Poverty verse African development

Shopping kiosk in Kibera slums

THE world today is constantly changing, and nowhere is this change more rapid or profound than on our continent, Africa. What is the motto of these African nations? Development!"

Accordingly, in many parts of Africa agriculture is giving way to industry. Many of us have left village life to seek employment in growing cities.

We have seen tribal cultures and values dissolve in these urban melting pots.

In view of these changes, many of us ask,

What will the future hold for Africa and Africans? To eliminate poverty should we continue to imitate the industrial nations of the Western world, or should Africans strive to maintain age-old traditions?”

The reason that these questions arise is that when some of us went abroad to study, we had opportunity to taste the life of material plenty, comfort and leisure enjoyed by people of the “first world.” 

Others of my fellow Africans were exposed to these luxuries through movies or by observing persons from other parts of the world who are working here.

The reaction of many of us was: “We want these things too!” Some have achieved them.

From almost every village some young man has succeeded in the struggle to obtain a high school education, earned a scholarship to study abroad, and returned to a prestigious, high-paying job.

Now these individuals have become part of the elite and they enjoy the affluent way of life typical of Americans and Europeans.

But for every one who has succeeded, there are a dozen who have failed.

Sadly, for many this results in a desire to escape their frustration through alcohol, sexual immorality and, more recently, drugs.

All too often money sorely needed to feed and clothe families is squandered on these excesses.

Thus African cities teem with youths endeavoring to eke out a living—often by crime.

Observing these problems first hand makes some of us ask:

Will pursuit of an industrial way of life on this continent result in a secure peaceful future for Africans and eradicated poverty?”

Can We Succeed Industrially?


First of all, if industrial development of Africa is to succeed, we will have to solve many challenging problems.

African nations are striving to achieve in a few years what it took Western nations centuries to accomplish.

Even with the benefit of sharing in their knowledge and experience, it will be difficult to catch up.

One serious problem is that of locating sufficient competent personnel. In many areas there is a surplus of clerks, but a critical shortage of technicians.

Technical schools are desperately needed, but where will we find qualified instructors and money to buy necessary equipment?

Further complicating matters is the fact that many Africans who go abroad to study stay there. Also, the hot climate and many parasitic diseases often sap our strength, making necessary a slower pace.

Other factors that may inhibit progress are tribalism and selfishness.

Our tribal laws prohibit lying, stealing and murder within our own tribes, but generally do not apply in our dealings with members of other tribes.

These other people may be viewed as potential enemies.

Living in cities together with people from many tribes requires a new set of values. Where will these come from?

The rapid transformation of our perspective from a tribal to a national and worldwide one has resulted in considerable instability and disorder.

Additionally, population growth and inflation consume most of the benefits of development, so that the average African is not much better off than before.

Traditionally, we have desired large families to help with farm work, to care for us in old age, and to ensure that our name is carried on. But things are different in an urban society.

Simply providing the basic education essential for that type of life can be a financial burden to those with large families.

With the population shifting to cities and the emphasis on industry, agriculture has been unable to keep pace with population growth.

This, coupled with increased demand for Western consumer goods, has fanned the flames of inflation.

What Future from Industry?


But what if we overcame all these problems, and if Africa succeeded in developing industrially? Would that guarantee a peaceful, secure future for us?

Well, how has it affected the Western nations? True, the industrialization of the “first world” nations has produced material abundance for many.

But do not others within their boundaries still suffer from poverty and unemployment?

The high rate of crime, divorce, drug addiction, suicide and similar social ills in those nations does not commend the “leisure life” as a genuinely happy one.

Medical advances in the Western world have cut down cholera, malaria and worm infections.

However, in their place have sprouted up cancer and heart disease nurtured by the stress, pollution and eating habits prevalent in those nations.

Moreover, the economies of industrial nations are also shaky.

But where else is there to turn too? Few Africans wish to revert to subsistence agriculture and tribal superstitions.

On the other hand, we do not want our culture and customs to be swallowed up totally by materialistic Western ways.

What we do want is to retain the beneficial aspects of African culture, to improve the quality of our lives, and to find stable moral values to guide us in these critical times.

Well, we will have to find the right kind of formula of industrial development that is tailored the unique challenges facing the continent, the most paramount being poverty and tribal differences, in order to reap the benefits of development.

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