This article first appeared in my weekly column with the Business Daily on February 4, 2018
I have been reflecting on poverty and several truths have been made self-evident. Some may find what will follow irritating and say it builds the ‘Africa is poor’ narrative. But the truth is that far too many Africans are, in fact, poor. And poverty is ruthless. It is ruthless mentally, psychologically, spiritually and physically. Poverty prevents people from planning and strategising for their life due to overwhelming immediate concerns. Poverty not only kills people physically, it decimates psychologically, spiritually and mentally.
We routinely read about millions living under the poverty line and in reading such figures, poverty makes human life a statistic. Often ‘living under the poverty line’ means knowing that it’s your job to make sure you and your loved ones survive for the day.
Poverty can also make it difficult to tap into the physical potential, as well as intellect and innovation capabilities of millions. Yet many are told that poverty is the fault of the poor. In my view, you cannot be lazy when you are poor. You cannot ‘sleep in’ and have a ‘lazy day’ when there are hungry children in the house. Sick, tired, beaten down, discouraged, millions still wake up to hustle for their family. Then we are told that the poor are lazy. This is not only blatantly false, such thinking brutalises the poor.
Indeed the pervasiveness of such fallacious thinking has created the feeling in many circles that those in poverty are not fully human. Think about it. Many are embarrassed, ashamed and discouraged by always having to ask others for help. We are all complex and proud humans. It is self-important to think this is not the case for the poor.
Perhaps I am preaching to the choir because for many of us Africans, poverty is not a story. In many cases, either we are poor, or we are trying to help our friends and loved ones out of the trap of poverty. Yet as the African middle class narrative gains traction, many say there are Africans making a good living and wonder why such Africans cannot save. Perhaps consider the sheer volume of people many Africans support. Poverty leads to very high dependency ratios and many forgo saving to support loved ones out of difficult situations.
That said, I am encouraged by our grit and strength. We continue to reach out and care for others. We have an ability to be focused, hardworking and untiring despite the odds we face. We have a resolute determination to improve our situation. And improve it we will, not only because that is our collective desire, but because we have no other choice.
Anzetse Were is a development economist; firstname.lastname@example.org