Poverty: Aluta Continua

Yesterday, in a rare tangent from my daily rituals, I sat down and started watching television. On BBC Entertainment, they were running a number of shows under the “How To Be A Millionaire” theme. I’ve always been fascinated by wealth, the creation of wealth, and what the rich do with their money, which incentivised me to continue watching. One of the shows, The Secret Millionaire, was the show that really caught my attention as it showed the disparities between the wealthy and the poor.The concept of the show is that a millionaire moves in to a poorer community for a week. He goes under the disguise that he’s just moved in from another area, and he has cameras following him around for a random reason that he has to make up. The participants have to live on a welfare budget, try and understand the community, and at the end, donate some of their wealth to individuals or organisations that have captured their hearts.

An interesting thing to note is how the wealthy have ideas of how the local businesses can improve instinctively. They have an idea of how efficiencies can be improved, of how more wealth can be created, and of how the society can progress. When put in that situation, their immediate instinct is improvement and betterment of their environment. It made me ask the question: are the poor always going to be subject to the rich?

The rich have something the poor don’t have: exposure. They have the ability to move into an environment, piece together a solution based on the culmination of experiences they have, and prosper in that community. Businesses that do well among the poor are businesses started by the wealthy. Last year, I had the privilege of having a conversation with the chairman of Capitec Bank. This is now the fastest growing bank in South Africa and has managed achieved this by targeting the lower end of income scale in SA,  the majority of which are unbanked. He was talking about strategies for moving slowly into the rest of Africa, country by country. Interesting thing to note is this is an elderly Afrikaans man who has managed to penetrate a majority black poor market and make money off them.

Another thing I’ve noticed during my regular travels to Uganda is how people get caught up in routines which have passed from generation to generation. A family gets up at 5am in the morning, has their small business open from 6am until 10pm, goes to sleep, and repeats the same thing every day. During my last trip there, while watching all of this happening, I asked, when do these people ever get time to stop and think? A few years ago, Shoprite opened shop in the country which completely revolutionised the way shopping is done by families. It also put 1000s of small-scale hawkers and retailers out of business. Again, an example of the wealthy coming in, and making more wealth off the poor, keeping the classes of society the same.

There have been many articles on Feint & Margin about how education is the future of the continent, and how Africa needs to build an intellectual class to remove it from the chains of poverty. Education is a form of exposure, and unless the poor get some exposure to the world beyond their village, they will forever be bound by the thinking of their immediate surroundings. Unless the poor start reading and researching, and understanding principles of the industry they’re involved in, or of how the world works, they will forever be subject to the rich. Unless we can start building industries from within with our own intellectual capacity and entrepreneurial drive, instead of over-relying on the over-rated magic wand called foreign direct investment, Africa will continue being enslaved. It’s time to break free from the chains that have bound us!

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