The Beggar’s Bowl: How Africans Become Beggars

Friday, April 29, 2011

By Japheth Joshua Omojuwa

If you frown at a man who has decided to live his life begging, what would you say or do about a people whose lives are collectively lived as a race of eggars? If you think it is impossible for that to be possible, then you have not met Africa

If the title of this piece suggests to you it’s a fiction, I’d advice you
dispel that suggestion before you continue reading. The beggar, his bowl and
his poverty is only a unit paradigmatic representation of what you know, see
and are indeed a part of. That we are unconscious of it or that we do not
admit it will not change the truth. The truth that has defined the
destinies of several generations and will indeed affect that for which we
can say has not been – the unborn generation.

If you live in Africa, then you must have seen a beggar at least once (I
know there are beggars elsewhere but my piece is of Africa, by Africa and
for Africa). An average beggar is represented by his physically apparent
wretchedness, his begging bowl (some even go around in polythene bags these
days) and possibly his assistants. I have two distinct classes of beggars
depending on those I’ll offer my money and those who will never get to have
a dime from me. Those beggars that go around with able bodied subordinates
don’t stand a chance with my money, simply because the man pushing the cart
would be better off doing a credible job rather than being an accessory to
begging. In this case he is not even the beggar; he is an assistant beggar
though without any excuse whatsoever to beg. Some would even argue that no
one has a reason to beg considering the lives of John Foppe, Cobhams
Asuquo, Stevie Wonder and the likes. If you frown at a man who has decided
to live his life begging, what would you say or do about a people whose
lives are collectively lived as a race of beggars? If you think it is
impossible for that to be possible, then you have not met Africa.

African governments do one or two of two things when faced with any
challenge with respect to money; they borrow and/or run after aid from the
West. This pot of aid has fetched Africa over $500
by figures deduced before this decade. That we have depended on
foreign aid is not as much the issue as the fact that such aids eventually
find their way back to the source countries. It is simple enough. With the
money from aid, our kleptomaniac inept rulers service mind boggling account
figures in foreign banks. We end up buying more foreign exchange than
necessary because our economies are virtually moribund, as such we must
import almost all the supplies of our livelihood. When we export as in cocoa
and petroleum, we end up on the beaten side because for every barrel of
petroleum we export, we import tons of petroleum products. Ours remain a
primary economy. An economy that depends on primary commodities cannot compete
well in international trade because it is only logical for the buying
country to gain as much as they can from the finished products of the
primary products they imported in the first place. If the United States pays
$50 or so for every barrel of petroleum they get from us, they refine the
petroleum and get some other products which we could term secondary products
like coke, ethanol, gasoline, diesel fuel, asphalt base, heating oil,
kerosene, liquefied petroleum gas and the likes. That is not the story. Read
this : One 42-gallon barrel of oil creates 19.4 gallons of gasoline. The
rest (over half) is used to make things like: TV Cabinets, Shag Rugs,
Electrician’s Tape, Tool Racks, Car Battery, Cases, Motor Oil, Bearing
Grease, Ink, Floor Wax, Ballpoint Pens, Football, Cleats, Upholstery,
Sweaters, Boats, Insecticides, Bicycle Tires, Sports Car Bodies, Nail
Polish, Fishing lures, Dresses, Tires, Golf Bags, Perfumes, Cassettes,
Dishwasher parts, Tool Boxes, Shoe Polish, Motorcycle Helmet, Caulking,
Petroleum Jelly, Transparent Tape, CD Player, Faucet Washers, Antiseptics,
Clothesline, Curtains, Food Preservatives, Basketballs and some 6000 (six
thousand) other

So then you see why the West can always afford to drop a few dollars into
Africa’s begging bowl. The same analysis goes for Cocoa, Gold, Diamond and
other major African exports. The truth is, if Africa concentrates on trade,
she will be rich enough to lift her over 36 million people that are expected
to fall into poverty by 2015. Join that to the current figures and what you
get is this: Africa will fail woefully at achieving the Millennium
Development Goals except there’s a change in policy and economic strategy.
The IMF (International Monetary Fund) forecasts a GDP of 5.4% growth for
sub-Saharan Africa up to 2015. The poverty alleviation effect of this growth
is expected to reduce African poverty rates from about 50% to 47%. This
looks like an improvement but it isn’t when weighed against Africa’s growing
population rate. The population growth outpaces the GDP growth hence more
Africans will indeed be living in poverty by 2015. This is so because
population growth eventually dilutes the marginal economic growth. It is
like a father who used to earn $100 while he had two kids. This means that
along with his wife, they share an average of $25 per head. By the time his
earnings are increased to $120, he already brought two more kids to the
world. His income does actually increase but the per head effect is that
each person gets $20, which is $5 short of their previous condition.

With African nations borrowing billions of dollars and getting even more in
aid, they have financed the death of their citizens through endless wars and
strife. Do not mind that the lender not only gets to have interests, he also
gets to have his money back as the weapons of war are the merchandise of the
lender. Africa though isn’t as shackled by war as it is by a restricted
economy. The reason seats of African governments remain the object of
guerilla and ethnic wars lies in the central nature of most African
governments. Africans may be politically free but in practice Africans are
not free. Property rights are virtually non-existent and this means
entrepreneurial acts are curtailed from inception. Karol Boudreaux writes
‘‘Decentralizing decision making about how and when to use property gives
individuals greater scope to engage in creative entrepreneurial behavior’’
When would be entrepreneurs eventually go through the proverbial needle hole
of property rights, they are faced with a region that consistently ranks
lowest in the world in terms of the ease of Doing Business. A look at the
2008 and 2009 figures show African countries positioned at the foot of 181
ranked countries, the highest ranked African country in 2009 placed
35th(South Africa)
When they survive these technical troubles militating against Doing
Business, they are met with grossly inadequate infrastructure. Nothing seems
to work here in Africa yet our governments hold tight to businesses they
have no business running in a sane world – though ours looks increasing as
insane as the thirst in our leaders to steal our common wealth.

Talking about the beggar, no man gains financial independence or any sort of
independence for that matter, by begging. As long as you beg, your fortunes
remain limited. In fact, that one has chosen to beg means one does not value
ones potentialities to create value and earn unlimited wealth.

There is hope for this continent. This lies in its people’s willingness to
see themselves better than they currently do. We must remove the beggar’s
dirty garb and put on the honourable act of wealth creation through vast
economic productivity. Governments and their apologists cannot make wealth;
they only know how to collect money through taxes, aid and borrowings. The
next thing they know to do after that is to waste such funds on their
personal whims and white elephant projects.

A beggar no matter how full his bowl can never claim freedom until he makes
his wealth through productive means. You can not claim to be free from me
when each time you find yourself in trouble, you come running to me for some
aid. Africa must seek the path of economic liberty and prosperity. The
future lies in trade.

Japheth J Omojuwa is an associate of