The word “poverty” originates from the Latin word “pauper” meaning “poor”, which has its roots in the terms pau- and -pario, meaning “little” and “birth”, respectively, referring to unproductive livestock and farmland. The land on the African continent is certainly not barren, and neither is its livestock. Mansa Musa, the richest man in history, was an African. The continent itself is vast, lush and full of life and riches such as ivory, gold, rubber, timber, diamond, copper, uranium and coffee, and its people and cultures are as diverse and unending as its resources. Yet, its inhabitants are the “poorest”. This is the great paradox of poverty on the motherland.
Today, the Oxford English Dictionary defines poverty as “the state of being extremely poor.” Upon closer examination, one can discern that the definition given by an English lexicon alone does not suffice in capturing the complexities of poverty or in fully elucidating its meaning. As of October 2015, the World Bank defines poverty as having a personal income of below $1.90 a day. However when one seeks to analyse or understand the causes of poverty and its problems; one must look beyond personal income or a single definition for poverty.
When we rely on a single number to measure poverty, we may misdiagnose the needs of the poor, often exacerbating already existing difficulties, such as corruption and inequality in wealth distribution or perhaps even introduce new problems.
“Where there is no wealth there is no poverty” – an African proverb
For far too long, facile measurements such as the $1.90 a day guideline have led us astray in trying to eradicate poverty and its extensions, such as hunger, disease and homelessness. A more sustainable and ethical approach to healing the suppurating wounds of poverty is consulting with those who are in need — before the delivery of “wealth” in the form of aid packages or the construction of amenities. In this way, the likelihood of the destitute reaping the benefits of assistance is increased as it will be tailored to them and their specific needs, as opposed to general ideas that might work well elsewhere in the world or ideas which have served in the past. This lack of continuity occurs because poverty is a word with a multitude of definitions. In the words of the World Bank, “Poverty is hunger. Poverty is a lack of shelter. Poverty is being sick and not being able to see a doctor. Poverty is losing a child to an illness brought about by unclean water. Poverty is powerlessness, lack of representation and freedom”.
All of the aspects of poverty mentioned above have causes that are specific to each region. Poverty in Africa is mainly rooted in poor land utilisation and land tenure systems, civil wars and unending political conflicts, corruption and inept governance, non-existent or crumbling infrastructure, diseases and substandard health facilities, heedless policies implemented by global institutions, the lasting effects of colonisation and most importantly the lack of education and empowerment of women. An educated mother will teach her children and thus educate society.
Now, to the question which has probably been looming in your thoughts: Can we eradicate poverty in Africa? The answer is that we are doing so, but not entirely.
Ever since the adoption of the Millennium development goals in the year 2000, which are the most significant thing no-one has heard of, the number of people on the planet living below the previous poverty line figure of $1.25 a day, has almost been halved. But progress has varied across the world and the African continent. There are notable discrepancies across, and even within, countries. Within countries, poverty is more prevalent in rural areas (which should not be the case, according to the Latin origins of the word), though urban poverty is also extensive, growing, and under-reported by outdated indicators. A report released in March 2016 by the World Bank claims that there are more poor people today on the African continent than there were in 1990, which is hard to read as anything other than an unambiguous failure for international aid efforts. Sub-Saharan Africa is the only developing region in the world to see an increase in the number of poor people living within its realm.
In conclusion, destitution will remain between sunrise and the Savannah on the African continent in a paradox bound by the sinews of time, until we consult with those who are in need and not arbitrarily try to fix something that does not have a universal definition— before delivering “wealth” in the form of aid packages or constructing amenities. Then we shall heal the suppurating wounds of poverty, and bring forth an Africa that is the envy of every civilisation ever to exist.
Please share on any social media platform below to spread the message!