Every so often, I wonder why it has taken this long for Africa to free itself from the shackles of poverty, hunger, and development. On such occasions, I reasoned that there is no empirical proof that people of the developed world are more intelligent than those of us in the developing world. This assertion, if subjected to tests would most probably prove conclusively that Africans, nay Nigerian professionals in the Diaspora and students from Africa are more resilient and serious than their hosts who seem to have relaxed for us to dominate some sub-sectors of their national lives.
Regrettably, we, in Africa, are still confronted with the problem of managing a plural community; plural in ethnicity, religion and culture in the face of diminishing economic resources. This factor is evidently the source of growing tension and conflict that plague the stability of nations. And the rest of the world cannot afford to sleep with two eyes closed in view of the implication of such to the peace of the whole world. A few years ago, the United Nations approved about US$6.1 billion for the African Union Peace Keeping programme in eight out of the fifty-three African countries, stating that cost-effective and preventive measures were needed to enhance human security in the region and help establish conditions for sustainable economic development.
FAMINE & CHRONIC HUNGER: The United Nations lacks the money to provide much-needed aid to millions of hungry people. Famines are acute food crises, usually after drought or due to armed conflict. Famine is the worst form of food shortage. In addition to old people, babies and small children are especially threatened by starvation. One of the worst hunger crises of the past 25 years was the famine in East Africa in 2011/12. In war-torn Somalia, 260,000 people starved to death, including 133,000 children under the age of five. Sub-Saharan Africa is also a hotbed of chronic hunger due to extreme poverty. According to the FAO definition, people suffer from chronic hunger if their daily energy intake for an extended period of time is below what they would need for a healthy and active life. According to the United Nations definition (Integrated Food Security Phase Classification), there is a famine if at least:
- 20% of households suffer from extreme food shortages,
- 30% of the population is acutely malnourished; and
- Two out of every 10,000 people, or four children, die daily from food shortages.
THE COST OF INSECURITY & HUNGER: A Report of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations indicates that many African countries have suffered from the effects of the weather phenomenon El Niño: droughts or torrential rains destroy crops, kill cattle and lead to starvation. In 2017, 37 countries, including 28 in Africa, depended on food aid. It is indeed a paradox because this same poorest continent has abundant potentials that could feed the world. The fight against poverty requires huge funds. Unfortunately, international assistance to the African region is largely linked to disasters. We, therefore, owe it a duty to continue to pursue vigorously, peaceful and harmonious co-existence among our people.
We need to increase the amount of faith and trust that citizens could have in their social system. Dr Akinwumi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank Group would never stop speaking about agribusiness as the solution. He has contended that: “The size of food and agriculture in Africa will rise to $1 trillion by 2030. The population of Africa, now at 1.2 billion, will double to 2.5 billion by 2050. They all must eat. And only through food and agribusiness can this be achieved. Africa should be a global powerhouse in food and agriculture because 65% of the cultivatable arable land left in the world is in Africa’’
PEOPLE-CENTRED DEVELOPMENT: In a paper presented to President Bill Clinton in 1996, the Committee on his reelection asserted that: “By leaving people in poverty, at risk of their lives due to lack of basic living essentials, we have stepped across the boundary of civilization. We have conceded that these people do not matter, are not important. Allowing them to starve to death, freeze to death, die from deprivation, or simply shooting them, is in the end exactly the same thing. Inflicting or allowing poverty on a group of people or an entire country is a formula for disaster.” Government and the private sector must collaborate to lift people out of poverty. The United Nations defines poverty as a denial of choices and opportunities, a violation of human dignity. It means lack of basic capacity to participate effectively in society. It means not having enough to feed and clothe a family, that doesn’t have. Today, more than 780 million people live below the international poverty line. More than 11% of the world population is living in extreme poverty and struggling to fulfill the most basic needs like health, education, and access to water and sanitation, to name a few.
HUNGER AND FOOD SCARCENESS IN AFRICA HAS MANY CAUSES: The reasons for the widespread hunger and food scarceness in Africa are complex and are not, as often assumed, a lack of agricultural productivity or difficult climatic conditions. Sub-Saharan Africa has millions of hectares of fertile soil. The African continent could feed itself. However, several factors prevent self-sufficiency and a victory in the fight against hunger in Africa:
- Population growth: In sub-Saharan Africa, the number of people is growing rapidly, but food production is not keeping up.
- Unfair trading structures: European Union and United States subsidize domestic agriculture, African farmers are not competitive with cheap food imports.
- Debt trap and mismanagement: The high level of indebtedness of many African countries as well as poor governance and corruption is blocking economic development. Mass poverty and hunger are the consequences.
- Diseases: The AIDS epidemic, as well as diseases like malaria, inhibits agricultural production in Africa and takes breadwinners from their families.
- Armed conflicts: Africa has more than its share of trouble spots. Most wars in the world rage south of the Sahara. Refugee misery and hunger are the companions.
AFRICAN UNION’S INTERVENTION: Furthermore, the African Union Commission has implemented the year of peace and security through a fresh multi-stakeholder approach, which has necessitated the inauguration of an Advisory Council and Peace Ambassadors. All these are directed at promoting peace and development. But there are still formidable barrier to progress that sort of promotes intolerance and racial, national or religious superiority. Widespread, international terrorism must be viewed as criminal motives which must be halted in the interest of humanity. The whole world must be pro-active in stemming the tide of the constant spectre of violence which is not restricted to any part of the globe. I am confident, that we can all contribute to peace and development by reasoning logically as well as embark on consultations and dialogue. We must be very firm in our commitment to the prevention of conflicts.
POLITICAL & ECONOMIC STABILITY & COMMENCING THE REFORM FROM THE TOP: Good governance is our best hope against these challenges. Governance entails choices. It demands a visionary leadership that will set enlightened priorities and redeploy resources and retain skilled talent. Compassionate and committed leaders can and must create the policies and invest the necessary resources in infrastructure and services, empowering people to improve their conditions and safeguard their children’s lives. The conspirators against progress include the lack of economic development, leading to poverty, wars, diseases, and corruption campaign (Chisano) The calls for redistribution of income must start from the top, through leadership by example that must show commitment to the elimination of all avenues for wastages through vibrant and workable policies. Why for instance do people prefer to keep their legitimate and illegitimate funds abroad? The answer lies in lack of confidence in the system and political and economic instability. It is important we evolve a workable policy that would encourage the affluent to bring back monies saved in foreign nations, possibly through amnesty for a period of time.
People of this generation tend to want to ensure that their children and children’s children do not suffer in future. Therefore, greed is partly provoked by the wish of people who wish to provide for their children and generations yet unborn. If the government decides to embrace a low profile policy today, people would be convinced to follow. Let us thank God that the pandemic of CORONAVIRUS is felt in the developed world than in Nigeria. If the reverse was the case, hundreds of privileged Nigerians might have picked only their debit/credit cards (no need for travel boxes) and enter their private jets to flee to the developed nations where they have houses to reside there until CORONA is driven out of Nigeria. This is one reason why the government must think seriously about what prompts Nigerians to behave this way and reform our society to create same enabling environment that our people rush to Dubai, London, and the United States to enjoy.
CHANGING OUR ORIENTATION — THE MAN WHO DIES THUS RICH; DIES DISGRACED – Andrew Carnegie That phrase seems very intriguing and at the same time, debatable, just as it is capable of several interpretations. But we will construe it to mean that we must embrace the culture of selflessness and allow the selfishness in us to die, for the common good. We could coordinate our personal interests for the benefit of the larger society. ‘’The Gospel of Wealth’’ written by celebrated philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie harbours contents that are still as poignant, original, and pure as it was when it was published in 1889. Carnegie, wealthy American wrote what could be considered an everlasting treatise that delved into what he called: ‘’The Duties of A Man of Wealth’’ that states in part: ”First: to set an example of modest, unostentatious living, shunning display; to provide moderately for the legitimate wants of those dependent upon him, and after doing so, to consider all surplus revenues which come to him simply as trust funds, which he is strictly bound as a matter of duty, to administer in the manner which in his judgment is best calculated to produce the most beneficial results for the community.
Carnegie was a man of great wisdom who probably lived ahead of his time. Just consider one of his assertions: ‘’Those who would administer wisely must indeed be wise. ”One of the serious obstacles to the improvement of our race is indiscriminate charity. ‘’It was better for mankind that the millions of the rich were thrown into the sea than so spent as to encourage the slothful, the drunken, the unworthy. ‘’In bestowing charity, the main consideration should be to help those who help themselves. ‘’It provides part of the means by which those who desire to improve may do so; to give to those who desire to rise the aids by which they may rise; to assist but rarely or never to do all.’’ A content analysis of the speech delivered 130 years ago reveals that Carnegie never loved the slothful waiting for an inheritance.
A PRINCIPLED GIVER: The foregoing is a strong and reasonable assertion given the proclivity of people in our part of the world for cheap sources of wealth and living. It translates into the consideration that what happens if the philanthropist too never worked and waited for charity? Carnegie was a comfortable dollar multi-millionaire. By 1901, Carnegie, a steel magnate, who pressed for the use of wealth for the greater good of society, owned the first corporation in the world with a market capitalization of over US$1 billion and was for a period the richest person, wealthier than John D. Rockefeller; albeit momentarily. W Our focus is on philanthropist to create the feelings of empathy in Nigerians for all of us to emulate good examples that could benefit the populace.
CARNEGIE GAVE AWAY ALL HIS WEALTH: Carnegie did what would seem unthinkable in our clime, given our level of sophistication and advancement. There is every possibility that anybody who behaved like Carnegie did in our society could be dubbed an insane person. What about the children, grandchildren and generations yet unborn of the rich philanthropist, people would query. The startling thing is that before his death, Andrew Carnegie gave away all his wealth. But his name will most probably remain on the positive pages of history eternally. One hundred years after establishing his NGOs and Foundations, he is still remembered for impacting humanity positively. He established about 660 libraries and several projects. By Carnegie’s death in 1919, he had given away to the foundations US$350million of his wealth.
MONEY CANNOT PURCHASE HAPPINESS & GIVING IS CONTAGIOUS: LESSONS IN PHILANTHROPY: Money can’t buy happiness unless you spend it on others: It is evident that there must be attitudinal changes on the part of Government and the citizenry who must imbibe selflessness instead of selfishness. Government must create the enabling environment for philanthropy through the appropriate strategies and policies that will encourage givers to continue to give and also create more givers like the Giving Pledge by the rich in the United States through a programme driven by Warren Buffet and Bill Gates whose budget on health services to the poor is more than the budget of the World Health Organization. There is the need for what I describe as ‘’Social Revolution’’ that would alter our culture of wasteful spending to redirect this to ‘’Gainful Giving’’.
CLASS DISTINCTION: A book titled: ‘My Mercedes is Bigger than Yours’ (1975) authored by Nkem Nwankwo – a satire on social conduct in our society paints a graphic picture of what went wrong shortly after independence. Preferences for glamorous activities and conspicuous consumption started becoming part of our society a long time ago; which is why some people, at a point in history paid huge dowries and suffered untold deprivations after the wedding on account of obtaining loans to “procure” a wife. Yet the amount spent on weddings might be enough to settle new couples in their own houses. Young ones growing up naturally learn fast and imbibe the culture of class distinction and the mad inclination for display of wealth to demonstrate that people are rich. Not too long ago, two young Nigerian chaps landed themselves in the court in London, the United Kingdom for fighting over a senseless issue of whose father is wealthier!
Those spending on socials should be able to attract higher taxes to be channelled into development while we must cultivate new habits, attitudes and preferences. We could tax heavily those preferences that create class distinction in societies enveloped by poverty. Those private jets, choice wines and other expensive products that confer class distinction and other ways of life that the younger generation has imbibed must be radically discouraged because culture is dynamic. Those horrible activities that became pronounced after the advent of the oil boom such as wearing very expensive dresses and similar acts that produced armed robbers and wrong attitudes deserve to be viciously attacked through preventive and reactive measures. Preventive would work out better.
TIGHTENING OUR BELTS: Tightening our belts must start with the affluent. Let us study how Singapore shot into prominence. Leadership should be by example. It once happened in the Western Region of Nigeria in the early 1960s. Party supremacy took care of dissents. Obafemi Awolowo said it all: ”Those of us placed in a position of leadership must be prepared to grasp the nettle; and if we unite in doing so, and if, in addition, we set a worthy example and a Marat on pace in probity, unselfishness, and self-sacrifice, the people will follow, all too readily, in our footsteps”. On the suggested way forward, we could reform parts of our cultures, traditions and societal influences to play huge roles in influencing human conduct. The pattern of governance and fiscal policies also affect social conduct in the advanced world.
While one may not witness wild parties where people paste hard currencies on the foreheads of celebrants and guests abroad; no function might be adjudged good enough in the developing world without ostentatious conduct. We are very good at that and are noted for this show of extravagance in major capitals of the world. But one must be quick to state that it is heartening that the private sector in Nigeria is fast changing the face of philanthropy. In the past two decades, individuals and corporate organizations have embraced the concept of corporate social responsibility and are increasingly getting committed to philanthropy. Instead of travelling out illegally, youths could now take advantage of various schemes put in place by private sector captains. The Dangotes, Elumelus, Dajumas, Adenugas, Alakijas, Oba Otudekos, Subomi Baloguns; Jim Ovias, and Femi Otedolas who came after Mobolaji Bank Anthony, and Candido Joao Da Rocha, and other quiet givers are attacking the scourge of poverty admirably.
They probably might succeed in changing the mindsets of Nigerians that giving should be part of life. You don’t even have to publicize philanthropy once it is adopted as a way of life. But it could be an Herculean task unless the society is adequately mobilized for this new trend, and an enabling environment created for social and human security for people to wholeheartedly keep their wealth in Nigeria instead of the vaults of foreign nations. Let us also think about transforming this great African country through the development of the tourism sub-sector that is a gold mine waiting to be fully tapped.
THE DUBAI EXPERIENCE: FROM A DESERT TO TOURISTS DESTINATION WITHIN 20 YEARS: His Royal Highness, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, King of Dubai once stated that: ‘’We are building a new reality for our people, a new future for our children, and a new model of development. In ‘’1999, many people questioned our idea to establish Dubai Internet City in the desert. ‘’Two years ago, Amazon acquired the multi-billion dirham Souq.com and today, Uber acquired Careem for Dh11 billion. These giant companies flourished from the “desert” of Dubai.
It is in youths that the process of societal renewal is embedded. It is important for the nation to address the problems confronting youths, particularly unemployment, creation of an enabling environment for youth development, and the eradication of some social vices in which youths are involved. Our young readers, if you can think about it, then you can make it happen. You require the will power and grace of God to succeed.
It shall surely be well with Nigeria.
Pix Credit: Bloomberg