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 and its effects.

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.


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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