Africa: Why we should not hand-out cash

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This past Christmas I was invited by my cousins to their grand-parents home. I had been there before briefly for a weekend and I remembered that I treasured the remoteness of the place. So I was looking forward to my trip. We were very warmly welcomed and after a few hours of hanging around the visitors begun to arrive in droves. The question on each one of their lips was “What did you bring for me?” and on exiting they would boldly ask “Are you just leaving me the way you found me?”  When I was younger I saw my parent’s relatives do the same thing to them whenever we went home.

There seemed to be a sense of entitlement; that when my parents were at home they were there to solve the problems of their relatives. It never occurred to me how much people feel entitled to the contribution and how much stress it puts one into until this time when I also got solicited. Apparently the people in the village really believe that those who work in the city have a lot of money to spare. This results in people talking behind your back when you give less that what they asked for… or what they felt they should get. On the part of the giver, it can be stressful. At some point my cousins hid in their house so that no one would approach them and ask for money.

The African culture as I understand it promotes communal responsibility. If there is a person in the community that needs assistance then every person in the community is expected to chip in. However, I seem to remember the culture of petitioning the chief of the village for assistance and if I am not wrong, the chief offered some kind of solutions to these problems. Perhaps this is what people are drawing on now; they look at the person who has gone to work in the city as a provider for the village.

At my cousins’ village, people woke up early and sat on the veranda asking my cousins and I for food and money (Kes 100) to buy the local brews. Some were too ashamed to admit what they wanted the money for and so they came up with all manner of stories regarding their ill-health, their children who needed school fees, one woman even alleged that she needed to construct a kitchen. At some point I felt harassed, I never knew when someone would corner me and start listing their problems in the hope that you would at least cough up some money. Strangely, no one ever asked for money to start or support an ongoing venture or a loan that would be returned at a later date. I remember my cousin mentioning that some remote relative had sent him a text message asking him for Kes 50,000 (about USD 550). I was shocked at the audacity; the money was apparently for use in constructing part of his house. To the villager, they believe that all they had to do is to plan and then ask a relative for the cash to implement their plans.

Given this attitude it is not a wonder that in Kenya people still accept short term solutions from the government and politicians. Many politicians hold court in their office issuing cash to whoever comes to petition them. At the same time Members of Parliament demand higher salaries because they claim that most of the cash is doled out to community members who visit them. I wonder if we changed this one attitude whether development would accelerate in Kenya. When I lived in Washington DC, politicians held court to listen to their constituents who were appealing for change of policies rather than cash hand-outs. I believe that this is where we should be as a country.

If each one of us can take it upon themselves to try and offer long-term solutions to the problems we are presented with then I believe we will be well on our way to changing this attitude of entitlement to cash hand-outs. If someone has no income, suggest income generating activities. If someone needs school-fees to be paid, then pay the fees directly to the school rather than giving cash. For problems which should involve the community, then seek the support of other community members rather than agree to shoulder the burden alone. I believe this will ensure that we move away from hand-outs to development. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that we should never give anyone cash however; we should not enable people who refuse to seek alternatives and depend on their relatives for hand-outs. It not only affects the individual but in the end stifles the development of the nation.

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