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Wednesday 20 March 2019
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Institutionalising Poverty, Powerlessness and Hopelessness

Prof. Denis Goulet, who’s written extensively on ethics of development referred to ‘poverty, powerlessness and hopelessness’ as the triple curse of underdevelopment. Allow me to write how the institutionalisation of these issues deepen social dehumanization.
He went on to describe how these evils when institutionalised can be embraced by the masses to legitimise their abusers.
Poverty (both material and mental) can be made to look so normal by those in power, when they de-prioritise poverty reduction by providing unsustainable projects for the poor.
But because the poor are powerless and incapable of negotiating, they simply receive whatever they are served. And with a weakened will to resist they get into the cycle of normalising abnormal situations by even siding with the very ones that take advantage of them.
Unfortunately, this institutionalisation is common in Africa. A recent example is the re-election of Buhari in Nigeria. Whether they were rigged is another day’s debate. But what is obvious is the enshrined mentality of the oppressed to keep giving power to their oppressors.
Regardless of Buhari’s leadership incompetence, advancement in age and worsening social conditions, he still won the elections.  This kind of endorsement trickles a curse-like effect. When those in power to influence public decisions realise the sheepish attitude of their followers, there is no limit to the abuse they can exert to extent power.
Unfortunately, the curse of poverty (poor discernment) has a way of making the poor subservient to the demands of the wealthy and powerful. Such that they mentally see the very oppressors as their messiahs.
The issue doesn’t only apply to the political realm. Modern religion as represented by neo-Pentecostalism of Bushiri, TB Joshua and various vicegerents thrive because of the narrative of hopelessness.
As such people who are desperately in need of solutions to their socio-economic troubles cast their hopes upon these men. In search of redemption from they identify these self-proclaimed redeemers. Their desperation for answers blinds them from seeing the exploitative nature of these religious charlatans.
This form of institutionalisation neither challenges the status quo nor does it dare to dream of possibilities of change.
When state institutions embrace this triple curse, they do it with such impunity to make people feel that they should be grateful for mismanagement. Think about how the Namibia Students Financial Assistance Fund (NSFAF) operates by a draft policy that is set to disadvantage Namibian students who are enrolled with private institutions.
Now specifically considering ways and means to cease giving financial aid altogether to those in private institutions, not to mention that there are already measures of discriminative funding in place.
This is because those entrusted with running State-Owned Enterprises have set themselves to be above those whom they ought to serve – a generally ignorant population. We see a general disconnect of policies and creation of non-governmental and governmental institutions with so many different opinions of how to improve human dignity in Namibia. In their search for uniqueness to address social injustice, they end up contradicting themselves, but at the expense of those that are affected.
The poor of society are left out and simply decided for, and in fact, that these attempts and claims of dignifying humanity entrenches dehumanization.
For example, poverty alleviation projects are decided by the wealthy middle and upper class on behalf the poor.
Think about ‘simple’ things such as food bank or reusable sanitation pads. Will the rich and middle-class stand to receive food hampers on a monthly basis by standing in long queues?
Will the rich and middle-class women who are advocating for reusable sanitation pads use such pads to address their menses?
There are many who perpetuate injustice and the continuation of poverty, powerlessness and hopelessness because they don’t reflect on their practices. A politician that fails to deliver on his campaign promises is himself a perpetrator of injustice.
This week I took time to reread the Harambee Prosperity Plan (HPP). I looked at this document with such pity for those who had placed their hopes in the promises of Dr. Geingob’s promises. Without any intend of malice towards the President, the HPP was bound to fail. Sadly, it’s not the well-off that suffered but those whom the President targeted and enticed during his campaign – the poor. Five years down the road even though attempts have been made, the eradication of poverty rhetoric and campaign barely scratched the surface.
This calls for a serious ethical re-evaluation. Treating the poor of our society as if they were objects and finding ways of how to institutionalise that indignity through play of politics, religious manipulations, poor policy design etc is unethical.
To lift the curse for underdevelopment, we have a collective responsibility to restore the human dignity of the poor. It is not our place to make decision for them, play the messiah or plan their lives but we can give them on thing, the power to be human, live in dignity and enable them to direct their own destiny.
That is, to help the poor, powerless and hopeless regain the meaning of being fully human again and live with the dignity they deserve. Who is willing to make this sacrifice of speaking and advocating for the poor?




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