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#MSDdiaries; Musings on Poverty and Development

Studying sustainable development has broadened my understanding of just how Africa as a continent set itself up for failure. A continent so rich, yet poverty walks around in multitudes in the form of human beings. Millions are so improvised, and neglected while our leaders champion affluence and opulence. Government systems are neck-deep in corruption, oppression, nepotism, and deprivation. Beliefs, traditions, and superstitions that hold us back. Empowerment programs all over Africa but very little progress. The wheels of poverty keep rolling.

Studies have shown in the past that poor people can be concentrated in particular areas or belong to a certain tribe or religion but in a multicultural society like Nigeria, poor people are everywhere. Even in big cities like Lagos, which has now been tagged “an expensive slum” because of the high cost of living, and congestion which does not translate to a better standard of living despite the hype, you find poverty hidden in plain sight. The case of using spatial and social dimensions to classify people into extreme and chronic poverty may not have the desired impact in a country like Nigeria where the language is rich and poor. Anyone can be rich and anyone can be poor. People in the same class relate and defend each other’s interests, not because of their race or religion but because of their economic class. When the issue of tribalism or religion or gender takes center stage in development planning, no measured improvements in the lives of the poor will be visible; the focus should be on people’s economic class as against any other criteria.

Despite all the dramatic improvement in average income levels, Nigeria is still far from developed. The kind of growth seen in some parts of Asia based on equality which reduced massive poverty has refused to find momentum in Africa. As a continent and a country, we must figure out what works for us and stop embracing the “Western” concept of “development equals growth” and be open to learning from its failure. China and Russia chose a different path (Communism) to development, not in any way related to the “Capitalism blueprint”. The argument of communism and capitalism is for another day but the goal is to focus on the visible and measurable progress achieved based on their homegrown approach. Africa is always stuck in the quagmire of development, cutting costs in all the wrong places and using citizens as scapegoats for white elephant projects.

Excessive dependence on non-renewable carbon resources and minerals which continually cost many innocent citizens, their lives because of poor resource law and unregulated controls on resource flow/use is manifested in “money” recycled in fewer hands. When people cannot even afford basic amenities that are supposed to give them the tiniest hold on self-dignity, politicians construct mere unsustainable grassroots projects that sometimes have short-lived functions in rural areas and a population, so hungry they have embraced stomach infrastructure over logic.

So the question is why are the poorest still being missed out despite all the interventions and projects that gulp millions yearly?

Why haven’t the fortunes of the poor changed?

How best do we structure long-term projects to yield quicker positive trickle-down effects on those targeted as against subjecting people to a long period of deprivation and suffering, which may eventually become another basket case of corruption?

What other measures should we use to generate data besides Income, GDP, Human Development Index (HDI) or Multi-Dimensional Poverty Index or even duration of poverty? How can we design measures to be used in generating accurate data, and limit assumptions and limitations?

In what way can we maximize the Participatory Rural Appraisal approach (by Robert Chambers 1994) which can aid development planning with tangible results?

It is important to note that trickle-down development aimed at raising people from the shackles of poverty amounts to zero when there is no equity. The presence of inequality in Nigeria’s systems that seeks to continually discriminate against people outside a familiar class will continue to widen the gap between the rich and the poor. Douglas Lumius describes fairness as not always meaning equity and treating people justly may not necessarily mean you are treating them the same. When the wrong idea of what equality means becomes attached to power with the guise of it being “sameness” then it becomes dangerous. This is why many people will continue to feel left out and underrepresented in a country like Nigeria.


In a broader sense, the world is not a collection of separate national economies as many would want us to believe but a single powerful economic system that operates solely to transfer wealth from the poor to the rich countries (Andre et al). Economic Development in present-day reality is poor countries struggle to catch up with the rich countries, a world operating on a system that generates inequality. For every piece of growth, that poorer countries achieve, it translates to even more prosperity for the richer countries. Rich in this sense is not about just controlling wealth but using wealth as a tool to control people. African leaders need to do better with the vast resources available to them, understand what works for Africa, and continually resist the urge to embrace failed Western mechanisms.

Like China, Africa must define a localized meaning of growth and development.

In this era of sustainability, aiming to be like the West may mean Africa will continue to do a catch-up race, pushing hard to reach a level many Western countries have long moved on from. Immediate strategic investment in education and research to be done by Africans and translated into physical projects to benefit the poor. The Western world is working with patterns that yield progress for their citizens, the question is what do Africans bring to the table when there are negotiations? Why can’t Africa, forge her own path and embrace her successes without validation from the west? why is the obsession with imported items?

How can Africans be getting poorer with all the resources while countries with far less do better than us? why can’t people in a position of power do better? What is it about power and wealth that Africans in positions of power cannot understand and balance?

This is why I am studying sustainable development, I need to find answers and I hope i do.

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