AFRICA will have learnt during 2011 that the fight against poverty needs people with fire in their bellies — a contradiction, some might say.
The young Tunisian vendor who committed suicide to unleash the wave of rebellion in the region could be said to have been weak — most suicides are said to originate with an inherent fear to face the truth.
Salvador Allende, the Chilean Marxist leader who committed suicide in 1973, rather than resign as the first Marxist leader of a South American country, was not a weakling by any definition.
Similarly, the young vendor might not have surrendered to weakness. His valiant act had the exact response from his people that he had hoped for — to fight poverty.
What happened in North Africa can be described as a fight against poverty. Poverty is Africa’s Number One Enemy.
Others might say dictatorship is the continent’s No.1 Nemesis. Yet the two are inseparable.
Most poverty on the continent is man-made. Most leaders are concerned more with their survival in power than with poverty among their people Every opposition group that sprouts in Africa links its existence to the horrible conditions of the people.
People respond easily to such a platform — they all want a better life — more jobs, more hospitals and an end to corruption.
The two economic giants of the continent, Nigeria and South Africa may be shining examples of African entrepreneurship. But their performance on the huge stage of satisfying — even halfway — the basic needs of their people falls well below
average. Their levels of corruption are shocking: there are always reports of high-ranking government figures being found guilty of abusing public funds.
For political reasons, some of the miscreants are let off the hook. This encourages impunity among many other high-ranking figures.
The entire stewardship of the country’s economy is thus entrusted into the hands of same people who think nothing of spending millions of taxpayers’ money on visits to their girlfriends, thrown into jail in Switzerland on drugs-related
crimes. Meanwhile, there is a drug shortage in the public hospitals. The health budget for the year has been exhausted. Nobody can explain convincingly what happened.
It would be a small miracle if someone was fired for that mistake. Political patronage runs deep.
But President Jacob Zuma has won kudos for acting decisively in such cases — but not enough, according to his critics.
In Nigeria, which won independence from the British in 1960 and has had many military coups since, these things can take time to sort out.
Incidentally, there is abject poverty in Nigeria and South Africa — some of it so staggering it is hard to believe countries can be cited as the finest examples of African political and economic prudence.
There are shafts of light in the darkness — in education, they are both doing well.
But no-one would identify them as the typical African success story against poverty.
There is poverty all over the world. But no continent has as many poor people as Africa. One reason is that it was the last to be touched by “development”.
Its dark past is spattered with the sins of colonialism, during which it was exploited ruthlessly by the invaders. Some of the cruelties of colonialism nearly sapped the moral spine of the people of Africa.
At independence, most seemed to lack the strength and will to start “developing” their countries.
In many instances, the few educated and politically savvy individuals took centre stage and turned into the big, fat cats who populated the upper reaches of African society in the early years of independence.
In many countries, the fight against poverty was stunted by the military coups: the soldiers’ priority was to stay in power as long as they could – not to tackle the poverty of the civilian population.
But one of the evil ingredients the politicians introduced into the poverty equation was to constantly remind the people that THEY had brought independence to the people — wasn’t that even more important than fighting poverty, which
would come later?
Clearly, the people are impatient. They are ready to fight to the death to end poverty, as they did for independence.