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Poverty and the structuring economies

By John Amoda
JOHN Ighodaro in the Vanguard of Wednesday October 6, 2010 titled his story thusly: “Population of seven W-African states equals the poor in Nigeria”. He was quoting Mr. Adama who made this known at a workshop in Calabar.

“According to (Mr. Adama) about 78 million Nigerians (54% of the population) live below poverty line of less than a dollar a day. This number of people make up more than the combined population of Ghana, Togo, Sierra Leone, Benin Republic, Liberia, Gambia, and Cote D’Ivoire which is 67.3 million.”

Whether this is a conservative estimate or not, such statistics beg for explanation. Why are there so many people living in poverty in Nigeria?

Are many so poor because they are uneducated? Again the following question introducing tips for unemployed graduates: “Are you an unemployed graduate?” in the Sunday 3, October 2010 NEXT ON SUNDAY show that lack of education is not the explanation.

Mr. Adama’s poor are not necessarily the unemployed. Some may be employed but earn per day less than a dollar, or take home less than a dollar.

The above incidence of poverty in Nigeria is not unique to the country. Poverty in the other 52 countries in Africa is of configuration similar to Nigeria’s. This is the case because poverty in Africa is first and foremost a consequence of the structuring of economies. The economic integration in Africa of conquered territories as provinces of European empires enable us to see clearly why this is the case. Claude Ake explains how cocoa was introduced into the Gold Coast (now Ghana).

“When the Gold Coast (now Ghana) was colonised, it did not farm cocoa. The colonial government decided that the country would be suitable ground for farming cocoa and duly introduced the crop. In 1865 the country started exporting cocoa, and by 1901 it was the leading producer of the commodity in the world. It quickly became a mono-cultural cocoa economy; by 1939 cocoa accounted for 80 percent of the value of its exports” (Ake, Claude, Democracy and Development in Africa P.2).

The introduction of cocoa is a shorthand for the restructuring of the economies of the pre-colonised societies so as to make those employed in cocoa production an economic caste. Those not engaged in cocoa production became redundant in what had become a cocoa economy. Similarly the introduction of cotton production in Uganda followed the same pattern as that of cocoa. We quote from Mahmood Mamdani: “The first cotton flower was taken to Uganda by the BCGA through a Church Missionary Society missionary.

K. Borup in 1903 formed the Uganda Company and imported 2.5 tons of five different kinds of seeds which were distributed to 27 in eight districts of Buganda. The results were so promising that the government took the lead and, through the BCGA, began to import and distribute American Black Rattler seeds to growers in Buganda, Busoga, and Ankole in 1905.

The production of cotton in these early years was the result of compulsion, exercised through the mailo landlord-cum-chief rather than directly by the colonial state. As state officials explained. The average peasant of the Protectorate (is) so indolent that it (is) unlikely that he would have embarked on it (cotton production) on any considerable scale if he had not been more or less driven to making experiments by the chief or the headman on whose land he happened to be a tenant”.

In time, however, state officials became more circumspect. In 1925, when charges of “forced cultivation of cotton” were laid before the Ormsby-Gore Commission, the government maintained that the peasant chose to grow cotton “of his own free will”, and released a copy of an instructional telegram from the chief secretary to the provincial commissioner, Western Province.

“I am directed by the Governor to state that the line to be adopted is not to be one of definite pressure towards cotton production. Natives to be informed that three courses are open, cotton, labour for government, labour for planters, but no attempt to be made to induce them to choose any one in preference to the other.

Only one thing to be made clear that they cannot be permitted to do nothing, and can be of no use to themselves or the country. Inform D.C Mbara accordingly.” (Mahmood Mamdani- Politics and Class Formation in Uganda Pp. 45-46).

The details not mentioned in the case of the introduction of cocoa in the Gold Coast are highlighted in the case of the introduction of Cotton in Uganda because they are generic in the strategy informing the introduction cocoa, cotton, mineral mining etc in the colonies.

The introduction is the summary of the process of the economic conversion of the pre-colonial economies into the colonial. In this conversion process populations that are essential to the production of the colonial commodities are differentiated from the segments that are deemed redundant to the colonial production.

The economically redundant are expendable and as such constitute the colonial underclass, the indigent and impoverished whose condition is the result of the economic use of state power. The concept of poverty employed by the World Bank, namely those living below the poverty line does not apply to the category of the economically expendable, those without place in the economy.

Every restructure of economies create its categories of the essential, the marginal and of the expendable. Populations needed by the economy are able to use their economic importance as bargaining chips and can mobilise for living wages and opportunities.

Those that have no place in the economy are the indigent, unemployable. It is the third category of the marginally important that have a history of under-employment and unemployment- it is this category that are presently captured by the statistical measure of those living below the poverty line.

Economic self-enlightment therefore compel the state and the producers to provide living wages for the economically essential populations.

It is by this line of explication that we get to appreciate the differences of economic conditions of segments of the Nigerian population. The question to be answered is how to describe the poor in Nigeria. Are they the economically redundant, and thus expendable? Are they mainly the marginal? Are they both the expendable and the marginal? What is the geography of the poor?

Are the expendable mainly rural and who must fend for themselves? What is the character of the urban poor? From this perspective the security implications of the structuring of economies can be appreciated especially in the context where electioneering has fuelled the ethnification and tribalization of population.


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