Friday Sermon: The Forgotten

By Bababtunde Jose

They are the unaccounted for, the ones left behind; forsaken and ditched by society, hewers of wood and drawers of water; ‘the wretched of the earth’. They seek a living, not from the leftover but from the waste dumps and dustbins of life. They are dirty, unkempt; spiritually and physically naked. They are perpetually sick and diseased. Without means of livelihood and unemployable, sometimes even as common labourers. The dredge of societies, who merely exists but are not living, existing on the periphery of death, they live and die in obscurity: They are not even accorded decent burial but dumped in unmarked mass graves or left to decompose in sewers and ‘evil forests’; meat for the clarions and vultures. They are ‘the forgotten’; the living dead!

They don’t go to church because they won’t let them in. At the mosque they are barely tolerated. To all intents and purposes, they do not care if God exist. How can they worship a God who has forsaken them and thrown them to the whims and caprice of the world? They know they exist but are not living. The concept of a benevolent God is alien to them. What manner of preaching can you make to people who are perpetually in hunger, want and deprivation? What scripture can fill their empty stomach? Even when they indulge in sexual act, it’s not because they want to procreate. It comes out of a natural urge: The animal instinct. Their women give birth to unwanted children who eventually become a nuisance to society; swelling the army of the forgotten.

Their lives are not captured by statistical data being peddled by economic agencies. They are not worth the pen and ink we use in chalking up these data on poverty. Their birth and deaths are not registered or recorded. Of what meaning is the dollar a day to people who cannot comprehend a Naira a day? They are not part of the national economy. They are victims and collateral damage of a corrupt, unkind and evil society.

Poverty is a ruthless and relentless enemy with an arsenal of weapons: infant mortality, hunger, disease, illiteracy and child labor, among other things. The list of obstacles the poor must overcome seems endless, insurmountable and insuperable.

Facts highlight the devastating effect poverty has on its victims, especially the most vulnerable. How does health impact poverty? Does a lack of education cause poverty, or does poverty create a lack of access to education? And can poor health impact education, too? It gets complicated. Cause and effect can be difficult to pin down. In reality, all of these challenges are intertwined.

Poverty and health are strongly linked. Health problems can plunge people into poverty or keep them from escaping it, and those in poverty are more likely to suffer disease because of lack of treatment.

Everyone knows that education is important, but its role in giving kids a ticket out of poverty is huge! But, who gives education to the children of the ‘forgotten’? Definitely not these rascals we call leaders.

“Get a job!” If only it were that easy. Stable employment is key for escaping poverty. But significant barriers to finding jobs stand in their way.

Not enough food. Not enough of the right vitamins and minerals to be healthy. What is the meaning of vitamins to the forgotten that have nothing to eat and no hope of any food on the table? They do not even have a table to put food on. The how, what, when and where of food disparity is a difficult nut to crack – and even more so when dealing with the forgotten.

Child poverty is a problem of the developing world. Africa, where half of the population is children, is home to the world’s poorest people and least prosperous countries. Conditions there make it hard to escape poverty.

According to World Bank figures, based on the updated poverty line of $1.90 a day, global poverty may have reached 700 million, or 9.6 percent of global population, in 2015. The working poor, who work and live on less than $1.90 a day, accounted for 10 percent of workers worldwide. Sub-Saharan Africa is home to 43 percent of the global poor. Almost three-fifths of the world’s extreme poor are concentrated in just five countries: Bangladesh, China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, India, and Nigeria. Eighty percent of the worldwide poor live in rural areas; 64 percent work in agriculture; 44 percent are 14 years old or younger; and 39 percent have no formal education at all.

Eleven children under age 5 die every minute, and 35 mothers die during childbirth every hour. Every year nearly 45 percent of all under 5 child deaths are among new-born infants, babies in their first 28 days of life or the neonatal period. Three quarters of all new-born deaths occur in the first week of life. Chilling statistics!

In developing countries nearly half of all mothers and newborns do not receive skilled care during and immediately after birth. Up to two thirds of newborn deaths can be prevented if known, effective health measures are provided at birth and during the first week of life. Every day, 800 women die from causes related to pregnancy, childbirth, or postpartum. Here, the forgotten have no access to child care. They deliver at home or with the aid of ‘Iya Abiye’. I have it on record of women who give birth in ‘Maruwa’ and other obscene places. Even animals have better natal care of their new born.

Wahala lies ahead for the poor and not so poor. With the rapid march of technology jobs are being lost and will continue to be lost on a daily, monthly and yearly basis; swelling the army of dispossessed and impoverished. They are the collateral damage of a technological and computer age.

Islamic clerics may repeat the mantra that ‘Islam is the answer’, but religions that lose touch with the technological realities of the day lose their ability even to understand the questions being asked. Asks Yuval Harari, author of Homo Deus: A History of Tomorrow: What will happen to the job market once artificial intelligence outperforms humans in most cognitive tasks? What will be the political impact of a massive new class of economically useless people; People who have lost their jobs to computers and robots. What will happen to relationships, families and pension funds when nanotechnology and regenerative medicine turn eighty into the new fifty? What will happen to human society when biotechnology enables us to have designer babies, and to open unprecedented gaps between rich and poor?

You will not find the answers to any of these questions in the Qur’an or Sharia law, nor in the Bible or in the Confucian Analects, because nobody in the medieval Middle East or in ancient China knew much about computers, genetics or nanotechnology. Islam may promise an anchor of certainty in a world of technological and economic storms – but in order to navigate a storm, you need a map and a rudder rather than just an anchor. Hence, Islam may appeal to people born and raised in its fold, but it has precious little to offer unemployed youths or anxious billionaires alike.

True, hundreds of millions may nevertheless go on believing in Islam, Christianity or Hinduism. But numbers alone don’t count for much in history. History is often shaped by small groups of forward-looking innovators rather than by the backward-looking masses. Can our leaders provide the answers? No Sir! These are people who cannot make projections into the future; 50 to 100 years. All they think about is the NOW. A people who starch billions in currency in sewers and graves in their farms instead of investing such moneys to create employment, cannot make projections into the future. The future is therefore bleak not only for the Forgotten, but also for the not so forgotten.

Barka Juma’at and a happy weekend


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