With approximately 70% of its inhabitants living below the poverty line, Africa is incontrovertibly the leader in global poverty. But that is not where the problem lies. Both the World Bank and several other reputable economic and statistical organizations estimate that the continent’s growth rate of poverty has declined impressively in the past decade. Although the fast-paced growth of the population appears to mask this cheering development, the continent’s key challenge is to wriggle out of an intricate web of misleading ideologies and outright deprivation of economic control and escape from poverty by the West. Despite the encouraging efforts by the continent to walk out of poverty, these constraining factors may still ensure that it consistently misses those target aspirations.
Again, regardless of the statistics that indirectly show the continent in poverty mire, its prosperity prospects remain high if its economic diplomacy discourages the misleading ideologies providing fertile grounds for poverty. Before the slave trade and colonialism, Africa blossomed in the production of agricultural commodities. Trade routes through North Africa to Europe provided the heartbeat of entrepreneurial exploits on the continent before the ravaging consequences of the slave trade. The strategic economic emasculation of the continent through centuries of slave exploitation reached its high-points in colonialism. The latter eventually created a political structure for runaway exploitation and its underdevelopment. Subsequent country-exploiting ideologies and devastating economic reforms such as structural adjustment programs quickly had their way on the continent.
Many analysts believe that Africa is in a poverty trap. To the extent that the continent faces high costs of transacting, poor delivery of entrepreneurship-enhancing public goods, defective governance structures and processes and the near absence of highly effective pro-market policies may lend some credence to that assertion. But the positive transformations of some countries in other regions of the world, such as China, Singapore and Malaysia with somewhat similar experiences as most constituent countries in Africa, amply show that it is possible to lift hundreds of millions of Africans out of poverty. In 2019, the government of Nigeria launched a ten-year program to lift about 100 million Nigerians out of poverty. However, a common thread in the experiences of most of these exemplary countries is their ideological independence and economic diplomacy that does not tie their fortunes umbilically to the Western world. In summary, those countries strive to negotiate the terms of their economic relationships with the rest of the world in ways that do not make them vulnerable. And until the leadership of the continent of Africa adopts this style of engagement, we may as well reassure ourselves that we are comfortable in the poverty trap.
As already mentioned, Africa has never always been poor. It is a continent that has suffered destructive economic rape for several centuries. Unarguably, of all the economic regions of the world, Africa appears to possess the most natural bounties. Several archives and historical documentation show that Africa was better fed than the rest of the world before the slave trade and colonialism. The tremendous natural endowments of the continent underscored the many centuries of successful trade relationships between empires and nations within ancient Africa with the rest of the world through the various trade routes that connected sub-Saharan Africa with Europe. African soil yielded food in abundance.
Similarly, based on a combination of cultural and weather, Africans had houses that met their shelter needs. Some writers showed that the quality of African shelter and clothing about the sixteenth century compared favourably with that of their European counterparts of that time. The prosperity of the continent supported the economic activities and governments of several empires and kingdoms across its length and breadth.
It was the slave trade that first psychologically defeated the Africans in the eyes of the rest of the world. It wrecked its abundant human force and depleted the capacity of the continent to produce for export through North Africa to Europe. Through the slave trade, the production capacity moved to the plantations in the Americas rather than in Africa. The slave trade gave way to colonialism. Through the forced imposition of government, they hijacked the freedom of the continent in totality. They offered room for the establishment of alien governance structures for the seamless economic exploitation of the continent. The channels of this rape included ideological mind manipulation through Western-style education that provided minimal incentives for concrete creative output. There was also the erection of puppet leaders primarily instituted to do the bidding of their foreign country Masters.
Extreme poverty usually manifests in begging. Most African cultures consider begging to be repulsive and inconsistent with their innate entrepreneurship and natural resource abundance. We imported hunger and begging in Africa. Some analysts believe that in Nigeria, for instance, it was through the corruption of some Islamic religious observances. Almajiris symbolize this thinking. Again, because of the Islamic religious punishments for unacceptable behaviour such as amputation, several adherents who received such sentences became disabled and turned to professional begging. Typical African cultural settings have social safety networks where family, friends and extended relations support those who are incapable of fending for themselves.
Unfortunately, poverty, through most of the already mentioned doorways, has come to live in Africa. Neutralizing it can only take place through conscious prosperity creating actions and not by the so-called eradication program promoted by the United Nations and its sister agencies. Enabling 70% of Africans to earn $1.25 per day does not amount to their liberation from the strings of poverty. If the income of most of the 70% lies within plus or minus 15% of $1.25, they still cannot mobilize substantial resources for prosperity creating investments in capital resources. A horde of human beings who can only feed themselves are still considerably wretched. The first two sustainable development goals seem to address the questions of poverty, with its eyes focused primarily on Africa and, to a lesser extent, Asia. Since the long run focus of the sustainable development goals is for a cleaner environment majorly for the developed countries of the world, eliminating the pollutions of poverty is critical for its realization. The thinking is that while the developed countries of the world are cutting down on their carbon emission, Africa, which emits only an insignificant fraction, also needs to cut down on its environmental pollution primarily driven by its poverty. Therefore the intention of the SDG appears to be more in line with making fewer people on the continent vulnerable to hunger and starvation, but not necessarily to create hundreds of millions of prosperous and buoyantly flourishing Africans. Poverty eradication and the elimination of starvation and hunger are not necessarily consistent with increased prosperity and well-being.
The unequal and to some extent exploitative economic relationship between the continent and most of the developed countries of the world begs for the question of whether the intention is to support the continent to prosper abundantly. The ideological premises of the trade relationship with Africa perpetuate an unfavourable and inequitable relationship that frustrates the continent’s ability to escape poverty. The comparative advantage theory is one such mind-manipulating theoretical narrative that only makes Africa worse off. The poverty and hunger eradication goals of the SDG are therefore everything but what it claims to achieve. We do not achieve escape from poverty and hunger when economic agents meet the minimum income thresholds that afford them the ability for essential feeding. Besides the ability to feed oneself, is the demand for adequate shelter, suitable clothing, and access to crucial medicare. It is the combination of these abilities determined only in terms of income that an escape from poverty makes sense. The efforts required to escape from poverty is one that is only consistent with expansions in prosperity growth. Therefore, much of the promoted poverty eradication programs are initiatives that counterintuitively help in the perpetuation of economic vulnerability. Poverty is substantially sustained in the absence of capacity for surplus income beyond necessary feeding.
Trade liberalization narratives are no different. The reason is that it stands on foundations that engender unequal trade relationships. By removing barriers and situating economic and trade activities on the comparative advantage principles, global trade will only continue to benefit the developed and industrialized countries with more access to international finance. It turns the continent into dumping grounds for the industrial manufactures of foreign countries without reciprocal opportunities for the export of price inelastic commodities from the continent. It strengthens the disincentives for African countries to develop their capacities for industrial production. Africa will remain disadvantaged unless it rejects some of these faulty foundations, which do not augur well for its development. It is in the same light that most of the financial aid from foreign countries only helps in further emasculating the continent from developing its capabilities. A continent that considerably depends on aid will, like the beggar, have no choice. Economic and financial aid to Africa is, therefore, a way of silencing the independence of the continent to make their own choices. As they say, he who pays the piper dictates the tune.
Poverty does not vanish through its appeasement. Programs with the overarching aim of affording people their daily meals and less on how they can consistently create prosperity and well-being for themselves only appeases poverty. The antidote to poverty is to sew the seeds that yield prosperity consciously. It is the conscious propagation of well-being. Consistently enhanced capacity for more income far above the requirements for daily feeding, adequate shelter, suitable clothing and management of health is an authentic transition from poverty and a tendency to prosperity. If this capacity exists for a reasonable percentage of a continent’s population, then genuine eradication of poverty occurs. That is the reason the first and second SDG’s need an amendment to reflect prosperity creation, rather than the elimination of hunger and poverty. Such purported eliminations that lack severe entrepreneurship bites only gives politicians the numbers and other statistics to use in explaining their relevance in offices.