By Gerald Mwale, Lusaka Zambia
Did you know that “poverty reduction” and “wealth creation” mean exactly the same thing? The only difference is in context. One is negative while the other is positive. But both phrases talk of uplifting one’s economic status.
So, why is one of the phrases preferred over the other? And so here comes the power of semantics; how words are selected to convey specific meaning as required by the user.
As you may very well know, “poverty reduction” is the catchphrase for the “rich” North in reference to the “poor” South. The rich North talks about programs that ostensibly help to reduce poverty in the poor South.
These programs are often couched in what is famously referred to as “donor aid.” These are programs the rich North has specifically designed to ameliorate the debilitating effects of poverty in the South.
But why do they insist on calling these programs “poverty reduction” instead of “wealth creation”?
After all, the two phrases mean exactly the same thing: unless you create wealth, you cannot reduce poverty.
After cogitating over the subject for a while, I think I have got the answer: “Poverty reduction” is preferred by the donors because it is intrinsically demeaning. It puts the recipient of “donor aid” in a weak position; a position of hopelessness and despair. Moreover, a person who is wallowing in poverty needs to be pitied. And, consequently, a benevolent hand is needed to get that hapless person out of their unfortunate situation.
To be classified as poor implies some level of neglect and recklessness on the victim. In other words, poverty is self-induced: a person is poor because they fail to take advantage of the abundant natural resources around them. They lack the initiative, or ability, to exploit the resources around them to better their lives. They need to be helped to realize their potential.
For example, most villages in rural areas do not have clean water. But they have abundant water underground. What they lack are resources, or the technology, to dig deep water wells, or boreholes, to get the water. So donor aid is required to help them get fresh water for their daily needs.
Hence a programs to “reduce poverty” by digging boreholes for the hapless villagers is launched. The donor appears as the “messiah” or “savior” (in the religious sense of the word).
The launch is a publicity bravado, often performed with a lot of fanfare so as not to lose focus of the benevolent donor. Screaming headlines in newspapers read: “Donor spends $100 million on boreholes in Western Province.”
That’s “poverty reduction” in real sense.
A famous Chinese adage states: “Give a man a fish, you feed him for one day: Teach a man to fish, you feed him the rest of his life.”
Donor aid, by its very nature, is never designed to teach people how to fish. In fact, donor aid thwarts the efforts by local communities to rise above poverty so that they can become economically independent.
In the example above, donors will rarely give funds to the relevant state authorities, such as district or municipal councils, whose responsibilities it is to provide water. Instead, they prefer to “dig” the boreholes themselves to get the publicity.
Most commonly donor aid, as Dambiso Moyo has discussed elsewhere, is in effect, “dead aid” for it treats only the symptom and not the actual disease.
According to Moyo’s book “Dead Aid” in the past fifty years, more than $1 trillion in development-related aid has been transferred from rich countries to Africa. Has this assistance improved the lives of Africans? No. In fact, across the continent, the recipients of this aid are not better off as a result of it, but worse—much worse.
Providers of donor aid prefer to use “poverty reducing” instead of “wealth creating” for the same misogynist reasons discussed above.
This is because poverty must not be eliminated from Africa, because that’s one of the major reasons the rich West continue to account for their presence on the continent.
If they “create wealth” they will soon be shown the door and their influence on the continent will diminish.
Donor aid programs must, therefore, ensure poverty is only slightly reduced, while the vestiges of the scourge remain visible, ostensibly for future donor aid. As Bob Marley sings in [Trechtown]: “They feel so strong to say we are weak.”
Why is the phrase almost never used by the West in relation to African countries? First, nobody in Europe or America wants to change the status quo.
In old for Europe and American to remain rich, Africa must be poor. A poor Africa is perfect for the exploitation of its natural resources to keep the West rich.
Do you wonder why the Western media never miss the opportunity to describe Africa (especially south of the Sahara) as the “poorest region on earth”? That the vast majority of the inhabitants of this region live on less than $1 per day?
According to the Western media, poverty is endemic to this region. It follows, therefore, that “wealth” cannot be created in this part of the world; it is anathema to even think of creating wealth in such a hopeless and deplorable environment.
Remember the [infamous] Heavily Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) Initiative? The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other multilateral, bilateral and commercial creditors started the programme in 1996.
The latest report, published September 15, 2017 says the HIPC Initiative is nearly complete. Thirty-six (36) countries have reached the completion point under the HIPC Initiative.
The report says debt relief under the Initiative has alleviated debt burdens substantially in recipient countries and has enabled them to increase their [poverty-reducing] expenditure by over one and a half percentage points of GDP between 2001 and 2015.
Note the use in the above paragraph of the term “poverty reducing.” Why not “Wealth Creating”?
But, I submit, this is all a mind game. Sub-Saharan Africa has been schooled to believe that poverty is the region’s beast of burden and that it cannot be shaken off our shoulders except with the help of the West.
And I’d like to know the person who coined this phrase [HIPC] on behalf of the World Bank and the IMF. He or she deserves the Nobel Prize for creating the most condescending and obnoxious catchphrase in world history.