No one would chose to be born and
raised amid poverty and hopelessness, but fate has
the final say in natural selection. Living a life
surrounded with illiteracy, disability, disease, and
destitution is indeed as agonising as standing
unarmed on enemy lines.
It is easy to lose dreams with the
realisation that the mountain of difficulties ahead
is too steep to surrender to individual efforts.
Such is the case for many Ethiopians, especially for
the 38.9pc people living under absolute poverty.
Even the superrich cannot escape the
face of poverty, as they experience it on the
streets, around cathedrals, at the gates of
recreation centres, and around their skyscraper
office buildings. They cannot flee from it, even if
they want to. It is everywhere, as it is part of the
Yet, little has changed in the
approach to eliminate destitution. The focus has
solely been on reinventing the superstructure.
Poverty is as cultural as it is
economic. Much of its persistence is solidified with
cultural strands that either denounce riches or
praise the peacefulness of penury. They function at
both societal and individual levels.
Much of the traditional talk of the
neighbourhood takes poverty for granted. Living in
it is considered fate. So deeply ingrained is the
culture that marginal improvements are not rightly
recognised. Hence, individuals see no light at the
end of the tunnel, living in the darkness of the
established lines of thought.
At the heart of this culture lies
the little credit given to competition. Unlike the
world of the rich, the realm of poverty is short of
the essential elements of competition. What could
competition bring, after all, if the endgame is
Dreams are short-lived on this side
of the world. Survival is heavily defined by
collective attitudes, while success is measured by
relative wellness. It is all good, as long as it
does not break the law of collective failure.
Such a life is cyclical and its
structure too efficient to produce idleness. There
exists no commendable incentive to fight against the
established culture of failure and only a little
information exists on how to do so. Even then,
individual efforts happen in vain.
Popular interventions against
poverty in the neighbourhood focus on the provision
of goods and services without proper analysis of
cultural elements. Engaging the poor in small and
micro enterprises (SMEs) remains the major strategy.
Availing access to finance and educating the poor
about doing business are the supportive approaches.
Yet, none of them address the issue of
For many poor people, the system
cannot provide money or opportunity. They very well
know that both exist in the world they live in and
that they could create both of them. What is lacking
is a sense of relevance, usefulness, and
Indeed, this is the scarcest
component in the world of poverty. It is heavily
monopolised by the wealthy. They control all of the
relevant value chains, such that a child in their
world feels more important than a poor adult.
Ironically, development strategies
focus on curing the symptom rather than the ailment.
As if to prove that they are designed by the rich,
they are ignorant of the cultural hindrances that
breed hopelessness. They rather provide structural
answers as magic pills for poverty.
It is even more painful to see that
the rich get richer as the poor get poorer. The
equation is by far lopsided towards the rich. They
capitalise both on their own hope and on the
spiralling hopelessness of the poor.
If, at all, distributive measures
such as development strategies are meant to redress
the problem, they have to detour. They have to
embrace the poor themselves in the design and
implementation of their strategies. No one knows the
pain of poverty better than the poor themselves.
It is puzzling how rich bureaucrats
who have no clue about the misery of destitution
could come up with the right strategies to eradicate
it. It is also mystifying how a world of brainiacs
fails to investigate the root cause of such a
systemic, malignant problem.
For the poor in the neighbourhoods,
however, nothing matters more than collective
survival. Everything is seen within the prism of
relativity. Even failure is normal as far as it is
After all, that is the tradition. If
anyone does not bother to see the poverty around
them, though, better to start from understanding its
intricate cultures. It might not be easy, but it is
by far worth.
Ends are all dead for the
traditional approaches of poverty reduction. They
cannot help much, for their proponents are complete
strangers to cultures of survival. As the popular
saying goes, culture hatches survival.