The first time I came across the phrase ‘poverty of the mind’ it was while watching a recorded speech of the late Julius Nyerere, Tanzania’s founding father. It was a ‘bull’s eye’ as far as under development is concerned. It is one of the phrases that never leave your mind. It is also a very good pointer to how to solve corruption crisis.
We presume poverty is only economic. Economic poverty is the visible, yet only a symptom of the silent yet more insidious types.
The United Nations defines poverty as a fundamental inability in getting choices and opportunities. That violates human dignity and prevents effective participation in society.
What the UN definition misses out on is part is minds power to challenge and conquer any situations.
How else can we explain the success stories, in our midst that came out of poverty to be fabulously rich? How else can we explain that the success of some Asian countries such as Singapore, South Korea, Malaysia and the like, with whom we shared the backwaters at independence have attained in 50 short years?
Our analysis of corruption must go beyond what is seen (economics) because while such is based on the evidence, it is not sufficient. It falls short when measured upon another principle of modern thought, the causal relationships.
Causal relationships (cause-effect relationships) refer to understanding that there is a story behind the story. To cure a fever, we need to diagnose its cause; which could be anything from a cold to malaria.
Corruption eats up about a third of GDP of a typical economy. This warrants closer inspection.
What is the psycho-economic cause of corruption? I daresay mental poverty. Let us play shrinks and psychanalyse the minds of these usual suspects:
The leaders in us start from what they represent; the leader is the society’s bridge to achieving the impossible. In a democratic process, he gets to persuade the society to choose her/him over other candidates. This is no easy task.
But elections in Africa and elsewhere are the point where the problem begins. In most places, the voters want to be given handouts during and after elections by their leaders. By their thousands! They do not stop to wonder where one man will get all the cash to solve each and every of their personal problems.
The leader is under pressure and the state tills are not safer. The few with a backbone will try to educate their followers and rally them around something more ideal. The result is almost always unpleasant, you get voted out.
We know that once the hand is in the cookie jar then there is no stopping. The economic corruption results from a mental poverty and yet another vicious cycle begins.
The oppressed citizen: sometimes the underdog is just a bad dog that happens to be weak. When the citizen acts as above, in demanding hand outs s/he creates or initiates corruption. If there were hand outs, the citizen would survive just fine. Her/his very existence is a testimony to her/his ancestors self sufficiency and independence.
The mind has an infinite ability to conquer and overcome anything we focus on. But when it is not focused as is the case when a grown wo/man expects hand outs instead of feeding on their own sweat, the result is almost always corruption of one form or another.
The police, the judges, immigration departments are just citizens who find themselves in ‘plum positions’. The short term thinking coupled with the shortcut mentality (mental poverty) takes over and the spirit of service goes out the window.
But it is the NGOs that are most scary. The whole business of someone coming with ready-made solutions to our problems through this or that ‘programme’ or ‘intervention’ is a dangerous notion.
Granted, most NGOs do good works, but they, almost always create dependency. This is the worst form of mental poverty and it corrupts the brain into making us eternal children looking up to our western ‘parents’ for provision and protection (NGO’s are very close to peace keeping operations).
With this seemingly benevolent action comes loss of independence. Give me poverty over that anytime!
As Canice Parker says, “Mental poverty clouds sound judgment kills ambition, murders will power and overthrows your ability to properly maintain self-control”
Try to be mind rich- think entrepreneurially!
Sam Kebongo is an entrepreneurship Development Consultant based in Kigali.