Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The African Idea of the Nature of True Poverty

Kibera, in Nairobi
I just received a used copy of Peter Paris's (Princeton) Religion and Poverty: Pan-African Perspectives. I love Paris's The Spirituality of African Peoples.

I cannot get Africa out of my heart. So I keep reading. I am no scholar on Africa. I am studying it, especially from a religious standpoint which is, by the way, the viewpoint to understand Africa.

Western and African understandings of "poverty" differ. Africans don't define poverty only as a lack of material resources. Paris writes:

"In fact, many Africans who possess very little money or property do not consider themselves poor. Rather, they view alienation from families, friends, and communities as the state of true poverty, the intensity of which is increased by the lack of religious faith. Consequently, those who live in a family that is related to a larger community often do not think of themselves as being poor in spite of their lack of material resources." (14)

By that understanding America is truly among the poorest nations in the world sicne there is so much divorce,  familial fragmentation, and fatherless children.

Paris says, "thus, it is amazing to see countless numbers of people working zealously and even joyfully in the midst of the densely populated squatter camps that are commonplace in so many African cities." (14)

In Africa, people gain strength and "riches" from their familial and communal life. "Despondency and depression are overcome by the community spirit of belonging, which fosters the virtues of compassion, sharing, and mutual respect for one another." (14)

In America, on the other hand, the lack of tribalism and resultant individuation gives us more medications.