Poverty and development: an African perspective

Poverty and development: an African perspective

by Paolo Lòriga

from the "Economy of Communion - A New Culture" n.33 – editorial insert attached to Città Nuova n.13/14 - 2011 - July 2011


Once again, Africa has much to teach us — in a subtle way that typically leaves us Westerners bewildered and embarrassed because we lack certain cultural categories and shared definitive concepts. Take development and poverty, for example. These two issues were addressed by the Central African Republic’s Genevieve Sanz, an economics expert who made valuable contributions during the International Assembly of the Economy of Communion at Mariapolis Ginetta on the outskirts of Sao Paulo, Brazil, from May 25–28.

The distinction inherited from the opposition between ‘civilized’ and ‘uncivilized’ was based on a Western assumption,” began Professor Sanz, immediately indicating one of the original sins of the cultural phenomenon of poverty. Since then, the theory of underdevelopment has experienced growing support, and developing countries have accepted this premise seeking the means to develop it further.

“Today, in 2011, the reality of promulgating development is certainly less successful than expected, and it is essential to rethink the idea of development, using more sophisticated and anthropologically complex categories than measured development and underdevelopment on the economic resources spectrum.” The effects of the current economic situation are obvious: plundered wealth, increased poverty, higher unemployment and an exploited environment, while the dominance of the strong over the weak continues.

The professor invited everyone to free themselves from cultural anchors that until now have been considered indispensable to the economy; she asked us to seek a new understanding of the concepts of “poverty” and “development.” The Economy of Communion, in her opinion, offers both an innovative key and prospects for solutions that are suitable for the African peoples.

You cannot get out from under the plague of deprivation solely with money, nor with only the redistribution of wealth or the construction of public goods (schools and streets), and not even by intensifying trade relations between North and South. Of course, all these things are necessary, but they are not sufficient,” she said.

Urgently needed are “deep and authentic relationships among people who are different but are accepted as equals: each one different and each one equal.” The EoC proposes two elements that mark these relationships: reciprocity and communion. Living these words get us out of the plague of insecurity because they go beyond someone being good to someone else; communion gives life to - the reciprocity.

Lowering her papers, Professor Sanz asked the 650 participants at the assembly: “Who are the poor among us? And who are the rich?” The looks and glances among the participants were interrupted by the voice of the moderator: “If we take the charism of unity [the Focolare spirituality of communion] seriously, many things will begin to change. We realize that wealth and poverty are mainly matters of relationships and that, in every case, wealth becomes part of a good and happy life when it is shared with others.”

For Dr. Sanz, therefore, it is time to “overcome the ‘poor people’ and ‘rich people’ categories and discover that everyone in the world has a gift to offer to the others.” It is time to “discover that the poverty of others also contains wealth and values that allow everyone to experience how important we all are to our happiness."

It is only when those in trouble feel loved,respected, and are treated with dignity, that they can find the will to climb out of the plague of instability and get back on their journey. It is only then that aid, funds, contracts, and business relationships can be used as secondary elements and tools toward personal and global development.” 

Basically, the Central African professor is asking for a Copernican revolution. And that is exactly what, in her opinion, the EoC is undertaking, both in the choices of entrepreneurs who are part of it and in the work of scholars who are putting down its theoretical foundations.

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