By Faston Mwale
The emerging trend by government officials to engage in donations of basic groceries to impoverished citizens in lieu of executing actual poverty reduction programs is worrying. Handouts by individuals cannot fix systemic poverty, nay. Since 1991 when Zambians were subjected to the neo-liberal global capitalist economy, poverty has been rising, hunger has been on the upswing, education has drastically gone down while healthcare has become nothing more than a nightmare.
Jobs too have significantly dwindled leaving the majority without any means of subsistence. The food crisis in Zambia is not a fairy-tale but a legitimate story. But perhaps what is more worrying is the fact that the food crisis in Zambia has become a perpetual cycle and a permanent condition of peoples’ precarious lives.
Recently, we have seen members of parliament from the ruling party donating an assortment of basic groceries such as bags of mealie-meal, bottles of cooking oil, etc to citizens in their respective constituencies. This casual approach to poverty only goes to show how disconnected government has become from the daily struggles of the people. If senior government officials are claiming that government has performed well, why then are the majority citizens across the country who are not facing a natural catastrophe such as war are being supported with simple basic groceries?
It is undignified, to say the least, for heads of households and children to be lining up for bags of mealie-meal and groceries. What has become of the “more money in your pockets” slogan? An empty slogan designed to delude the masses and deluded they have become. Attempts to fight poverty with handouts is not only futile but is also demeaning to recipients. It is said; “a pair of free shoes can change a person’s life no more than one free fish can. Sooner or later, you run out of fish or your shoes develop holes and will need to be replaced.” By creating a dependence on these donations, one actually helps to perpetuate the very problem one is trying to solve. Where is the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper? If urban households are surviving on private charity from individuals, then we wonder what the situation is in the rural-households.
The poverty that we are enduring today is not a consequence of a natural phenomenon.
It is structural poverty whose major cause is nothing else than government corruption compounded by external debt and an unrestrained looting of public resources meant to lift people out of poverty, especially by those entrusted with the stewardship of the nation’s wealth. But as long as government keeps on ignoring the root causes of poverty, no matter how well intentioned the charity might be, it will only serve to perpetuate the cycle of poverty as handouts deal with symptoms of poverty only.
How have we ended up with a situation where a single person can afford to feed the entire community while the larger majority of citizens have been consigned to the most inferior forms of subsistence? Given a gini-coefficient index of 0.69, Zambia is one of the highly unequal societies in the world. To break the cycle of poverty, you must strike at the root of the problem: unemployment. Government should devise feasible job creation strategies and this task entails the collective wisdom and knowledge of all political and economic players across political party lines.
The Author is the Socialist Party’s Copperbelt Provincial Spokesperson