War Against Women Rages on as Kenyan women forcibly sterilised for having HIV

 

A few weeks ago, I published here a debate on weather contraceptives for Africa was a misplaced priority. While some sceptical persons like myself were of the opinion that Africa needed more education rather than pills, there were some who thought we were denying women their rights. Looking at this disturbing story by Maeve McClenaghan, I could not help but wonder.

Women deserve the right to Choose

Is there really a war against Africa’s future going on under the guise of protecting women?

If women can be sterilised without their knowledge, even when they are not at risk of having many kids, does that not account to the worst violations of their rights?

With NGOs like the US-based  Project Prevention  paying women living with HIV to have intrauterine birth control devices implanted, who is to say that the whole rhetoric about birth control in Africa is not clearly another silent war against the continent?

I am sure by the time you finish reading this story, you will ask many more questions – so happy reading!!!

They say “NO TO FORCED STERILISATION”

When she went to hospital to give birth Amani had a lot on her mind. Not only are maternal mortality rates in Kenya worryingly high but during an ante-natal check-up Amani had been told that she was HIV positive. The expectant mother was reassured that delivering the baby by caesarean section was the safest way to avoid transmission of the virus to her child. So as she was wheeled in to the operating theatre she could be forgiven for thinking she was in safe hands. But her trust was misplaced. During the procedure, and without her knowledge or authorisation, Amani was sterilised.

She only ever found out what had happened by chance. ‘I discovered that tubal ligation had been done when I took my baby to the clinic after delivery,’ Amani said. ‘The nurse requested me to allow her to examine my wound, and in the process a colleague passed by and asked how the tubal ligation scar was healing. I did not know about it and only thought they had cut me because I was having a baby.’

Amani’s is not an isolated case. A new report by NGO African Gender and Media Initiative details 40 case studies of Kenyan women who have undergone forced or coerced sterilisation because they were HIV positive.

‘I thought they had cut me because I was having a baby’
Amani

The report makes shocking reading, some women find their husbands signing the medical papers, allowing doctors to perform the irreversible procedure to tie their fallopian tubes. Others unwittingly sign documents thrust in front of them during the chaos of labour, only to later discover what they had signed up to.

Several of the women interviewed reported being mistreated by the health care workers trained to support them. Nekeska gave birth in 2008 at Kakamega General Hospital. There she faced a barrage of abuse. According to Nekeska the doctor told her ‘It is an offence for women who are HIV positive to have children’ and said she was told she could only have the baby she was due to deliver if she agreed to be sterilized. Nekeska put up a fight and refused to sign the consent papers, but was sterilised anyway.

Many of the women coerced or forced into sterilisation report finding themselves ostracized, cast out from their martial homes with the double burden of infertility and their HIV status. Amani’s husband died of Aids in 2004 leaving her and her daughter. ‘In the last few years I have had three suitors but I had to stop the relationships because if I get married to them, then I will be abandoned when they discover I cannot have children’, she said.

According to the 2007 Kenya AIDS Indicator Survey nearly one out of every ten pregnant women in Kenya is infected with HIV. Children less than 15 years of age account for 16 percent of all HIV infections; most of these infections were acquired through mother-to-child transmission. However, the chances of HIV transmission from mother to baby can be virtually eliminated through use of anti-retroviral drugs during pregnancy and labour, and by delivering the baby via Caesarian section.

NGO involvement
The report follows a Kenyan television news report in January which claimed that a US-based organisation Project Prevention was paying women living with HIV to have intrauterine birth control devices implanted. The Kenyan government reacted angrily to the news with the minister for medical services, Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o, announcing ‘It is important to stress that even HIV-positive women have the right to have children if and when they desire. HIV doesn’t take that right away, not at all.’

However it is both local health care workers and international NGOs that are implicated in this new report. Provision from Medicin Sans Frontier and Marie Stopes is mentioned in some of the women’s testimony.

Betty discovered she was HIV positive in 1993. She had just given birth to her fourth baby when community health workers visited her home and she claims she was then asked to accompany them to meet Marie Stopes doctors. Hoping she might receive financial assistance from the NGO she went along to the mobile clinic. Betty reports that there she was given forms to sign but she says ‘No one told me what I was signing for. I thought it was part of the registration.’ She was then operated on. After the procedure she was told community health workers had earmarked her as someone who should be sterilised because she was HIV positive and had no husband or income.

Marie Stopes responded to the report stating that ‘The process described by Betty is absolutely contrary to Marie Stopes International’s values, policy and practice on informed consent. We take any non-compliance on this issue extremely seriously.’ The NGO goes on to state that some of the case studies highlight that the sexual health body can ‘work with organisations who refer clients to Marie Stopes Kenya to strengthen their policies and practices around informed consent, and this is something we will seek to do immediately.’

A growing trend?
This is not the first time the issue of forced sterilisation has made the news. In June The Lancet reported on a government led sterilisation drive is Uzbekistan designed to control population growth. According to the report doctors received monthly sterilisation quotas and admited to tricking or pressuring women into the decision, or performing the operation without their consent, during caesarian sections.

The Uzbeki government firmly denied the reports.

 

Africans and the Olympic Games – What is the Motivation?

What will Africans be Remembered for?

Cameroonians supposedly ‘missing’ during Olympics

Shortly before the beginning of the just concluded Olympic Games, I wrote a piece for FabAfriq Magazine  carrying the same title as this post – Africans and the Olympic Games: What is the motivation? I began by asking a question and logically addressing it:

…what are the Olympic Games all about – what motivates people to come to them?

Of course, Pythagoras, many centuries BC had clearly stated that: “There are three sorts of people that attend the Olympic Games. The lowest class is made up of those who come to buy and sell, the next above them are those who compete. Best of all, however, are those who come simply to look on.”

I went on to conclude after challenging some of Pythagoras’ assumptions especially with reference to Africans and arrived at the conclusion that what motivates them is:

 Love of the games; patriotism – they can come in any order – but no more no less.

When the Olympics kick-off in London, Kenyans will win gold medals in track events, Nigerians will win gold in football (as they did in 1996) or other events, Africans from different nooks and crannies of the continent will prove their worth in gold in several sporting events. One thing that should cross the minds of anyone watching is this – all these people are making it out of nothing. Some will only be recognised if they win something – some have been only because they were able to make it to the very top – on their own.

If one is looking for people who need nothing much in life to succeed than an opportunity – look no further – watch out for Africans during the Olympic Games 2012 in London.

As we throw a glance back on London 2012 Olympics, it will likely be remembered for breathtaking performances,  the plethora of firsts for women, men and their nations, and the spirit of London that reverberated around the globe, from the scintillating and wonderfully executed opening ceremony, through the many performances and culminating in a quintessential British concert that was the closing ceremony.

There is no doubt that the UK will want us to always remember that the did so well both in hosting and coming third – second to the USA and China – Michael Phelps will be remembered for becoming the most decorated Olympian. Usain Bolt solidified his status as the world’s greatest sprinter after doubts were heaped upon him before the Games but it does not end there – his relationship to a ‘White’ lady becomes an issue for massive debate.

Gabby Douglas will be remembered for being one of those to make history for her country by winning one medal individually and helping her team win another – but again – unfortunately, she will be remembered more for being the lady who did not do her hair as many would have wanted.

The link I can make between Bolt and Gabby is their ancestry which is undoubtedly African. At this stage therefore, I am apt to ask another question: What will Africans be remembered for after the Olympics?

The African Mo Farah will be celebrated for making history in the long-distance track event – and his victory is not marred by negative news! Oh! I forgot he is British! So nothing negative trails his victory.

Let me take a look at the general African Olympic standings:

Country Gold Silver Bronze Total
South Africa 3 2 1 6
Ethiopia 3 0 3 6
Kenya 2 4 4 10
Tunisia 1 1 1 3
Uganda 1 0 0 1
Algeria 1 0 0 1
Egypt 0 2 0 2
Botswana 0 1 0 1
Morocco 0 0 1 1

Not too bad but not too wonderful – but going by my initial submission – many of these should be celebrated because many achieved something from nothing – many came from countries with myriads of problems: war-torn countries; countries stricken by famine and drought; countries still struggling to come out of waves of revolutions; countries at logger-heads with their neighbours – just to name a few. But were these modest achievements celebrated? Maybe! But again like everything African, the achievement is immediately clouded by unfavourable news. This time Africa will not be remembered by the medals won but by the news of athletes supposed to have ‘absconded’ or gone missing. The headlines on western media after the Olympics have been screaming like this one on Eurosport

More African athletes go missing in London

From the Telegraph to Reuters, to the Guardian, to BBC to CNN these has been what has been making news. From the initial story that came out about 7 Cameroonians ‘missing’ through to the most recent ones from Guinea, Ivory Coast to the DRC, the foregone conclusion has been that their motives for ‘absconding’ is economic! I will not challenge this conclusion given the situation in the countries all named – but I will like to ask a few questions:

Why is the media so obsessed with negative news about Africa or people of African decent?

Participants at the Olympics have up to November to legally stay in the UK – what then is this talk about people going missing – does their decision to leave their teams or camps automatically translate to a decision to stay after the expiration of their visas?

Would the language have been the same had some Europeans not been found in their hotels or camps during an event in Africa or Asia? I guess not – they would have been branded to have been kidnapped!

With the current situation in Europe, are western media outlets not being hypocritical to make it seem like Europe could be a safe haven for anyone? At least I know many people who are legally living in the continent, well qualified, with the right to work but finding it difficult to get jobs because of the recession – to make it seem as if anyone coming in would have it easy could be misleading to say the least. Casual work in the UK has become a luxury so I wonder how those who ‘abscond’ are going to survive.

What ever the answers to these questions – I guess the news is serving its purpose – making the UK look good and an appealing destination even for Olympians – while making Africa look bad – as usual. Hence, while others are making news for their achievements – Africa is being remembered for what she is – a continent where no one wants to live!

This has brought to life a question that will be asked even as the world looks towards the next Olympics in Brazil – what will be the motivation for African athletes?

INDIA’S JOURNEY TO THE “TOP” – THE MISSING LINK!

It is Santayana who rightly pointed out that those who forget their history are bound to repeat it. Despite all the negative aspersions that have been cast on history over time, especially given the biases that accompany some historical works, history as a record of a people’s past is something that cannot be taken lightly.

AAttending an event last week at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (where Prof. Sugata Bose launched his book His Majesty’s Opponent: Subhas Chandra Bose and India’s Struggle against Empire) happens to have been my waking call from a dogmatic slumber. The panel discussions, questions and contributions from the audience left a sour taste in my mouth. I used to be confident that I knew much about India’s pre and post colonial history from what I learned at school and could use these to analyse what is going on in their current political scene. I have never been more wrong. I realised how little I knew and how much was being left out. All through the discussions I could not help but remember Chimamanda in the Danger of a single story who points out that

“… There is a word, an Igbo word, that I think about whenever I think about the power structures of the world, and it is “nkali.” It’s a noun that loosely translates to “to be greater than another.” Like our economic and political worlds, stories too are defined by the principle of nkali. How they are told, who tells them, when they’re told, how many stories are told, are really dependent on power.”

She goes on to state that “Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person. The Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti writes that if you want to dispossess a people, the simplest way to do it is to tell their story, and to start with, “secondly.”” It will be difficult to refute the fact that there exist just this power, one that will be a bit elusive to situate, that has directed the telling of the Indian story. Begin the Indian story with independence, the break-off of Pakistan and we have a different story with Nehru and Gandhi at the foreground of events. However, begin this story by integrating the great role that Netaji Bose played in the fight for decolonisation and the role his ideas would have played had he been alive at the moment of independence and the story takes a completely new dimension.

It will be difficult to say how events would have played out had Bose lived on to independence. That however, is not an area for my speculation. What I cannot seem to get over is how a man who was in the picture till 1946 and who won an election in 1939 against Gandhi’s candidate, Pattabhi Sitaramayya, should be so obscure. I was really nonplussed when I realised that many of my Indian friends also did not know of this great icon? I was the one telling them! What else did they not know? I began to ponder. This was the biggest problem about a story being told from one perspective – it “…creates stereotypes. And the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”

Some persons who know of Chandra Bose were bold in asserting that the man has been receiving recognition and that there are now monuments built in his honour and many people now bear his name. These are great ways of immortalizing a great man no doubt, but the million rupees question that ought to be asked is if Bose fought and died for India just so that he could be honoured. I certainly do not think so, as in his lifetime he did not seek personal agrandisment but sought the welfare of the Indian people. If there is one thing that should live on, it should not be simply the memory of a man, but the ideas that he sought to impart. Gandhi himself described Bose as a man whose ‘self sacrifice and suffering, drive, integrity and commitment to the national cause and the capacity to bind all Indians into one people were unsurpassed.” Strangely enough, it would seem that these wonderful qualities died with the man. We can all agree that many a great man has lived and died but their ideas are immortal. It is believed that Bose last words to his colleague, Habib-ur Rehman. were: ”I don’t think I will recover. So when you go back to India, do tell our countrymen that I tried my best to wrest freedom but they should continue their struggle until they succeed.”Another many-layered-hydraic question that needs answering is how ‘free’ India has become since gaining political ‘independence’.

If Keynes view that “Ideas shape the course of history” is anything to go by, then the question needs be asked as to What the implication is of the fact that India rode to independence on the tripod of three great ideological spheres but dropped one immediately on independence. What impact can it have on India as a rising power on the international scene? The answer to these questions inevitably will lay bare the fact that there is a logical jump from India’s pre-colonial history to her projections for future prowess.

Subhash Chandra Bose and Gandhi have been widely presented as having divergent views. While the two undoubtedly held different visions of how independence should look like, the common ground was that they were both great Indian Patriots who wanted the best for the Nation.  Bose who was influenced by the success of the five-year plans in the Soviet Union, advocated for a socialist nation with an industrialized economy. Gandhi was opposed to the very concept of industrialization. What independent india needed to have adopted is therefore a synthesis of all ideas so as to come out with a new thesis that will be peculiar to India, Bose had earlier made a solid argument that  “… common traits will form the basis of the new synthesis. That synthesis is called… “Samyavada” — an Indian word, which means literally “the doctrine of synthesis or equality.” It will be India’s task to work out this synthesis.” What I see today is clearly a failure by India to arrive at this synthesis and hence what I can conclude  is a failure at attaining independence. There seemed to have been only a transfer of power from the British to the Indians but the very structures which oppressed the Indian people under colonialism and which these great men fought to overcome seem to have been adopted if not fortified. It is my humble opinion then that if current trends persist, it will not be long before the ordinary Indians begin another struggle for ‘independence’ – albeit not from foreign oppressors but from internal structures that oppress them.

India, is undoubtedly one of the fastest growing economies in the world today, second only to China. Growing at a rate which economies like that of the UK can never reach again even if they are recovering from a recession, this is India’s opportunity to make sure that she handles her internal issues else they will continue to serve as distractions from her accessing opportunities abroad. China has already realised this and has been focusing great energy in the mitigation of inequalities that exist within her borders. India has got great potential, but unless she comes to her own and adopt the non-voilence of Gandhi in home affairs but the ‘radical’ ideas of Netaji to thread the paths of   international politics, she risks becoming a power that will contain within herself the seeds of her destruction.  Long gone are the days when military might was the criteria for being a global power but even at that, economic might without a viable political strategy will be only a short term project.

As an emerging power, India therefore needs to be more assertive in her role as a Nation that understands the language of strive. She cannot do this by taking a neutral stance in happenings around the world. It was the South African, Desmond Tutu who pointed out that “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” As a future super power, India will need countries like Chile, Nepal, Afghanistan, Ivory Coast and even Libya and the time that she can get the support of such Nations is now, especially in the wake of several cases of gross violations of the right of sovereign States by the current world powers who have adopted the name “international community”. One lesson that can be drawn from the cold war is that no super power wants a rival. And will stop at nothing to stop any threats to the privileges of being a hegemon. For India therefore, to hinge the prospects of her becoming a superpower or getting a permanent seat in the UN security Council, (which she rightfully deserves)  to winning the favour of the US or Britain is to have lost it.

Aid, Politics and Development

When I first read Paul Collier‘s ‘The Bottom Billion: Why Poor countries are failing and what can be done about it“, I could not stop myself from clenching and unclenching my fists several times because of the vividness with which he captured certain situations I had witnessed and experienced. I could not wait to reach the portion of the book in which he discussed the second half of his subtitle “…What Can Be Done About it”  Collier does a good in presenting some very simple and arguably inexpensive solutions:

  • Aid agencies should increasingly be concentrated in the most difficult environments and accept more risk.
  • Appropriate Military Interventions  should be encouraged, especially to guarantee democratic governments against coups.
  • International Charters are needed to encourage good governance and provide prototypes.
  • Trade Policy needs to encourage free trade and give preferential access to Bottom Billion exports

I applauded to this and really found it difficult to think that there was a solution that could stray far from what he was proposing. My conviction was strengthened when I read  “Is Aid Oil? An analysis of whether Africa can absorb more aid.” (Do not mind the fact that I was anachronistic in my reading, I just happened to have seen the Bottom Billion first)The conclusion he arrives at is that

“Even though aid is not like oil, the scope for substantial expansion may nevertheless be limited by diminishing returns. The available evidence suggests that if aid is simply scaled-up proportionately, the incremental aid might indeed be much less effective, dollar-for-dollar, than existing aid.”

Fair enough, the argument in the Bottom Billion had support from an earlier document though it presented  Aid as  ‘Part of the Solution’  I thought I had found my ‘Holy Grail’. Could my quest for a solution to the African/Third world problems be over so soon? So I may have thought, until I had time to go through Heather‘s lectures and later participated in the seminar discussions. One of my Masters (the most sceptical of them all) had made it clear to me that

“When we run over libraries, persuaded of these principles, what havoc must we make? If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.”

Don’t get me wrong! Collier’s work is not a volume on divinity or school metaphysics (it is a very practical Economics textbook ‘that can be read even on the beach’ and one that I will love to read over and over) unfortunately it contains a lot sophistry and illusion. I am however not advocating like Hume that it be burnt because in that case, most of the volumes in the Social Sciences in recent years will be cast in to flames. (even Hume’s work will not have lived to tell its story) What I am simply trying to point out is that I accepted rationale of the book without subjecting it to critical judgement.

This week’s session did a lot to wake me up from my ‘dogmatic slumber’. I wonder why I kept looking at things in isolation. Aid in isolation is wonderful; Politics – especially international politics – in isolation is a den of wolves where only the fittest survive – Development in isolation… can development be isolated? I don’t know! It seems to be a thing of the future. But when we put the three together and what do we get? Aid that has to pass through some political machinations to bring about development. I was therefore both thrilled and amazed when I looked at the propositions that Heather wanted to be discussed during the seminar session:

1. Aid has a negative impact on politics in developing countries.

2. Aid has a positive impact on politics in developing countries.

3. Aid has no impact on politics in developing countries.

I was thrilled because I noticed that the propositions stood a chance of getting wide support and this meant a good avenue for exciting debate. I was however amazed because Hearther added that “You *must* come to a consensus on this, and so this will involve some friendly debating. You will also be expected to back up your position with examples.” Wow!!! A consensus on such extreme propositions… that was where the difficulty was surely to come… and it did come.

First of all, there was need to distinguish between Official and Non Official Sources of Aid, there was further need to distinguish between Grants and loans, Humanitarian and food Aid, Tied and Untied Aid, Project and Programme Aid, Basket Funds, Budget support, just to name a few. In attempting to do so it became clear that one could not dispute the fact that different types of Aid had different effects and varies from place to place.

The only area we could arrive at a consensus – or let me say where I could agree with the group – was the fact that Humanitarian Aid and other Relief Aid Agencies like the Red Cross, Islamic Relief and Christian Aid were doing a wonderful job and had a positive impact on the politics of developing countries albeit usually unintentionally, and should get all the support they need to continue. Unfortunately we could not have a synoptic view of other forms of official aid. The main reason I differed with others or anyone who thinks aid has any positive impact on the politics of developing nations is the fact that there is nothing positive to show for it. Let us leave all rhetorics aside and look directly at all the countries that have been receiving aid since their creation… there is none that I know that has really achieved better political structures because of aid… if anything I know of so many who have become more corrupt because of the availability of disposable income made possible by aid.

But Why Aid?
Why should rich countries be so concerned about giving aid to poor countries. Why not “teach the people how to fish rather than giving them fish”, why is it that China is one of the highest recipients of aid is also offering aid to Cameroon, or why should one bother to give aid to a country like Cameroon whose president can afford a holiday in which he spends over £25,000 a day for three weeks (or whose national football team can afford to stay in the 2nd most expensive hotel during the South African World cup tournament – beaten in class and only by Japan). What is the rationale behind giving aid to countries even when it is common knowledge that the money will find its way to a Swiss bank with the first available transaction? What in God’s name is the reason that aid is given with conditionalities that will have rippling effects for future generations who will not even be able to account for the aid? If Brundtland’s definition that “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” is anything to go by, then I will be bold to say here that aid is not sustainable, especially aid that has anything to do with the politics of third world nations.

But… is there any room for optimism… yes I think so but from two different unrelated perspectives: first is the fact that most of the taxpayers in the rich nations are beginning to question the usefulness of aid. For example some British people have recently been questioning the rationale behind aid when is was not bringing any positive reports. The report I read from a daily said that Britain will stop giving aid to China and Russia and will freeze its level of aid to India at 280 million a year for four years. The article called for a stop to all foreign aid since “… aid has been propping up dictators for years, with the cash ending up in Swish bank accounts, not in the stomach of those who need it most… it is time we stop sending bribes to these rich despots…”

The second reason for my optimism is fueled by Collier in a talk in which he states that Aid can only be a solution to the poverty of poor nations if it follows a recipe which is a combination of two forces that changed the world for good, – the alliance of compassion and enlightened self-interest. Compassion is necessary because a billion people are living in societies that have not offered credible hope and Enlightened self-interest, because the continuation of such economic divergence for another 40 years combined with social integration globally,  will be a nightmare for the children of the rich nations. Hence he feels that “We need compassion to get ourselves started, and enlightened self-interest to get ourselves serious. That’s the alliance that changes the world.”

Before I begin to get upbeat, it will be good for me to pause a little and wait for next week’s lecture in which a case study of Zimbabwe will put most of these arguments into perspective.

Pro-Poor Politics

Unfortunately, my confusion grows… so there is actually such a thing as pro-poor politics! The fact that I am confused should not in the least be surprising when one considers that I derive my foundation from the Athenian intellectual tradition where the primary focus of thought was the State, rather than the individual, and the all thinking on politics or economics stressed the political solidar­ity of society.  In the Republic for example Plato writes that  “A State, . . . arises… out of the needs of mankind; no one is self-sufficing, but all of us have many wants. . . . Then, as we have many wants, and many persons are needed to supply them, one takes a helper for one purpose and another for another; and when these partners and helpers are gathered together in one habita­tion the body of inhabitants is termed a State. . . . And they exchange with one another, and one gives, and another receives, under the idea that the exchange will be for their good.” The origin of the state therefore, is as a result of the absence of individual self-sufficiency in the satisfaction of wants.

Coming after Plato, Aristotle took another perspective to make the same point, indicating the importance of interdependence of everyone in the city state. Aristotle in Politics Book 1 pt. 2 points out that “… the state is by nature clearly prior to the family and to the individual, since the whole is of necessity prior to the part; for example, if the whole body be destroyed, there will be no foot or hand, except in an equivocal sense, as we might speak of a stone hand. . . . The proof that the state is a creation of nature and prior to the individual is that the individual, when isolated, is not self-sufficing; and therefore he is like a part in relation to the whole.”
If one were to go by these arguments, it becomes difficult not to conclude that society should be structured in such a way that every action benefits everyone. This could be done by applying laws that are progressive and that once implemented at the State level inevitably trickles down to every person. Unfortunately, the reality is not the case today in most developing countries where the elites consider themselves to be ‘above’ the State and actions that should have been carried out for the benefit of the state as a whole and where not carried out ( or carried out in such a way that leads to the fulfillment of the selfish interests of the Elites, at the detriment of the poor) are today being carried out with the tag  – Pro-Poor. Is it actually for the poor or is it done to prevent the poor being a problem to the welfare of the elites?

Before the lectures and discussions this week, I had this question going through my mind. Is pro-poor politics an end itself – the welfare of the poor – or is it a means to an end – getting the poor in a better situation that will reduce the possibility of them being a problem to the rich? I was more convinced there was need to look beyond the idea to the reality because Locke’s words kept re-echoing in my mind

The gap between our ideas and words about the world, and the world itself, is large and difficult, but still, if one man calls something good, while another man calls it evil, the deed or man referred to still has real qualities of good or evil, the categories exist in the world regardless of our names for them, and if one man’s word does not correspond to another mans word, this a problem of communication, not fundamental arbitrariness in reality.

Hence the bottom-line should be “good politics” – to call it ‘pro-poor’ or any other name does not change the effects of the action carried out. There is no gainsaying the fact that a hospital or good sanitation facilities provided in a poor neighbourhood benefits the poor but what is not noticed or spoken is that it also frees the rich from drudgery of having to think of a cholera outbreak that will not discriminate between poor and rich.

When I was reading through Moore and Putzel’s (2001) paper, I was fascinated by the ease with which they presented the arguments relating to pro-poor policy making. I could not help questioning some of their conclusions/assumptions:

First they feel that democracy has differential outcomes for the poor. The first problem I found with this assumption was the lack of delineation of what they meant by ‘poverty’. Are they discussing absolute poverty or relative poverty? These distinctions will go a long way to change some of the broad conclusions they arrived at. Secondly, the term democracy is used there loosely to simply mean ‘providing people with a framework to vote for their leaders’ – but is that really what democracy is all about? While I will like to agree with them (especially going by the illustration given of Kamataka and Andhra Pradesh) that the nature of politics has different effects on the poor, I however could not fail to notice that they only succeeded in pointing to what was obvious and illustrating these with examples. The question should  not be what name a particular system of politics or governance is called but how much it impacts on the life of the people as a whole. Hence I totally agree with them that making accomplishments in poverty reduction a criterion for legitimacy of governments will be a wonderful idea. Unfortunately the problem arises about how to measure these accomplishments. Who will be the arbiter and who are those involved in the presentation of evidence? Will it be the poor themselves?

According to Chipi (2010)

“…the adoption of democratic institutions does not alone suggest a change in elite behaviour or in the actions they take. The persistence of poverty reflects its institutionalization within social and political norms as well as institutions and its acceptance within political discourse. Hence, noble agendas – such as empowerment of the poor, or increased political space for the poor to participate in – offer very little promise if the elites who are required to adopt and implement these institutions are anyhow ignored.”

While I agree entirely with the first part of her argument, I question very much the logic of the concluding part because experience has shown that there may well be some situations where the elites are not required to ‘adopt’ and ‘implement’ institutions. In most cases, they tend to be inimical to the whole process of empowerment of the poor. The reason I think is that, having being established as a ruling class, most of the elites in poor countries generally enrich themselves at the public’s expense through public graft and corruption as well as deals with foreign capitalists. For example Fanon presents this situation prosaically that;

By dint of yearly loans, concessions are snatched up by foreigners: scandals are numerous, ministers grow rich, their wives doll themselves up, the members of parliament feather their nest and there is not a soul down to the simple policeman or the custom officer who does not join in the great procession of corruption.”(1963:165-66)

In Nigeria, for example, Njoko points out that “The present political economy has largely succeeded in erecting greedy an affluent politicians and a listless, scarred public. In fact, the myth that is a way of African life has to be abandoned. Our experience so far is that the government, the politician, is the greatest armed robber, victimiser or oppressor in Nigeria.”  (2004:91) The issue  remains unclear whether there is such a thing as pro-poor or whether policies aimed at the poor are simply part of a political agenda.

Later following Chipi’s presentation, the picture became a bit clear. When she narrated the story of a ‘poor’ woman who called a parliamentarian and asked her to pay her child’s school fees, I said to myself that this should be a really good situation where the poor can talk directly to the Elites and ask them for favours. One thing however that I am yet to clearly understand is if whether everyone has access to the private numbers of parliamentarians in Malawi. Since this will obviously not be the case, I will certainly not be wrong to conclude that one has to belong to a certain class to have access to such privy information. Another thing that I succeeded in getting both from her (2010) paper and her presentation is that the general consensus seems that pro-poor policies are for the poor a privilege, rather a right to  mutually beneficial governance.

I don’t know if you notice what I have just noticed myself… my confusion seems to be waning a bit! What I cannot fail to realise also however, is the fact that I keep having this agitation in my heart as I discuss this issue of poverty. The reason is simple… it’s a road I have walked and I am not discussing it as a merely academic exercise but it is almost like an evaluation of the paths I have trod. No wonder I look forward so much to the discussion next week of Elites, Politics and Development…

Chipiliro K.N  2010. Mutual Interdependence between Elites and the Poor Working Paper No. 2010/117 World Institute for Development Economic Research

Fanon, F. 1963. The wretched of the Earth, New York: Grove Press,

Njoku, O.C 2004. Development and African Philosophy: A Theoretical Reconstruction of African Socio-Political Economy, New York: iUniverse, Inc.

PROSPERITY PREACHING: A MENTAL FLIGHT FROM POVERTY

Preamble

Listening to His followers shout today, one cannot help but be marveled at the wonderful messages they preach… “Poverty is not your portion in Jesus’ name.” “In the name of Jesus, Prosperity is mine” “Our God is not a poor God” “You are not meant to be a Lazarus”.  Are these not good messages? Of course, they are good messages and prayers since no right thinking person will pray for anything less. “Poverty is a disease”, some say. No person will voluntarily do anything to contact a disease. Rather we all pray against them. But then, let us hear Christ speak “In his riches man lacks wisdom” Ps. 49. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.” Lk. 4:18 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Matt. 5:3 “But alas for you who have wealth, for you have been comforted now” Lk. 6:24 “…The Son of Man has no where to lay his head.” Lk. 9:58 “Seek first the kingdom of God and all other things shall be added on to you.” “What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and suffer the loss of his soul?” Matt. 16:26 “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of Heaven” Mk. 10:25 “The poor shall always be with you” Mk. 14:7

Does it then mean that the position Christ holds and that which we, his followers hold, contradict themselves? How come Christ presents poverty as a laudable thing to strive after and yet today we call it a disease to be dreaded? Surely there must be a mishap somewhere. God surely did not mean that we should be stricken by the disease of poverty or any other disease for that matter. He says “I know the plans I have for you, plans to save you and not to harm you, plans to give you a future and to give you hope.” Jr. 29:11. Since this is the case, why then did Christ say that the poor shall always be with us when he had in another place said whatever we ask we shall receive? Surely no one in the world today is praying for poverty. Even those who vow to live a life of ‘poverty’, say it is “poverty in the spirit.” Yes! This could explain it. But then let us see…

The Existential Reality

When Heraclitus held the view that strife is justice, he was not far from the truth. He was right to have blamed Homer for praying that there should be no strife in the world. To Heraclitus, this is tantamount to praying that the world should pass away. But come to think of it; can there be a world without strive? Let’s imagine a world where everybody is on the same pedestal-socially, economically, politically. Imagine every body being rich. Who will serve another? Who will be the Okada Man? Who will be the mechanic, given that everybody will be car owners? Who will be the garbage man? Who will be the cleaner? In short who will like to be another’s servant
when he can also pay for services? Of course you do agree with me that the world is structured such that some men will always be on a higher stratum than others. This is justice. As Plato had held, justice is when each person does that job for which he is best suited, since naturally, some are meant to be rulers, others to be guardians and others to be artisans and craftsmen. Willy-nilly, our society is one of classism. It’s a reality we must live with. George Orwell captures this better in his novel Animal Farm. Try as much as they could, the animals realized that it was impossible to have a society where they were all equal. This led them to conclude that while “All animals are equal, some are more equal than others.” Hence, while all men are created equal, (We hold these truths as self-evident, that all men are created equal) some necessarily have to be more equal than others for the smooth functioning of the society.

In the light of this, one begins to understand how chimerical the idea of eradicating poverty is. Also one grasps how utopic the notion of a classless society can be. What then happens to all the prayers offered against poverty and material backwardness? May be, Christ’s statement “You do not know what you are praying for,” Matt:20:22 and a look at James 4:3, “You pray for something and you do not get it because you pray with the wrong motive of indulging your pleasures” can put us in a good stead to make us understand better. But then, what is poverty?

The Real Issue about Poverty

In every day parlance, poverty is said to be the state of being poor; a state of lacking the basic necessities of life, which naturally means the lack of money. A person who is truly poor then is one who lives in a state of abject poverty. Contrary to what most of us think today, poverty is not the opposite of wealth, but the opposite of riches. Therefore, it is erroneous to conclude that when a man is not materially wealthy, he is poor. Our problems clearly arise from our insatiable quest for material possessions. People build huge ‘prisons’ with high walls and many iron gates, watch dogs, butler, security men, and call these houses, all in the name of being wealthy. People feel that it is when one has more than ten cars that one can say one has made it. But even those who get all these still crave for more. After all, human desires are like the world of the death, where there is always room for more. When then can a man be said to be truly saturated with material possessions? Surely, not the man who has so much, but the man who is content with what he has.

True Riches

The Aristotelian-Thomistic-Kantian philosophy of the kingdom of ends surely can help us understand what true riches are. Aristotle, St. Aquinas and later Kant had all held the view that everything tends towards an end. While the Aristotle said the end to which all men tend is eudaimonia (happiness) Aquinas extrapolates it a little to say it is the Beatific Vision.  It is Kant who captures all in the Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals, which states that the ‘subjective content is such that it treats the humanity in oneself or others solely as a vehicle towards one’s ends’.  The ultimate end of all human endeavors is therefore, happiness in this life and the beatific vision in the life to come. In reality therefore, and in line with Christ’s message, a poor person is one who is unable to get these two. If we are sincere with ourselves, we will agree that in our society today, the happiest persons are those who possess little material possessions and are content with what they have. They are not afraid of armed bandits, they are not afraid of economic downturns and recessions, they are not afraid of falling share prices, they are not afraid of sinking ships, they are not afraid of being over-taken in any power tussle, in short they realise and agree with Democritus that “If only a few goods are desired, these will seem many because a restrained demand makes poverty equivalent to wealth. Hence, they do not continue striving after the illusion called wealth. Men consider themselves materially poor, only when they begin to crave for much more than they need.

By now you must be wondering whether I am insinuating that people stop working hard to make life more comfortable. No! Far be it that I advocate such a position. All I am saying is that men should get their priorities right since the greatest complications of life arise from misplaced priorities.

What We Should Do

We cannot forget about most preachers, who today feel that the best solution to the problem of poverty is to mentally rise above it. All the preaching and prayers against poverty are never going to solve the problem. Why? Because it is the senses they appeal to and nothing more. The eloquent voice of the preachers, the harmony of praise chants, the pomp of church ceremonies, and the immensity of the congregation are what strike the people. As soon as all these end, the senses, meeting only the object of human passions and the stark reality of life, return to the quest for those things that they had been made to think were in their grasp.  Rather, let preachers exalt hard work and make people realise that their ultimate goal in life is happiness, which can be achieved with the barest of material possessions. If Christ spoke so hard against riches, it was never because they were bad in themselves but because detachment is more difficult for the wealthy. Their situation is made worse today by the fact that many preachers navigate their sermons today to suit them (the rich). In this case, most of them hardly ever hear the real truth about themselves. Little wonder we see many churches today with mighty structures but occupied by people with little or no faith. Clergymen are judged today, not by how many they converted while in a parish but by how many buildings and other projects they accomplished. What a pity?

Final Word

As a final word, I say to preachers: build the faith of people and you will not be afraid to preach objectively, since a faithful man will carry out his obligations to God no matter what the situation or what you say to him. In fact, many people do more when they realise you are not interested in how much they can do. Let people again begin to re-live the story of the widow who gave the highest, not because she gave much but because she gave all. Stop making people feel that the Kingdom of God can be bought with money.  To my brethren I say: let’s be content with what we have and try to be as comfortable as we can be in the state in which we find ourselves in life. While we must be ambitious, this should not be devoid of reason.