By: Kenneth Nkemnacho, Contributor
A day before putting this article together, I watched a documentary on Russia Today television channel dubbed “Kidney Valley.” On the documentary, it was puzzling to know that there was hardly any household in the Kavre Province in Nepal in which a family member hasn’t sold his or her kidney on the black market. Some sold theirs for between one to two thousand dollars in order to have the money to alleviate certain levels of deprivation, meet certain projects or mainly because of poverty. As I watched with my mouth agape, I wondered why people would take such heinous risk just to make money. In that province, the dire consequences of making bad health decisions are beginning to plague them, as most who sold one of the most essential organs of their bodies are beginning to fall seriously ill. Some of them can’t walk or work because of the poorly conducted procedures when the kidneys were unprofessionally or hurriedly harvested from their bodies. Being identified with that province has become a stigma as most people that are conversant with what transpired see them to be stupid, ignorant or greedy.
Like every other human, I hastily jumped into condemning their actions and pointing out how backward they were in taking such devastating actions. I denounced them from the depth of the unreachable parts of my anatomy; even my remotest psychology couldn’t comprehend how nonsensical they were in putting themselves in harm’s way just to get peanuts that wouldn’t give them a living. As I ranted, I heard that tiny voice of conscience that usually call hyperactive people to order, and in a very calm way, he asked, “Can this happen in Africa?” Like a strayed sheep that instantly regained consciousness, I abruptly paused. “For real,” I asked myself, “can this really happen in Africa?” In my heart of hearts, I knew it was a straight and unequivocal answer. Of course, it is a trillion “it can!” “Why am I convinced that it can happen?” I further probed myself. Another simple answer is POVERTY!
Many people in Sub-Saharan Africa live in either extreme or chronic poverty – extreme poverty is defined as living on $1.25 a day or less; and beyond extreme poverty is chronic poverty. According to research, chronic poverty is when people live on $0.70 per day or less, and many in the continent fall within these demographics. Citing various sources, Borgen Project stated on its website that 75% of the world’s poorest countries are located in Africa, including Zimbabwe, Liberia and Ethiopia. It also stated that based on purchasing power parity, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa’s second largest country was the world’s poorest nation in 2013 with a Gross Domestic Product of $394.25. How far these statistics are true remain to be questionable because another poor side of Africa is documentation – our data are below par because we hardly document information. And because of this, we are left with no alternative but to gulp what the world gives to us.
Besides statistics, poverty is in black and white in Sub-Saharan Africa – it isn’t a secret; it is a fact! It is a fact that, according to the organization Gallup World, in 2013, the 10 countries with the highest proportion of residents living in extreme poverty were from Sub-Saharan Africa. It is a fact that, according Food and Agriculture Organization, in 2010, 239 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa were hungry. It is also a fact that one in three people living in Sub-Saharan Africa are malnourished, and about 589 million people live without electricity. The facts go on and on.
Why is Sub-Saharan Africa so poor? There may be many reasons for this, and I will take a bit of time to analyze some of the factors responsible for our snail-speed movement out of decadence.
I believe that slavery played a major role in Africa’s current predicament. One may argue that slavery started and ended hundreds of years ago, but the truth remains that the impact has stretched on for years and may continue to extend beyond any visible imagination, if we on our own, and with our own hands do not sever ourselves from the catalytic venoms that were injected at the finish line of the devilish trade. When slavery was said to have ended, we were only told to go, but we weren’t made to be free. The tools for freedom were not given to us; we left empty handed, not knowing where we were going. Let me quickly point out that it wasn’t just those that were taken into slavery that were slaves; those that were left behind were more of slaves than those that left. The greatest injustice of slavery was to make those that were taken away believe that they were sold by their own fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters. They weren’t sold; they were forcefully taken away. By lying to those that were taken away, they created an eternal hatred between the generations of those who were forcefully taken and those who escaped being forcefully snatched. Today, our brothers and sisters from the Caribbean, South and North America have hidden animosity against us because they felt we betrayed them. The lie sold to them by the slave masters continue to thrive, and because we don’t know our history, we cannot deny this propaganda. The propaganda thrives and keeps the black skin farther apart from itself; and the wider the gap, the more disjointed we become. No economy grows on dysfunction. You may not believe this, but I must tell you that there is color in growth. As the white skin brings Europe to grow under one umbrella, and as the white skin brings whites to be defended under NATO, so should the black skin wherever he is, come together to grow its economy. Without that unity, slavery will continue to taunt, haunt and hurt.
I choke when I hear some Africans regret gaining independence, as they feel that it would have been better continuing with colonialism. Colonialism bedeviled African growth and was a smart device carefully panned out by its protagonists to steal, rob, and kill the black race. From the beginning to its end, and from its end to the beginning, colonialism represents hardcore exploitation in its entirety; it was a continuation of slavery. The roads, seaports, airports, edifices and other infrastructures that were built in the days of the colonial masters were for the purpose of exploitation. For instance, the railway tracks that were constructed between Kano and Lagos in Nigeria were for the aim of moving groundnuts from Northern Nigeria to Southern Nigeria – the groundnuts were planted in the north and the seaports to move them to Britain were in the south. It was as simple as that! There were no infrastructures to empower the people. The only education they had were the ones required by the colonial masters. These backgrounds contributed to the economic setback of Sub-Saharan Africa.
Just like slavery, when the so called independence was gained by Africa, it was hardly independence. France till date holds the francophone nations in Africa to ransom. Most of the infrastructures in those nations belong to France. So, after independence came cultural and economic imperialism. On our skins, we are Africans, but in our heads, we are confused who we really are because we have been told many times that we are inferior, we are dull brains, we are unable, and we are unequal. Because we have confused identity, it is difficult for us to forge ahead. We have, in our minds believed that the white skin is a symbol of perfection, and the black skin is a representative of mental weakness, meanness, and flakiness. No excuses for economic downturns and poverty, but if the Sub-Saharan Africa is x-rayed, the anthropological consequences of where we’ve been coming from are evidenced in our current status.
One of the greatest ills of imperialism is a confused mindset, and this has become neurodegenerative. Because of our imprisoned mindset, we have become victims of nosocomial mentalities. In our heads, we see the West as heaven and Africa as hell. No one wants to build hell, but those who skewed our thoughts to see in specific ways know that in hell is the flame for branding. So they come to pick the raw materials for heavenly development, and leave us with peanuts that will take us nowhere; we only survive – we don’t live – we weren’t meant to live, but to survive. Our survival is essential because we must keep alive the ingredients for Western development. We see it, we know it, we talk about it, but we do nothing about it. Until we change the way we think, we won’t get out of the brink; the brink that is only a footstep away from the bottomless steep. Aids will not rescue Africa; it only makes us look stupid. Being the ragged beggar will take us nowhere. Our Messiah is within us; it is within our thinking faculty, it is within our better perception of ourselves, it is within understanding the fact that there is no heaven on earth (the West isn’t heaven), it is within knowing that we have the ability to build our continent and make it envy to other hemispheres. It is possible if we have the will; all we need is the will and the gut.
Another turbulent emergence of imperialism is that the West has taught the weak to steal. The godfathers of thievery open the windows of heaven where loots are kept in safe custodies for their intended benefits. Most African leaders have impoverished their own people by stealing from them. If what is stolen is reinvested where it is stolen, it wouldn’t be justifiable, but at least saner. That isn’t the situation; instead, it is taken to the West, and hidden in banks that even the wisest scientist can’t reveal. These monies are then used to build the nations where they are hidden, while the people it was taken from wallow in abject poverty; a great injustice by those on whose hands we lay our battered heads for healing.
If the governments have failed in providing the needed antidote for poverty, the private sector must rise up and take responsibility. The industries must wake up and smell the coffee, and realize that they must give back to the people that kept them in business. With a population of over 1.2 billion people, the industries in Africa cannot deny that they’ve made so much profit, and that it is time to take a fraction of it to develop where they got it from. How can they achieve this?
First, the industries must genuinely and with a clear motive invest in education. Education is the quickest and safest way of eradicating poverty. The current educational system in Africa is not fit for purpose; they were based on curricula designed by the colonial masters, and up till date, nothing was done to revamp them. As the Vice Chair of the Curriculum Committee in one of London’s Outstanding Schools, a School Governor, and a member of the Education Scrutiny Committee in one of London’s Boroughs, and someone who was educated in Africa, I can, in all honesty tell you that our curricula are dated. Our education isn’t practicable; they are expired philosophies that most emerging worlds have abandoned – they are only useful for historical backgrounds and literature reviews; yet, that is what we carry in our brains and expect to grow our economies.
The types of curriculum we need are those that will help people discover themselves. Self-realization is what puts people on the road to poverty alleviation. It is needless pushing people into what does not agree with their genetics. If it is natural with them, they will succeed in it, but if not, no matter how much they are given, they will fail.
Self-discovery equates to living a purpose driven life. This is one thing we must seriously include in our academic and professional systems. Everybody can’t solve Mathematics. Everybody can’t write good English Language. Not all are cut out for jobs that require conventional or formal education. Because some don’t fall within this category does not mean that they aren’t intelligent. There are many people that are lateral thinkers; they simply solve problems through an indirect and creative approach, using reasoning that is not immediately obvious and involving ideas that may not be obtainable by using only traditional step by step logic. These set of people haven’t really been given the opportunity to showcase their ingenuity because the system we operate gives credence to the old system of education, and then, repudiate the innovative approach. What makes the Western World great is their recognition and appreciation of all avenues of knowledge and creativity. We can be great or even greater if we embrace the same ideology.
It’s time to recognize formal, informal, or vocational education. It’s time to appreciate those who didn’t make a first class or second class upper, but can think out of the box. We wouldn’t be able to know the stuffs that people are made of, until we create an environment where they can express their innate potentials. This is what I want the industries to do. Give everyone a chance, not to just offer employments, but to let them use what they have within.
Another angle to killing poverty in Africa is the industries investing in entrepreneurship. Everyone can’t work for the government or for mega-private organizations; we should even discourage it. Any nation that has thrived did that on the back of everyone thinking independently in terms of economic growth. The industries should yearly set aside some funds to encourage innovation and business-mindedness. They should help starters set up by providing them with the necessary machineries and capitals required for kick-starting their own businesses. After the provisions, they should continually help them with advice about continuity and also, do a follow up to make sure that the teething problems of infancy don’t knock them off their projections. In entrepreneurship, there is the need for genuine mentor figures.
Entrepreneurship is the answer to any economy, whether developed or developing; the Western World never jokes with it. The power of true independence is in everyone bringing out their innate gifts and honing it until it begins to yield dividend. If Africa must succeed, she must realize the unrivalled importance of developing, especially the young people towards owning their own businesses based on their own uniqueness. That is the only way the future of any nation or continent can be secured.
Besides mentoring, rewarding innovation is another way that the industries can help emerging entrepreneurs. For those who think and create out-of-the-box, recognition and reward will inspire them to do better; doing better in creativity means designing your way out of poverty.
How can innovations be rewarded? Innovations and creativities can be rewarded by funding researches amongst emerging entrepreneurs, colleges, universities, and many of the dormant research institutes all over Africa. Discoveries from researches boost economies, create jobs and alleviate poverties. For instance, researches in pharmaceutical industries lead to the discovery of new drugs, and after all the four phases of clinical trials, there is mass production of these drugs. Mass production means building large complexes to accommodate the factories, laboratories, and offices needed by the pharmaceutical firm – in building the new complexes, jobs are provided for those in the construction industry. Apart from those in the construction industry, imagine how many people from different professions that will be gainfully employed by the company as a result of one breakthrough in research. Imagine also how those that are gainfully employed will be knocked off the poverty ladder!
The current mobile communication gadgets came out of research breakthroughs. Many industries in the West invested to see it happen, and it did. We are beneficiaries of this breakthrough, as it has made our world easier because within seconds, we reach people globally and pass on vital information to our intended targets. Let the industries in Africa do the same; it shouldn’t be a one-off thing. They should painstakingly invest in researches and continue to do so even if there aren’t immediate results. It should be part of their social responsibilities to do so.
One aspect the industries haven’t really looked into is the setting up of skills centers. Many emerging entrepreneurs have great ideas but some lack the necessary skills to execute them. Skills centers can bridge the gap between what they know and don’t know. In skills centers, various vocational courses are taught, for example, short courses on the use of different software relevant to their line of business, technical courses, work skills, and so on. These courses can range from one day to six months. And they must be practical; not theoretical. Hands-on-equipment is what emerging entrepreneurs need. That is the way they can become independent, and even go ahead to become employers of labor.
No one can underestimate the importance of skills centers as it helps drive a growing economy. Some skills centers partner with local schools and training academies to provide vocational skills to those who can’t cope with main stream education, and by doing this, no one is left behind in making a contribution to the economy. The good thing about skills centers is that some focus on a niche by specializing on a specific vocation such as construction, fashion designing, graphic designs, and so on. Other skills centers major on entrepreneurial, interviewing, literacy and numeracy skills. These types help emerging entrepreneurs develop their work skills which will be useful to them if they need to attend interviews or be the ones interviewing potential team members.
To make the skills centers more viable, each centre can have a strong online presence. This online presence must be able to deliver e-learning. With e-learning, many, who live outside the location of the skills centers can sign up and do their learning over the internet, while, maybe, once a week, an online tutor can deliver a webinar to the candidates.
The above suggestions are achievable if we have the will and readiness to carry them out. Smaller continents with less potentials are doing it and succeeding; why can’t we? I believe so much in this continent; that is my reason for coming up with suggestions, and I hope our industries and governments are listening. Africa can stand side by side the greatest continents on earth. We have the intelligence and human capital to compete. What we need is the character to make it happen.