Are Bankers Holding Countries Hostage?

Published on 23rd January 2007

Kenyans crossed into 2007 with the local dailies headline: “Four Robbers Make Away with Ksh.22 Million.” Assuming the robbers are never caught, and factoring in the “overheads” of their trade, that is a cool 5M each. What a note to start the year on? Yet after the protracted festivities in some way or another, we were all thinking about money and perhaps wishing we too could rob a bank!


Money makes the world go round, it is said. But do we ever pause and wonder what money really is? What does it do? Why is it necessary? I am pained to watch Africa’s overnight millionaires grow richer without getting involved in any legitimate money making activities. It seems to me that money, the most laudable invention of man, second only to language, besides solving the paralysis of the “double coincidence of wants,” has also opened a can of social worms.


The tragic web of societal breakdown: slavery, poverty, inequality, wars, human rights abuses, crimes, corruption, bad governance is intricately woven by a common thread… money! Somewhere in the world right now, families are being disrupted by raining bombs…because of money. Someone has just given up his “ghost” for either lack of money or possession of it. Somewhere in Africa, a child is starving. Another is at the brink of death. Worse still, another child is being auctioned to the highest bidder in the name of adoption. Why? You are right… money.


Early man used to barter goods or services for other goods or services. For example, a bag of rice for a bag of beans.  This system of trade lacked flexibility, as it was hard to find ready exchange for a good or service. This led to the creation of commodity money. A commodity was a basic item used by almost everyone in the community. Salt, tea, tobacco, cattle and seeds were once used as commodity but were abandoned for difficulty in portability and perishability.

The Western world started using coin money and precious metals around 700 BC, while the Chinese were the first to use paper money. Initial currency had its value pegged on gold or silver, but with time it evolved representative money. Representative money was backed by a government or bank's promise to exchange it for a certain amount of silver or gold.


Money derives its value from the faith of the users. In his Commonwealth lecture, 2003, Prof. Yunus, architect of the Grameen bank asserts that, “…in some important ways, our designing of the theoretical framework of economics or the misrepresentation of it is responsible for perpetuating poverty.” Whereas money is commonly used as medium of exchange and “store of value”, therein lies the misrepresentation. Money is a publicly accepted tool of effecting exchange and measuring the value of goods and services. It is not in itself a store of value.  This misconception explains why African’s rich people stash their ill –gotten money abroad where it creates jobs and denies their own people means to livelihood.


Our perception and beliefs on money have wrongly misguided our realities in politics, health and even in education among others. Africa suffers bad leadership because we elect our government representatives according to the content of their pockets; not their heads. Our children miss education for lack of money while we can afford to pay a member of parliament with zero productivity, close to Ksh. 6M per annum.


How much of our development struggle is from a colonial inherited economic (bank) that did not proactively support local entrepreneurship? Did you know that just by controlling the amount of credit and interest rates, banks can create depression, recession or a boom-burst in an economy? In 1930 America did not lack industrial capacity, fertile farmlands or skilled and willing workers. The country had an extensive and efficient transportation system. No war had ravaged the country, no crop failure had weakened its population, nor had famine stalked the land. The US went out of one thing: an adequate supply of money to carry on trade and commerce. Bankers, the only source of new money and credit, deliberately withheld loans to industries and farmers. Conversely, payments on existing loans were required and money rapidly disappeared from circulation. The nation had goods to be purchased, jobs waiting to be done, but the lack of money brought the country to a halt. By this simple ploy, America was put in a "depression" and bankers took possession of hundreds of thousands of farms, homes, and business property. What were the people told?  "Times are hard" and "money is short."


Our banking institutions have to reconsider their operational principles. They should stop hoarding money but invest it in entrepreneurs. The Grameen Bank model has reversed the conventional banking practices by removing the need for collateral, and created a banking system based on mutual trust, accountability, participation and creativity. The unconventional model is empowering the poor and should be adopted in Africa as well! After all, if several Middle East nations are giving interest-free loans to their citizens today and continue to be prosperous, can’t the same be true of Africa?


Africa should adopt a new meaning of money to reinvigorate development and tame corruption. Money is simply a measure and symbol of payment, but not a store of value. It is a collectively agreed and acceptable medium of delivery of value and not a medium of exchange of value. This shift in perception will be a quantum shift in the way we perceive, generate and use money. Practically speaking, money should function not as a ‘promissory note’ (I Owe You), but as a collectively accepted ‘acknowledgement note’ (I Thank You). In essence, money is a universal acknowledgement receipt which enables both the producer and consumer of service and goods to meet their objectives.


Prof. Yunus of the Grameen bank aptly points out: “a human being is born in this world fully equipped not only to take care of himself (which all other life-forms can do too), but also to contribute in enlarging the well-being of the world as a whole.” Money and its effective circulation is a society’s accountability register for each individual’s contribution to the society’s corporate development. 


A shift in how we view money could be the answer to society’s ills such as crime, unemployment, poverty and destitution. Trust money will free us from the endless thirst to accumulate promissory notes and bequeath to all of us our common inheritance and property - the earth. It will restore the age old principles of life in the use of natural resources.  Money will be a reward signifying the value of the improvement of those resources and an acknowledgement of how that improvement has contributed to the well being of the issuer of the money as well as the society.


In the rural places where money is limited, people are still bartering their goods and services. During crop planting season, one farmer in Busia district of Kenya, having no money to hire laborers to till his farm, slaughtered a bull and dished out meat to his neighbors who in turn ploughed his farm and planted maize. This concept exchange teaches us that it is not money we should be looking for but work! Looking at the concept of ITU money, the farmer gave out a measure of meat as a ‘thank you note’ to laborers who worked in his farm. The laborers gave the farmer a ‘thank you note’ in form of labor on his farm for keeping the animal that gave them meat. Simply put, each individual had a contribution to the society. For those who work in offices, salaries are a measure of ones value or his contribution to the society. It is a thank you note from the employer (a custodian of the society) for the workers’ accountability to the society. You in turn thank the kiosk man for bringing closer your daily needs and the chain goes on in circles. Money, in the bottom-line, is work and its reward!


When the society redefines money as an accountability acknowledgement note, self-employment, small business holders, and entrepreneurs will emerge to make their contribution to humanity. When we begin to see money, as ITU, our conscience will be pricked to thank our house-helps, watchmen, cobblers, gardeners and waiters among others well. A society with ITU money has no corruption, hoarding, and stocks speculations. All enterprises will be about provision of service, and not so much about making and accumulating more money. When the banking institutions review their economic principles to see money as trust notes or ITU, they will stop manufacturing money out of nothing and charging compound interests. When the concept of ITU money finally gets to the global casinos in the name of IMF and World Bank, Rock Star turned humanitarian Bono will be free to go back to his music studio, as the West will wake up to reality that Africa owes nobody a dime.


To progress towards sustainable development in Africa, our schools need to teach more of how to make money than how to use money! We need to use less brain in the chase for money and put more into innovativeness, creativity and entrepreneurship. We need to look at work as source of livelihood and not money. You can have money but if no one who has worked his farm, you could still die of starvation. The reverse may be a better story.


Banks, investors, rich men and women need to stop storing money in safes but put that money in the work-force to produce goods and services for the society. A Quantum shift in the way we perceive, generate and use money has a lot of answers to the poverty situation in Africa. Monetary reform, aid, micro-finance and local currency together will not do much in myriad systemic economic problems generated by our misconceptions of the idea behind money. We have to transform our very perception and definition of money and review some flawed, self-destructive and dysfunctions in the economic assumptions and methodology we hold fast. We need to realize that money well conceptualized is an economic empowerment tool just like democracy is a political empowerment tool.

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