Africa: Why Poverty Lingers

Published on 7th May 2010

The various debates on poverty are a  reminder of the numerous programs, projects and initiatives created by NGOs, Non Profits and government in an attempt to solve poverty.  

In Nigeria, we are reminded of OFN - Operation Feed the Nation by then Nigeria Head of State Obasanjo in the late 1970s; The World Bank's Structural Adjustment Program that sapped developing nations of their wealth; Better Life by Babaginda's wife and successive similar programs to help eliminate poverty. Amidst all these, how come we still deal with poverty as if it is a new phenomenon?  

Poverty is not due to failed financial and or economic models. Rather, it is due to failed leadership. Until nations, individuals, corporations and leaders play fair and commit to doing things positively and differently, it is more like recycling old wine in the same wine bottle.  

Individual responsibility with an unyielding sense to obtain what is fair and equitable in any transaction, is key to economic emancipation and poverty reduction. In 1985, when I left Nigeria for US, I paid N768.50, then an equivalent of $1,280.83, for my one way ticket - even though it was a booked return ticket. Today, the same route costs about N250,000. Please calculate the rate of change.  

How come Nigeria's currency  that was judged then as a rising star in the anal of currency appreciations/stability and was seen as dependable currency has suddenly become useless to date? It is failed leadership supported in part by acts and actions of western institutions intended to cut her economic growth. If the world is serious about eradicating poverty, and we believe in one Global Village, then let's trade in one currency.

If that were to happen, Immigration would drop and western economies would teeter on the verge of collapse. The west's economic model is hinged on immigration, currency devaluation, import substitution, IOUs issued to developing nation and deficit budgeting among others. One global currency would eliminate persons moving to developed nations because there would be no overwhelming need to do so which is often occasioned due to lacking and limited opportunities. 

A good read are Lee Kuan Yew Years and From Third to First, books by first Singapore Prime Minister on what it took to develop a nation - Singapore. Currency devaluation did not become part of the international monetary agenda until the late 1950s when colonies were seeking and becoming independent and colonial master - Great Britain sought ways to discourage pulling out of the Exchequer. US was naive then about devaluation as it was never a colonizing nation. But when Nixon in 1972, pulled US out of the bullion standards used as a measure of a nation's wealth, stating that US good faith is worth more than any bullion, the Dollar, then a lame currency started to surge and soared, and it's now the world's currency of choice.  

Nixon defied all the prescriptions of then seasoned economists and took a single action - a good example of leadership. With that singular action, the world started gravitating towards the US as the Dollar became hard currency. The World Bank and IMF changed course and started promoting currency devaluation standards, which are never scientific but overly subjective; often used to punish weak nations and get then to buy-in into US/West programs.  

African nations got hit harder because their leadership was/is seen as the weakest in the world, and easily went along to please the West. Fast forward: China studied carefully and decided as it made its strides that it was never going to peg her currency to the Pound and Dollar, and shunned World Bank and IMF prescriptions as to what economic models they should abide by. A communist nation today lends to a capitalist nation. A Harvard PhD in Economics did not write the economic blueprint for China. Rather, China decided that it was going the opposite direction and do all and those things that will help it develop and emerge; unapologetically.  

Even though I am a Harvard alumni, I know that when it comes to its liberal studies especially those coming out of the Kennedy School of Government, the idea is to promote US superiority and make others dependent. Although India keeps endowing various programs at Harvard to help her train some of their civil servants and middle level managers, China has refused to endow such programs because it has seen what has happened to India – the world largest democracy that is more poor than the world's largest communist nation.  

Since 1636 when Harvard opened its doors, leading to conferring various certificates, diplomas and degrees, being the first college in US, US has less than 9% of her population with college degrees and about 25% with college education. Education in the US is the easiest to obtain because there are more colleges and universities in US than anywhere in the world. The Harvard liberal education is about years of  regurgitating theorems but hardly any practice.   

The US needs help with her mounting debt that is eroding her credibility as a leader. How one accepts help matters. Some 'help' is Greek in nature, and that type, I abhor. An irony. Greece is now in trouble because it took the big pill 'HELP' offered by EU. Joining EU has rendered Greece dependent and left to machination of factors outsider her control, due in part to weak leadership in Greece brand of government. 

Poverty eradication shall not materialize unless the existing economic model is changed. Poverty shall remain something developed nations will always use to demean developing nations and even within their own borders, make a segment of their population feel inadequate so they are exploited. In US, many minority communities are considered poor. For example, the African-American church community in DFW is known to deposit about $2-3 billion annually in area banks, but is never able to attract about 10% of their deposit as reinvestment money into their community, using the provisions of CRA - Community Reinvestment Act. And there is no bank owned by blacks in DFW.  It is because of failed leadership in the black community which is a mirror of what their African counterparts/cousins are doing: Depositing their money in Western institutions and turning around to ask for NGOs to the rescue.  

By Ejike E Okpa ii

Dallas, Texas.

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