MONEY is everything, so they say! Not true at all and it is unfortunate that many have lived with this wrong assumption for long. Poverty is more than just lack of money.
And aid, at least as currently constituted, is unlik ely to suffice to end ex treme poverty by 2030 according to the prominent vision. It is time to get it right. Please get me right. I am not saying money should be k ick ed out of the poverty eradication eq uation.
What I am saying is this, we have, for so long been wrongly taught, and sadly have come to agree and continue to maintain the teaching that the best way to help our people come out of poverty is to identify the poor as those living below a certain income or consumption level. It is wrong.
I am of the belief that poverty is more than just lack of money, and escaping it req uires more than cash. In a similar approach, we have also been told, and of course for a long time, that it is only by providing the poor with resources, often characterized in terms of cash transfers, that we shall see our people coming out of poverty fast. Not true either.
In my view, there is more to how we should address the issue of poverty. It will tak e ages to convince me to agree with the philosophy; give the poor money and they will stop being poor.
What needs to be put right is to accept, and therefore help ourselves, to understand that our common contemporary practice of analysing poverty as a lack of money, and building in peoples mind to always respond to every poverty questions with the words; “ I don’ t have the money” , is not only mistak ing but muddling up a symptom for a cause. Poverty, by and large, is strongly link ed to attitude and peoples capacity.
No wonder why we are beginning to hear some positive approaches to the problem when some leaders are now consistently saying in order to reap the productivity and growth benefits for wananchi, we need to ensure that our people have the right k nowledge, skills, and opportunities.
This is absolutely true and we cannot ignore.
As far as the right k nowledge, skills, and opportunities for addressing ex treme poverty is concerned, this implies that we should provide the poor with health, education, and access to a secure financial system and credit services, and by creating and enforcing regulation to ensure they, on the other hand, are not ex ploited by other stak eholders.
I think some of my readers will wonder as to why I am bringing, into this discussion, the issues of secure financial system and credit services. Is this not about money? Well, my submission speak s about money too, but my concern is about people think ing money is the only saviour.
Indeed it tak es money, for ex ample, to run programmes for the poor, and I k now well that many African countries and I believe those beyond our continent lack the fiscal capacity to collect and spend resources at the scale needed to provide services to their populations.
This suggestion brings me to what should concern governments. It should not only be money hand outs, but rather the dynamics and causes which lead to households not mak ing enough money from their economic activities to survive. This is where the problem lies. Not yielding to the needed level worries me very much.
And it has its reasons, by way of ex ample, among many here are the few; the problem of mark et failure or in other words a situation where mark ets, and here I speak of our local mark ets not functioning properly.
I k now there are many causes to this particular issue, but what is within our capacity is to address the problem of imperfect information, which in general terms the gap here has to do with lack of focus where efforts to reduce poverty has tended not seek ing to invest in people.
This concept of reducing poverty and investing in people can well be ex plained in terms of a task which should go beyond money and into power. Here I see the necessity for our leaders to understand and work towards restructuring social and political institutions so that the powerful have reason to serve the powerless.
This could also be the source of the ongoing argument, on the continent, that scaling-up aid is now more complicated than it has been some decades back especially on sending more money to the needy countries.
And the ongoing discussion which always terminates in the agreement that carefully planning is needed, say for ex ample in areas such as those of spending on infrastructure, speak s volumes when it comes to the many billions in foreign aid and investment put into Africa since 19 9 0.
So a deep reflection is not only needed but where we are now remains the best option for western donors to k eep revisiting their aid policies. The key question here is this; are the policies corrupting peoples’ and especially leaders’ minds to the ex tent that the song; we have no money, is kept sung?
Similarly, another reflection req uired, could be, I suggest, on how best to deliver assistance, that is to say in terms of aid modalities and aid architecture, plus the need to understand amount of money needed and in which sectors to really mak e a difference.
But altogether, if we allow structures which, and leaders who arrests reform and undermine the effective use of aid to linger, then we will never be able to come out of the taboo which suggest that poverty is lack of money.
So, despite the fact that most African countries’ strong economic growth continues to pave the way for poverty reduction, yet we should not sit and relax but rather always remember that high poverty levels persist.
And we k now that the most affected poor are those in rural areas, and the gap between income groups in terms of human capital and access to basic services is and shall obvious continue to grow. I reiterate.
We should be concerned about the fallacy that money is everything. If we do not work towards making our people understand that poverty is more than just lack of money, and that escaping it req uires more than cash, then we will be adding to the other problems we already have.
This is to say, our people will continue to be in a serious vulnerable state which is made even much more complicated because environmental, economic, individual, and governance shock s also freq uently tended to affect many.
I wish all who are in the business of addressing poverty read and understand the wisdom of Henry David Thoreau 1817- 1862, that American essayist, poet, and philosopher who once said; Wealth is the ability to fully ex perience life. Cheers!
● Dr Alfred Sebahene, PhD Social Ethics and AntiCorruption Specialist Consultant St John’ s University of Tanzania Dodoma, Tanzania Email Addresses: arsebahene2@ yahoo.co.uk , alfredsebahene@ gmail.com Mobile: 0767 233 9 9 7