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Menings | Opinion > SeminaarKamer | Seminar Room > English > Essays

Poor Africa!

Jameson Maluleke - 2007-10-03

It is intriguing that nearly all analysts and commentators who are bold enough to tackle the titanic question, Why is Africa still poor?, have the same findings: slavery, colonisation, corruption by despotic leaders, civil wars, refugees, self-genocide, coups, terrorism, draught, starvation … the list is never ending.

While I have no qualms about the veracity of the findings, in that they can be tested, the repetition, similarity and simplicity which characterise the findings belittle the problem of poverty in Africa. They are also devoid of substance in that they are constantly tossed around as an absolute truth, and as a result, they are banal and make a boring read. To claim that Africa is poor because of slavery and colonisation was true say about a century ago; today the claim has passed its sell-by date. The harping on the same approach tempts one to think that the multitude of analysts and commentators claiming to be well versed in the study of Africa have not even bothered to travel the width and breadth of Africa, more so because most of their findings do not offer solutions to the problem.

Again, traditional research tends to be a bit biased in its investigation of Africa's poverty in that it concentrates more on the rich and the powerful as the only people who impoverish Africa, thus turning a blind eye to the common people. For a long time now we ordinary Africans have tended to stand behind some of our leaders, thus shifting the blame of our own misery to other people.

It is against this background that I would argue that although we ordinary Africans are the face of poverty by virtue of our victimhood, we are actually the main perpetrators of poverty.

These contradictions notwithstanding, we must admit that over the years, true and committed scholars have grappled with the above questions and their extensive research has yielded academic volumes of findings. Academics like Meredith (2005), Sachs (2005) and hosts of others are authorities in this field. However, their findings are by no means complete, as Africa's woes are quite complex.

Those of us who are still interested in finding out why Africa is still poor, but have no means to travel all over Africa to assess the extent of poverty, should contemplate doing a limited study in our own villages and towns rather than try to wrestle with a leviathan. What this means is that people should start investigating the extent of poverty where they live first before they cast their eyes on their district, province or the country, not to mention the whole continent. I am convinced that turning the angle of their focus on themselves and on their immediate surroundings will produce genuine, scholarly results.

Why does grinding poverty continue to torment Mother Africa to this day? Why is Mama Africa the only continent on this planet referred to as the "Basket Case" despite her being super rich in natural resources?

A woman is doing a roaring business selling cutlery, shawls, bed sheets, towels and bags embossed with a trade mark of South Africa's biggest international airport on them. Asked where she bought them, the proud merchant says her husband dislikes working for a company that does not provide spoils for its poor employees. Unlike uncaring companies, the airport is kind to its staff members, her husband in particular.

Why is Africa still poor? A post at a national government department is still vacant because one of the top directors there is still waiting for his grade 8 son to pass his Senior Certificate Examinations in two years' time to come and fill it.

An MEC uses her weight and authority to install her school drop-out son as a managing director in a provincial department at the expense of one of thousands of deserving job applicants.

Why is Africa so poor? Chronically ill patients have neither enough medication nor bed sheets and towels at a provincial hospital because some hospitals workers have opened private surgeries in their houses to treat their own patients using the hospital's medication for the aged and infirm. Hospital superintendents have hired security firms to monitor the staff members, but staff members carrying the loot buy their way out at the security gates.

A young woman killed herself after waiting almost three years for her identity document because a clumsy, lazy and shortsighted official at the Department of Home Affairs office, who works under the kind and loving supervision of his elder brother, neglected to post the identity document to the woman in time.

For the past six months a new employee has been handing over his whole salary to a supervisor because the supervisor was instrumental in securing him a job in the company. Since hundreds of his colleagues have similarly paid for their jobs for six months rather than go through nauseating job interviews, what is all the fuss about?

Why is Africa still poor? A lone sexually abused woman gropes her way the dark to report the incident at the local police station. She is locked in one of the single cells and raped again by wicked men who had keys and access to the cell.

A serial murderer, rapist and child molester is released from prison after spending only three weeks there. Why? There is not enough evidence to convict him. And his file has been reported missing anyway.

Volunteers and patriotic South Africans are invited to clean grime and slime flowing from public toilets to prevent health hazard. The human rights consortiums complain that the invitation is basically a violation of people's rights to be free.

Why is Africa still poor? Thousands of teachers leave more than 12 million learners in the lurch to participate in a general strike for a living wage. When the national pass rate declines to 50 percent or less there is always a scapegoat to bear the blame. You've guessed right: apartheid!

The wrongs that are contributing to Africa's decadence are not caused by the fighting in the Great Lakes area alone, but also by many of us in our own homes, villages, towns and cities. And of course, the above incidents are insignificant compared with Africa's poverty, which is as hulking as Mt Kilimanjaro, and as wide and long as the Nile. The message sent
by these incidents will hopefully force even the gullible to realise that all is not well in the whole of Africa.

Why South Africa in the first place? Well, if a peaceful, progressive country such as South Africa fails to protect its citizens or look after the infirm, what would you expect from Zimbabwe or Somalia? Let us not forget that South Africa still wears the mantle of a leader of all Africa, so its failure means the failure of almost the whole continent.

Again, if thousands of students drop out or fail to pass their Senior Certificate Examination in South Africa alone, the nation and even Africa at large would be composed of imbeciles who cannot even feed or clothe themselves, let alone produce food or manufacture goods. And this would be a recurring problem in that an imbecile has never raised refined or cultured children. Young men and women who would be tomorrow's leaders would be forced to rely on NGOs to feed, clothe and shelter them. The absence of schooled young men and women is certain to perpetuate poverty and to promote stupidity rather than intellectualism in all Africa. We will be ruled by stupid governors who will automatically become oppressors and greedy since they would have no vision or insight.

Leaders, be they life presidents, military commanders or university professors, are born in a community. Their action, behaviour and mindset reflect the community or the society they come from. The whole society should lead clean lives to prevent our leaders from being corrupt, cruel, wicked, greedy, selfish and haughty.

Africans, particularly teachers, must understand that they have the moral responsibility to mould and consolidate tomorrow's leaders. Wikipedia describes moral responsibility as "primarily the responsibility related to actions and their consequences in social relations. It generally concerns the harm caused to an individual, a group or the entire society by the
actions or inactions of another individual, group or entire society. This is the mechanism by which blame can be placed, and influences many important social constructs, such as prosecution under the legal system."

It is this moral responsibility which would make people (shall I call them nation builders) understand that by being greedy and selfish we all contribute greatly to poverty in Africa. The continent will become rich only when people start becoming responsible and accountable.

The whole issue is clear. No amount of money or sympathy will ever enrich Africa as long as we Africans still refuse to be masters of our own destiny. We have ourselves to pull ourselves out of the pigsty. The goal is to be on a par with the industrialised first-world countries like the US, Europe, Russia and China.


Meredith, Martin. 2005. The Fate of Africa: From the Hopes of Freedom to the Heart of Despair. HarperCollins, Canada / Public Affairs (June 23, 2005)

Sachs, Jeffrey. 2005. The End of Poverty: How we can make it happen in our lifetime? Penguin Publishers, New York.