African Poverty as a Traditional Phenomenon

Traditional way of living and leadership sub-Saharan Africa

Kingdoms and chiefdoms existing without boundaries, expanding and or being assimilated from time to time one can hardly imagine being in such a survival of the fittest situation. Without national boundaries, pre-colonial sub-Saharan Africa was grounded in a primaeval form of state development. Interterritorial slave raiding and income raiding crippled and inhibited the need for a strong inter-territorial trade. Without a sense of national unity, people became much more interested in protecting themselves and never the economy.

A history of lagging behind

Craftsmanship, unlike in Europe past its feudal age, was never encouraged by the rulers mastering, commanding and manipulating production. Formal education never existed before the coming of Arabs and Europeans. This enclave nature left the sub-Sahara as an alien to modern-day economics. Even though some of the pre-colonial empires as Dahomey and Asante associated with Europe, they never assimilated anything from them as did Japan to start her industrial motion. One is obliged to conclude that both Africans and Europeans played a role for leaving Africa behind. The Europeans were not willing to partition some of their secrets to Africa. It was simple trade relationship; slaves and raw materials in return for European-made worst of the assorted rubbish.i

A history of lagging behind other continents in civilisation, economy and even politics are all inherited trends that keep the sub-Saharan Africa well behind others. A history of colonisation, a ‘weak’ traditional leadership or even religion; can all these keep Africa lagging behind? This debate ends up with three partially answered questions: Do all those long-inherited patterns lead to the endurance of poverty ―― ‘traditional poverty and if so, how’? Is ‘traditional poverty’ a reality or a myth? What is traditional poverty?

What is traditional poverty?

You might have heard the term ‘traditional poverty’ anywhere, but here it may mean something different. Here, every inherited pattern of intellection and action that plays a part in building up ethics, socioeconomic conduct and deters or encourages the development and potency of the modern economy is traditional. If that ‘traditionalism’, affecting these three above mentioned, apprehend and grasp most for deterring the economy, poverty reigns. This discussion seeks to identify how traditionalism ― all mentioned in paragraphs above ─has, over the entire postcolonial epoch, negatively affected the African economy.

African socialism: A traditional principle

Socialism was an irresistible force everywhere. In Europe, the Soviet Empire grabbed most of the Slav nations and other former Nazi spheres of influence.

Whether socialism affected negatively or positively the development of African nations still remains a question. What is clear is it bred dictatorial regimes. It fought for its existence and in so doing it exposed itself into an inevitable altercation with the Western world and that ruined its potency politically and socially. From the past economic performance, Africa would have been better if socialism and the Soviet empire (granted the coming of independence without it) had never existed. Africa welcomed it because it presented itself almost like the pre-colonial traditional leadership.

The modern economy is a soft baby, supposed to be in the womb, out of her mother’s uterus and she needs a special nursing facility. A womb like complex-composite structure to accommodate her growth is by all means necessary. But, first, policy makers should not try to address income differences because that’s an intrinsic colour of a growing and young economy. Policy modification, political and economic freedom will ensure the reduction of these differences. Thus, socialism came with this as a prime objective, somewhat different to what this post is advocating for. It tried to handgrip rural development by reducing poverty and income inequalities in every circle of the social ladder. All these are necessary. Rural development can destroy pre-colonial ethics, but over the years these remained utopian. Some magical twists will follow; education, low birth rates, easy access to services and food security. But the question remains; how can that be, if, in fact, the form of political structure was a revival of traditional governance. African socialism did not work as foretold by its patrons in Africa and that form of leadership will never. Tanzania is a perfect case. Ruling a shaky Africa, Nyerere and his elites-men transformed themselves into being dictators and thousand were suppressed. A concealed backslash; income inequality remained high.

If Equatorial Guinea had decided to accept democracy(as defined by an African), income gains could have been fair. With a smaller population of less than a million the country stands as one of the richest African nation. Being a third oil producer with a diversified economy Equatorial Guinea has a smaller economy to save. Equatorial Guinea possesses a higher income per capita in Africa but some are living in extreme poverty. Agreed, what is inhibiting income equality is the lack of semi-liberal economy. Every economy that kicked off with socialism and demagogy has the same defect. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer. Many have agreed that democracy does not affect the economic growth. That remains true. But it affects the quality of living, income inequality remains a problem. As one move, deeper into the Equatorial Guinea poverty is still a phenomenon.

The same African socialism, as they (leaders) convinced their followers, was built through adopting traditional pre-colonial principles. Kings reigned, lived in ‘harmony with the people’ and a spirit of oneness in various kingdoms existed. Somehow, it was only the external influence that ‘jammed this solidary’ form of living. This was simply a traditionally constructed prevarication. Africa would have been better if she had accepted a democracy jammed private capitalism from the end of colonisation. The rise of Botswana remains a case study and affirm this view. However, the rise has accelerated better because of a lower population; enough to gear up the development and almost equal to the resources available.

Lack of decentralised leadership inhibited the state gains from infiltrating into the hands of many. Such a trend developed again in post-colonial Africa. It was attested by African socialism the patron of a dictatorial rule which claimed to follow traditional forms of African leadership. This was an economic scourge post-colonial Ghana and Tanzania inter alia witnessed. A few countries like Botswana managed to escape this and followed private capitalism, jammed with democracy, and prospered. Concisely, it has become a clear realisation that African socialism was built by gluttony and a massive desire for centralised leadership which the pre-colonial societies lived in. Political centralisation and the lack of political freedom meant the same in the economy. Corruption and transparency were left with none to check them.

Islam and development

Religion shapes development, in often times, more than politics does. A Catholic pope may control a billion of people whilst President Trump does not. Believe me! Islam shaped and it is still shaping the development process of the Northern Africa.

Islamic banking institutions proved to be unassailable than the western ones. Providing special loans devoid of interests plus a lot more― some of the intrinsic positive features of Islam one should not deny. It is that type of banking that can sustain instead of ruining. It plays for both the borrower and the loaner (lender). The borrower can borrow from the loaner or bank without an interest. It is then a duty of a borrower to repay in time and to add some amount from the profits made from the principal investments. Reinforced with ethics, Islam banking is a transparent inflation riddance machine.

However, considering the earlier lead of the Ancient Near East (Egypt not an exception) one can actually agree that the region could have been industrialised well ahead of Europe. The rise of Islam from the 7th century affected the industrial potency of this region, negatively.  Islam does not allow for a complete emancipation of women (women are inferior to men, Quran (4:34)). In addition, individuals spend a lot of time, devoted on religious activities. Activism has been bred by some of the Islamic circles. All of these hinders economic development.

It was only after Europe had decided to try scientific explanations of many aspects of life that the course of her history changed. Christianity once controlled the modes of production in Europe― charging a lot of taxes and possessing a more than 20% of the land. Many Europeans, during this age, were inconspicuous, blinded for years. They failed to perceive, for a long time, that religion stood as an obstacle to the development of humankind and the economy. Europe’s transition into a scientific age changed everything. Thus, this transition has remained a standing example of how religion hinders economic growth.

Ideological aspects incorporating education, didactics and the predefined social settings affect the availability, the existence and the nature of human capital. If 18% (Saudi Arabia 2016) of the total workforce are women because they are only ‘inferior’ to their male counterparts development is practically impossible. In Saudi Arabia, this is still a case, with some surveys trying to accept this reality. Egypt can have a higher number of women workers when compared to Saudi Arabia, but the effect is one: it hinders the human capital available and increases the dependency load. Unlike Japan, this dependency load is not as a result of an ageing population. Most individuals available are capable of aiding the economic development, but they are ideologically hampered. They cannot contribute anything.

The Economic machine can only be moved in three parts, the human capital, the pecuniary capital and the natural capital. If one of these is deformed or a bit sluggish the economic vehicle will limp. There is a trio-tier, inhibiting the human capital in toto– men and women (the deficiency of emancipation, activism and religious devotions). It has become impossible to address the problems of this trio-structure if most people living in the Islamic countries barely consider it as a problem or a blockage. Apparently, the emancipation of women has been comprehended with mixed senses. Some married women even think it is rightful to be beaten or harassed by their husbands. Some religious bands oppose emancipation.

Emancipation of women still remains a problem in the sub-Saharan Africa.

i Walter Rodney, “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa”, Bogle-L’Ouverture Publications.

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