to Africa. Tyranny every where you look on the continent, famine in Niger, a constitutional coup leading to hereditary rule in Togo, rampant corruption in the Gambia where the president gets loans from Allah’s bank, Aids epidemic ravaging communities, genocide in Darfur—All of these can be a byline to a news report emanating from Africa in the past twelve months. Recurring indeed . And what is so maddening is the extent to which African states have suffered so many of the same misfortunes since independence. It is hard to imagine now, but at the dawn of the African independence from colonial rule, much of the continent was no worse off than what has come to be known the “Asian Tigers”. While Asian nations transformed themselves into economic powerhouses, African economies went south. While life and the pursuit of happiness thrive in most of Asia, Africans are getting poorer, living shorter, hungrier lives.

How can one continent be mired in so much wretchedness? It is an indisputable fact that most Africans are abjectly poor and are governed by corrupt and capricious regimes. Therefore the dispute is generally about causes and consequences. One school of thought ( it’s poverty stupid) argues that African governments are so lousy precisely because their countries are so poor. The other school of thought (the good governance crowd) takes the opposite view that indeed it is the governments that are holding the people down. The arguments may sound like old cliché, but for the billions of dollars, and millions of lives that are at stake.

The poverty school of thought have made some in roads in appealing to the conscience of western donor countries to increase aid and forgive the unbearable debt burden that enslave African economies. This is a welcome gesture. But for all intents and purpose I count myself amongst the good governance crowd. However, the fundamental question confronting us is whether the western world have the will power to alleviate a continent’s suffering, or if, for all their good intentions, Africans are really on their own. Call me crazy but I believe in the latter.

Taking into account Africa’s geographical and historical handicaps, the main obstacle to progress on the continent is mainly political. The poverty school of thought raised some salient points about the terrible drought that afflicted most of Africa, dwindling the crop yield and thereby exacerbating an already nutritional nightmare. Granted this is a problem, but at the core of Africa’s issues is the failure of African leaders to provide effective government. With good governance prevailing most of this nations can get fed by utilizing large scale industrial farming using private capital as was the case in Zimbabwe before the tyrannical Mugabe turn it into a basket case.

Humankind living in a fairly free system has the potential to fend for themselves and Africans cannot be an exception to this rule. No it is not a rule I am making up. It is happening as I write. The tech havens spreading all over Asia are a great example of how far ingenuity will take a people. So why is Africa so poor then? The answer I believe is misrule and it’s ugly side kick corruption. Misrule and corruption aren’t just part of Africa’s problems, they are the problem. When government ministers loot social programs, it exacerbates poverty, disease and illiteracy. When customs agents demand bribes for allowing trucks to cross borders, it increases shipping costs, and hence the prices poor consumers pay. When rulers distribute jobs and contracts to their own tribal kin, it deepens ethnic divisions.

To tackle poverty without first reducing if not totally eradicating misrule and graft as the poverty school of thought proponents are suggesting will not wash. The aid money will end up were they usually do…in some African dictators swiss bank account.


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