Rev Walter Mwambazi's Blog
This is part of a series on 5 Reasons Why Africa is Poor (#1 Weak Institutions, #2 Culture (this one), #3 Religion, #4 Geography and #5 Poor Governance) of which this one looks at the second reason, that being our culture especially in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Generally speaking, culture is very widespread, so an appropriate description is in order, however, unlike the previous article, we will keep this one short and so get our definition straight from Wikipedia.
Culture is, in the words of E.B. Tylor, “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.” The Cambridge English Dictionary states that culture is, “the way of life, especially the general customs and beliefs, of a particular group of people at a particular time.”
Based on the above definition, we could thus say that all manner and behavior wholly embraced and lived by any particular group of people in a given location over time can be correctly termed as their culture. As such, even religion is very much part of culture.
However, for this particular series I have chosen to separate them because religion does especial harm to Africans and reinforces the factors that further intensify poverty on this continent – especially in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Let us then briefly look at each one and see it as a component of the whole cultural context of this particular dilemma.
Knowledge – The beneficial application of collective information and experience as shared by society and passed on from one generation to the next. With the advent of literacy, this has allowed for better preservation and passing on of ideas more consistently.
We however cannot ignore the effect of poorly funded education sectors and how this in turn negatively affects the proper exploitation of knowledge.
Belief – Herein lies the greatest enemy of progress and growth in Africa (more later)
Art – The preservation of culture in Africa has been a painful process. The early Christian Missionaries worked against many art forms declaring them pagan and demonic without fully understanding them. When this is coupled with the consistent and systematic reprogramming of locals from their mother tongues to colonial languages, this worked to erase much art which today remains lost in antiquity.
Morals – Our morals today get more degraded by Western influence especially through entertainment, specifically through the medium of music and film. Most youth now can be seen modeling themselves after their favorite pop, R&B, Hip-Hop or Reggae icons or film stars to such an extent that it results in a Hodge podge of lost identity – this coupled with a language that is not ours.
Law – This is the factor that determines the “rules of the game”. It is a fact that the more complex and fair the laws of a given society are and the ability to bring to justice those flouting these laws (through regulation and enforcement through the arms of governance), the more civilized that society is. Even more pronounced is the general improvement and wellbeing of its members.
Customs – The code of ethics and behavior that forms our very core of being African, by which we are defined. Many tribes have different customs though many are very similar, especially among black Africans and hence forge the amalgam known as customs.
In spite of this all, we still have evolved cultures that are driving nails into the heart of wealth creation and instead leaving in its wake poverty and suffering.
Now having looked at the full definition of how culture relates to in the context of African poverty, let us now see how this is a major causative agent in perpetuating poverty.
The Challenging Factors
There is a great enemy of progress in Africa, an enemy that has really siphoned untold potential out of the system and perpetuated mediocrity. It does not seem to be ending and if it is not called what it is – retrogressive, it will continue to be a plague to our wealth creation potential and blot to our progress.
Clan Based Thinking
This would be defined as a systematic placement of personnel based not on their competence or abilities but rather on their affiliation by family, tribe, clan or political attachment or support.
Whist this may look good on the outset for those who wish to promote and support such thinking, it has detrimental effects on the overall development of any nation where this is widespread. Unfortunately, most Sub-Saharan Africa perpetrate this thinking, and in some countries even going as far as outright genocide.
What is most critical though is that even if the person applying is known by the employer, the jobs are usually offered on merit, they pick the best man or woman for the job – period!
Regrettably, here in Africa the opposite happens, people are always picked not because they are capable, have the skills, qualifications and abilities, but are picked because they are related to someone, or are of the same tribe, clan or are “connected.” Whilst this may be good for those seeking employment or contracts, it is dire for the nations involved.
This is also another level of corruption. It is based on the premise that connections come above delivery or results. This is about eating before cooking, reaping before sowing, harvesting before planting. The emphasis is no longer about competence but loyalty and the problem with this is that in the end, no results are even considered, everyone looks out for their interests (what they can amass for themselves) – period. This is at the detriment of the nations involved.
In Africa this is usually based on tribe (same region, dialect), clan (same class, family or roots) or political membership. This practice is widespread all across society. From the public sector to the private sector, people are picked based on the above, not their abilities. Therefore the net output suffers as these individuals simply cannot deliver.
This is worst felt in areas where technocrats, experts and consultants services are required in critical sectors either in management positions or technical capacity. Instead of placing someone who understands and has the expertise to help solve pressing problems, they get someone who does not even know where to start from – and so they either waffle their way, or simply make wrong decisions. This leads to overall under-performance, incompetence and deteriorating standards. Add it all up at national scale and the results are catastrophic.
It is such that has been the root behind the inability to see continuity, planning and strategic execution of policy as individuals heading or working within these sectors are clueless. This perpetuates mediocrity and ultimately poverty.
This kind of thinking says “I am owed a piece of the pie” and therefore sits waiting to be given the same. It is aptly referred to as a “chip on the shoulder” which speaks of someone who has a self-righteous feeling of inferiority or a grudge that demands compensation beyond reason. This thinking expects to receive at all times. It is aptly represented by the common colloquial “batiyanganileko” that feels entitled. It is commonly pushed in socialism.
Unfortunately socialism in this author’s opinion does not work. Here’s an illustration to prove the point.
A class teacher indicates that he is going to mark everyone “fairly” and give an average for all effort performed by a class instead of giving individual marks for each person. In his first test after all marking, the class had a B+ average and everyone was praised. As you can imagine the A students were displeased whilst the D and F students were over the moon. In the next test, the class average dropped to C. The A students did not see any point in working for others whilst the D and F students didn’t even bother. By the fifth test the entire class got an F as the average.
The moral of the lesson is simple, people respond best to a reward system, and rewards should be given to those that work the hardest. This principle is true even with God as He will reward according to works and results achieved, there will be no “socialism” per se in heaven.
This is true on earth. All nations that pick this model inevitably fail. The better model is to reward according to work performed, in essence capitalism. When people realize that their best efforts go to fund lazy people who have not worked, they also chose to do less and less until the overall effect is that everyone ends up in the “F” zone!
The entitlement mentality believes the world owes them something in return, and so sit back and wait for government or organizations (like the church) to “do something” and alleviate their poverty. Unfortunately reality does not operate like that. If one does not work, they shall not eat (the words of St. Paul). Life rewards those who work.
According to Fin Scope 2015 Report, about 1 in 5 adults in Zambia are dependents in homes. This is yet another facet of the entitlement mentality.
In the “7 Principles for Financial Prosperity” we have the 7 common reasons why people get into debt. At #3 is “subsidizing a lifestyle” under which we have what I coined “the messiah complex”. This is where breadwinners try to become the “messiah” of their families and are burdened with taking care of virtually all their relatives.
We show that this perpetuates misery and poverty because family members tend to have the above “entitlement” mindset which sees them all sit around waiting for their messiah to provide. Over time this can have a serious negative impact on wealth creation. Progressive nationalities have learnt to synergize their efforts for betterment of the entire family. Unfortunately, a large percentage simply sits around and waits for their benefactor to bring in the dough!
Another extension of the entitlement mentality. In this case the problem is intensified by the education system that creates job seekers to feed the industrial system instead of identifying and allowing children to specialize early through determining what their aptitude is and where their greatest potential is.
Instead we have a one-size-fits-all style of education. It rewards left brainers (analytical, methodical and memorizers) instead of also considering right brainers (creative and abstract). It focuses on getting everyone to learn so much that is irrelevant instead of specializing in what is suitable.
The result is lost potential and wealth. The result is kids getting into school with the paradigm “go to school, get high grades and then get a good paying job”. But then, how many of those are available?
The world is now changing. Gone are the days (except in the civil service) when you showed up, clocked in, hang your jacket, shuffled some files and got paid. Now the time has come when pay is pegged to performance. KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) are the language of the corporate sector. Numbers, bottom lines, profits, dividends, and shareholders are what matter, if the numbers don’t add up, then you get downsized – which is a nice term for being retrenched or let go.
This has made the rich countries prosper immensely and seen the overall effect benefit everyone. Poor countries focus on resource pilferage and nepotism, and these coupled with corruption have ensured perpetuity of poverty levels.
Herein is another bomb. We have decided to always be receiving. The Bible declares that it is more blessed to give than to receive and yet we want to be receiving at all times. This has meant that the giver gets more blessed, whilst the receiver gets the lesser blessing – the immediate satisfaction of the need, but not the ending of the problem.
In rich countries, most citizens have learnt to become a resource, meaning they give more, they help solve problems. They have an obsession within their area of calling. They are working.
Below are some differences between being in a job and work.
I have some news for us all, we need to simply wake up. STOP THE DEPENDENCY MENTALITY! Realize that the only way we can emancipate ourselves is by becoming resources. In the words of President John Kennedy, “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”.
Become a resource, a source of progress and strength. Start your journey toward your destiny. Seek what it is that God has placed inside you.
We are the change we seek. Nobody is coming from outside to help us. And even if they do, for as long as we still want to go around the world with a begging bowl asking for handouts, we forever will be cursed to remain dependents, looking out for messiahs to come and “save us”.
But if we realize that God has given us all the resources and abilities, and also the wealth in our ground, and then get out there and begin to work, then we will see wealth begin to accumulate and grow. Then we will see our nations become wealthier. Then we will see our people blossom. Our GDP will increase, our grounds will become rich, our works will speak for us, and our prosperity will become a reality!
In the next article, we will be looking at the greatest poison of our continent – religion!
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Rev Walter Mwambazi
Author of "The 7 Principles for Financial Prosperity", Life Coach, Facilitator, Peak Performance Coach, Digital Marketing Professional, Network Marketer, Health & Wellness Consultant, Pastor, Copy Writer, Motivation Speaker & Writer.