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Poverty: Do You Think Beggars Are Comfortable With Handouts

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Have you ever experienced someone who lives in deep poverty, I am talking about someone whom its obvious that they live in the margins of society. Someone very peripheral, who when you extend some form of empowerment focused assistance swears or curses at you because to him it seems you want to disrupt his form of livelihood? By empowerment focused approach I mean “a food for work initiative” instead of directly giving them money.

creative-beggarMost of the time these individuals exhibit a form of hostility towards those who are attempting to help them with some form of work. December 2013, I was in Addis Ababa, and I found a similar phenomenon. However, there they were more aggressive and used all forms of schemes to get money from tourists to the extent of using babies to trap “if these were their babies” and generate some form of sympathy. Don’t get me wrong there are certain pressures that lead people to poverty, they might not have chosen this path, but with handouts it gets a bit comfortable to be where they are.

From someone who has worked with poor communities in rural Swaziland, I noted the deliberate efforts made by rural women to develop themselves and their families through collaborative community based income generating activities. This was largely done through non governmental and community based organization funding through capacity and small grants.  These communities had a sense of self belief and motivation to make life just a little bit bearable even though they were not getting huge returns but enough to get by.

The difference between these rural folks and the beggars in Mbabane, Manzini, Addis Ababa, was that sense of pride when they succeeded in what they did whether a community project, income generating activity or food for work, they always had this glow and joy that they were doing work for themselves. These rural women were driven by the change they wanted to see, whilst tapping into community resilience that was surprising given their living conditions.

Looking at these two scenarios one wonders if our governments, bilateral institutions, religious institutions, training institutions, and civil society organizations really believe in change? Do we ever envisage an Africa continent or Swaziland free of poverty, lack and marginalization? If in a twinkle of an eye we didn’t have the poor with us, would we celebrate a success of poverty eradication? Many would be retrenched or would they find other jobs to sustain the change?

Though we display goals of vision 2020 or 2022 in plaques we seem to be too lethargic in the process of initiating change that will result in permanent change. The income distribution skew continues to be steep, the rich are getting richer, whilst the poor are getting poorer. It would seem to me the status quo creates a conducive environment for further entrenchment of the dependency syndrome. The receivers continue to receive handouts so that we keep them right where we want them, and the same receivers have found comfort in receiving such that change is not what they want to see. They do not want to see change because change will shake their nest and disturb their comfort. We are breeding a society of people who have gotten used to receiving that it has become their way of life to beg and to take, and we have it systematized even in our programming.

A generation that doesn’t seek after empowerment is a generation that will propagate the increase of discord that leads to escalation of crime. And crime will affect those who are empowering themselves now. In development, we say the function holder for development is always the government, and many ask what becomes the role of government when change is not what we want to see. Policy formulation is totally different from policy implementation.

Currently, Swaziland sits at 63% (SHIES, 2010) poverty rate and 40% (SDHS, 2007) unemployment rate, and a 26% HIV prevalence rate, these rates makes us vulnerable as a country and therefore a charity case. I have said in this very platform that dependency leads to vulnerability. Our state of vulnerability has placed us in a position where we literally cannot live or survive without external assistance. External assistance has helped in employing some of us to deal with developmental issues and pulling people out of their poverty situations.

Our vulnerability makes us dependent. The change we don’t want to see might just be eradication of poverty, marginalization and lack.  Maybe we still want to be dependent;

“[Dependency is]…an historical condition which shapes a certain structure of the world economy such that it favors some countries to the detriment of others and limits the development possibilities of the subordinate economics…a situation in which the economy of a certain group of countries is conditioned by the development and expansion of another economy, to which their own is subjected.”

(Theotonio Dos Santos, “The Structure of Dependence,” in K.T. Fann and Donald C. Hodges, eds., Readings in U.S. Imperialism. Boston: Porter Sargent, 1971, p. 226)

KEY REFERENCES and ACRONYMS:

Swaziland Demographic Health Survey (SDHS, 2007)
Swaziland Household Income and Expenditure Survey (2010)
Manzini (Industrial City in Swaziland)
Mbabane (Capital City Swaziland)
Addis Ababa (Ethiopia capital city)

Clement N. Dlamini, from the Kingdom of Swaziland, is an International Development Practitioner who is a Social Worker by training and at heart. Clement has 12 years experience working in development with local and international civil society organizations, the U.N., and government and has a Masters in Social Work from the Stephen F. Austin State University in Texas. He is currently a Senior Lecturer at the Institute of Development Management based in Matsapha, Swaziland.

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