Friday Sermon: Chronicles of Poverty: The Black Man’s Burden


By Babatunde Jose

Woe to the rulers! And woe to the chiefs! And woe to the trustees! Some people will wish on the Day of Resurrection that their hair was hanging from the sky and swinging between heaven and earth rather than to have done what they did.”  –  Holy Prophet Muhammad.


Africa is a development challenged continent. Its name evokes that of a people wallowing in poverty, famine, wars, underdevelopment and hunger. This is because Africa has been unable to translate its vast opportunities into wealth creation and poverty alleviation. Africa is the home of poverty and its intractable problems spell doom for its people.

Despite worldwide focus on Africa and its problems, Africa has remained poor, in comparison with other parts of the world. To a very large extent, Africa’s problems have defied explanation. 

Looked at from this perspective, Africa has been the laboratory of economic development theorists. Various development models have been tried; some with limited success and most with woeful failure, sometimes exacerbating the problems they set out to solve.  At other times, foreign aid has been looked upon as a panacea, but it too has been found to be insufficient. At other times its problems have been blamed on bad governance. This, however, misses the point as some well governed African countries still remain very poor: To all intents and purposes, poverty has remained ‘the Black man’s burden’.

There is no gainsaying the fact that Africa, particularly Black Africa is a badly managed society. Compared to other societies, we find no comparison to the misfortune peoples of Africa have been subjected to. People were once transported and exiled to Australia from England and today, they have created a prosperous society for themselves; ditto for the Protestants that first sailed to America on the Mayflower; they have today created the world’s most prosperous society. China was once synonymous with overpopulation and poverty; today it is the industrial kitchen of the world, turning out HP computers, iPhones, BMWs and Range Rovers.

Recently Nigeria and some other African countries were said to have come out of recession; unfortunately, her people are still in recession; they have always been in recession, but for a small percentage of the people who operate in the real economy: Majority of Africans would remain poor. They live in countries that are experiencing growth without development of the human elements. As the economies of these countries are presumed to be growing, the lot of their people continue to deteriorate.

Africa remains the only people whose lives are synonymous with poverty in modern times. One poor African once said: “I know poverty because poverty was there before I was born and it has become part of life like the blood through my veins. Poverty is not going empty for a single day and getting something to eat the next day. Poverty is going empty with no hope for the future. Poverty is getting nobody to feel your pain and poverty is when your dreams go in vain because nobody is there to help you. Poverty is watching your mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters die in pain and in sorrow just because they couldn’t get something to eat. Poverty is hearing your grandmothers and grandfathers cry out to death to come take them because they are tired of this world. Poverty is watching your own children and grandchildren die in your arms but there is nothing you can do. Poverty is watching your children and grandchildren share tears in their deepest sleep. Poverty is suffering from HIV/AIDS and dying a shameful death but nobody seems to care”.  ”Poverty is when you hide your face and wish nobody could see you just because you feel less than a human being. Poverty is when you dream of bread and fish you never see in the day light. Poverty is when people accuse you and persecutes you for no fault of yours? Poverty is when the hopes of your fathers and grandfathers just vanish within a blink of an eye.  I know poverty and I know poverty just like I know my father’s name. Poverty never sleeps. Poverty works all day and night. Poverty never takes a holiday”   (One Poor African)

Fast cars, Luxury yachts, diners in trendy beach-side, enjoying the gentle ocean breeze; the African capital cities are illusions of prosperity. Numbers of multimillionaires in Africa are predicted to rise by 59% in the next 10 years — the highest growth of any region in the world. Many have dubbed this reversal in fortunes “Africa Rising,” a term encapsulating the continent’s jubilant ascent to prosperity after decades of post-colonial strife and sluggish growth. But this story ‘Africa Rising’ is a false hope for the millions of the poor whose lives remain unaffected by the growth taking place around them.

A startling number of people still live in abject poverty. Almost one out of every two Africans survives on $1.25 a day or less and the continent hosts six out of 10 of the world’s most unequal countries. Africa’s population is projected to triple to 1.25 billion by 2050, but youth prospects remain dire across the board. The ‘army of disguised unemployed youths who roam our highways selling all manners of goods, are epitome of our ‘pure water’ economy. But they also form a reserved army for a future uprising. In Nigeria, the continent’s largest economy, the majority of young people get by on less than $2 a day. At current exchange rate, our minimum wage earners on N18,000 a month  survive on $1.7 a day: Automatically living below the poverty line!

Africa’s growth statistics measure only those who are active participants in the economy, leaving out the marginalized masses who often find themselves in sporadic, informal employment. Africa has a political problem that must first be addressed -equitable distribution of national resources: Who presides over this equitable distribution? Our thieving leaders. Simon Kolawole, in his column in ThisDay newspaper, had this to say: “It may need reminding that most of the countries we call “developed” today were built through competent and patriotic leadership. . . . .  In fact, Singapore, we all know, ran a dictatorship. South Korea was developed essentially by military governments. Nigerians, irrespective of their ethnic, regional and religious backgrounds — are afflicted with poverty, viciously denied the basics of life by those they call their leaders. . . . . As long as the constant factor of inept and unpatriotic leadership stays in the mix, we will remain underdeveloped. . . . . . I am confident that one day, we would come to agree, even if grudgingly, that the biggest set-back for Nigeria, (nay Africa), is the quality of leadership at different levels.”

Barka Juma’at and Happy weekend.


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