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.

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Mohammed Elzubeir is a 17-year-old thinker, track athlete, rower and Africa enthusiast, originally Sudanese, born in Botswana and living in South Africa, hoping to one day become a modern day "Ibn Battuta".


41 Comments » for The paradox of poverty in Africa
  1. Gasim Ibrahim Mohamed says:

    Well said

  2. Tarig Elhassan says:

    Great thinking Mohammed. Add to that poverty is poverty of minds which is mainly attributed to high illiteracy rates in Africa specially among women. Some authors and thinkers believe that improving women literacy rates might have multiplier effects in improving livilihoods of households and obviously communities. Great if you can think along that line , too.
    Congratulations “Ibn Battuta”

  3. Ali kamal says:

    Well done mohamed
    Nice article

  4. Mohammed abdallah says:

    Good ideas for povery in Africa corruption is a big issue

  5. This is truly an excellent work and obviously a great effort has been put on it.

    We wish Mohamed the best future and a successful life.

  6. Dumisa says:

    Very enlightening, good read Mohammmed!

  7. Maryam Tariq says:

    nice

  8. Caitlin B says:

    Hey Mohammed,
    I really enjoyed reading your essay it did really get me thinking about the aspects of poverty and difference aspects of it I’m not only in Africa but in other regions of the world. I have a question though, in your essay you said that Africa has significant numbers of poverty, what I want to know is why? Is it because of the economy, government or the environmental factors?
    I really enjoyed how you defined poverty and stated the origins of the word and how you connected inbedded it within your essay.
    Keep it up!

    • Mohammed Elzubeir says:

      Hi! Thank you for your comment.
      Well like I said in the article “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. ” It is a combination of all of these factors in some places, while in others it may only be a combination of two or three.

  9. Dilshan Marasinghe says:

    Wow!! This essay is OUTSTANDING Mohammed! All your points and information are valid and strongly held together in place. I did not spot any grammatical mistakes which is definitely a good thing and as a result, your essay is just… GREAT! Nice work bro 🙂

  10. Hind Ahmed Abdulgadir says:

    Cry our beloved Africa

  11. nada sanhouri says:

    thank you very much for this interesting article. its very touching and expressive. it shows a very highly skilled and talented writer.

  12. Ommustafa says:

    Very important beautiful issue.
    I agree with you. Africa is not poor. Africa is stolen continuously and it’s people are distracted by least important issues.

  13. Safa says:

    “For far too long, facile measurements such as the $1.90 a day guideline have lead 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 ”
    Interesting very true and well said. Well done

  14. Mohammed Elzubeir says:

    Thank you so much for your time.

  15. Sebabatso Madibu says:

    Great Insight. Absolutely loved the topic and the essay is honestly a great read. Very clear that a lot of research was considered, and a lot of thought was placed in the construction of the essay.

  16. Amira Osman says:

    Well done Mohammed Elzubeir – so young yet so wise! Indeed where there is no wealth, there is no poverty”. I look forward to you exploring this topic further and interrogating some of the agencies you quote such as the World Bank and the UN. But for now, a lovely effort that deserves support. I hope you win the prize! #CSRMatters

  17. Fatima says:

    Good job Mohammed..
    ❤️❤️

  18. Ayman Osman says:

    Well done ! All the best

  19. Abdul-karim Elgoni says:

    This is an excellent read.

  20. Ghada Abusin says:

    Excellent analysis of poverty.

  21. Nada Elhag says:

    A great article. Well done Mohammed

  22. Jumana Amir says:

    Wow! This is a beautifully written and extremely thought provoking article. Raising awareness of these issues is the first step in overcoming them. Keep up the good work!

  23. Sosen Ahmed says:

    Excellent article. Very proud of your work and the way you think. I hope that one day you will be one of the people who restore the greatness of our continent.

  24. Dr. Ibrahim Abbasher says:

    Thank you Mohamed, very brilliant topic, wish you full of success,… go ahead with enthusiasm and great creativity… Good luck.
    Dr. Ibrahim Abbasher
    Sligo University Hospital –
    Ireland

  25. Rem says:

    Well done Mohamed, keep the good work.

  26. Aoife Lyster says:

    That was a fantastic read, very engaging and thought provoking. You clearly put time and effort into this and it shows, great work!

    It was very informative and to the point, not dancing around the subject and offering solutions. Very well written 🙂

  27. Leigh says:

    Outstanding essay!???? Great to see your opinions on this matter! Keep up the great work! Would love to read more!????

  28. Ria Tyagi says:

    great work Mohamed!!
    you have excellent writing skills..

    • Ali Shahir says:

      Ali Shahir
      This is a commendable effort.
      It is instructive to borrow the following quote from a book titled: Why Nations fall: the Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty by Turkish-American economist Daron Acemoglu and British political scientist James A. Robinson, stating that: “One could imagine that many factors have kept sub-Saharan Africa poor — famines, civil wars. But huge aid flows appear to have done little to change the development trajectories of poor countries, particularly in Africa. This is not to do with a vicious circle of poverty, waiting to be broken by foreign money. Poverty is instead created by economic institutions that systematically block the incentives and opportunities of poor people to make things better for themselves, their neighbours and their country”.

  29. Amel Salih says:

    Very proud of our young thinker Mohamed. Good analysis and great writing. Though the MDGs gave us hope we Africans need to have more strategic planning and well thought priorities. I like your relating of poverty and power.Well done!

  30. Johnd40 says:

    Thanks for this article. I’d also like to convey that it can always be hard if you find yourself in school and starting out to initiate a long history of credit. There are many college students who are only trying to live and have long or good credit history can often be a difficult thing to have. gdgddeceaafk

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