The subject of poverty is complex and I do not pretend that I have all the answers to it in this short analysis. One can only pity those who seek to address the issue, as many are but groping in the dark in search of answers.
However, in this search of answers there is need to take the gravity of the effects of poverty on communities and individuals. Without this kind of awareness of what poverty does to concrete human societies, the only intervention left would be turning it into another state sponsored project.
The aim of addressing poverty is not all about providing them with more material stuff but that the poor should become more.
Thus, allow them to lead their lives in dignity just like that of any people in middle or upper socio-economic settings.
Poverty makes civilisation/higher life inaccessible to the poor. They may see its effects and witness its benefits but only from a distance, as aliens.
Therefore, the war against poverty should aim at making modern civilisation accessible to the poor. How?
Assuming that civilisation is a higher life, there must be investment at the lower life.
The energies of poor people is constantly absorbed by simply trying to survive from one day to another. This struggle could be through scavenging in the bins, begging on the streets, stealing food or having a minimum wage job etc.
When we witness these, we see the impact of deeply seated under-development and lack of opportunities that could allow them to pursue the higher life.
Since independence, we have heard the political rhetoric of addressing poverty, hunger and unemployment. But so far we’ve only witnessed projects and not functional structures that are deploying the implementation of fighting poverty.
These projects have ranged from social grants to the present food bank schemes. For their part, they have only added to the extension of the draining of the physical life of the poor. While these are commendable immediate interventions, we’ve misjudged the intrinsic value of a human life for mere physical survival.
Projects have lifespans, they eventually get exhausted and die a natural death due to lack of resources or ineffectiveness. As long as the war against poverty isn’t seen as a matter of justice, we’re guaranteed to see only emergency projects.
For example, the mass housing project which is now defunct, although billions of dollars were set aside, it was poorly managed and executed. The funds dried up and the project shut down without even reaching ten percent of its target.
Today, we have a food bank that spends half of its budget on logistics, practically, this won’t extend beyond this pilot stage. With the current economic strain, those who’ve been made dependent on this project will soon have to start scavenging for food somewhere else.
What should be done? It was the liberation hero of Guinea Bissau, Amilcar Cabral, who said ‘national liberation, the struggle against colonialism, the construction of peace and progress – all these are empty things which have no meaning for the people if they are not translated into real improvement in living conditions.’
Knowing the ‘what’ is of no importance without also structuring the ‘how.’
I admit that there is no black and white or clear-cut answer to addressing the subject of poverty. But the issue will linger as long as we stick to addressing it with myopic approaches.
The entry point to addressing poverty should be intentional structural revolution, long-term planning, accompanied by focused implementation.
However, as John A. Hobson said, ’The practical politician in this country is beckoned forward by no large, bright ideal; no abstract [or moral] consideration of justice or social expediency supplies him with any motive force.’
The politicians who are key state players are literally clueless and lack both the will and drive to affect the living conditions of the poor.
Most of our current national plans to address poverty are but transplantations of ideas copied from some source with few alterations.
As a result our government cannot plan, strategise and implement in a way that will help the poor beyond feeding them.
Poverty isn’t merely a lack of money, housing, clothing, food etc, at its deeper level, it’s a lack of power that would enable one to live life to the fullest and in dignity.
Poor people don’t have negotiating power about the cost of their labour, they don’t have power of choice of where to sleep or what to eat etc. Poor people can have the will but not the means to carry it out. Thus, this is a state of disempowerment to negotiate, choose or initiate.
This lack of power becomes deeply entrenched when there is lack of investment in the lives of the poor to give them both skills and opportunities that will give them power to negotiate, choose and initiate.
Finally, while projects should be, as immediate interventions, the state should invest more in ensuring that the poor are provided with opportunities that will create skills, expand the power of choices and lead lives of dignity.
We need to acknowledge that the poor are often socially too weak or ignorant to protect themselves and will therefore require public protection.
Thus, the war against poverty an ethical imperative, placing moral demands to do something about it, both on the State and the general public.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are in my personal capacity and do not represent those of IUM or its associates.