For a very long time and from loads of literature, poverty has been linked to economics, governance, policies that guide the management of resources and general politics.
In many a discussion, two key factors have always emerged and been blamed for African poverty; colonialism and bad governance.
Colonialism is blamed for stealing African resources and subjecting its people to inhuman and degrading treatment. On the other hand the African government is seen as guilty of failing to manage its resources to improve its people’s lifestyles.
Flawed as they may be, these are dominant assumptions that have sustained and guided discussions on the subject of African development even though none of them is adequate to form a credible conclusion on Africa and its poverty.
Attempts to go beyond these assumptions have linked poverty to the mind-set, beliefs and culture but there is very little research that links poverty to religion.
As a socially organised set of beliefs, faith, cultural systems and world views relating humanity and its existence, certainly religion has a crucial role to play in how poverty is understood and solved.
In theory, the co-relation between beliefs and religion and poverty may not be so direct but religion shapes the way we see the world.
People’s beliefs determine their lifestyles and how they make choices and decisions in living their lives.
Take for example, the pre-colonial African religions believed in pride in hard work and the opulence that resulted out of that.
The Great Zimbabwe and Mapungubwe structures are evidence of that. Prayers were used to seek spiritual guidance and to energise practical efforts to solve present problems and never to build a future Jerusalem in another life through prayer. In addition, prayers were not a regular and rhetorical practice as it is today but teleological.
Before venturing on a project, community elders would gather people and lead the prayers. The belief then was not to expect miracles in undertaking their social projects but to request a smooth passage as they venture into their projects.
However, post-colonial religions have changed this, especially in Africa, where they are partly to blame for the poverty suffered by its people.
Of course, again, it is easy to blame colonialism because most of these religions were appendages to the colonial package. Such a historical orientation has made it compulsory that everyone must have, be associated or identified with some religious beliefs. This is notwithstanding that religion is not God and may not be linked to God.
There are two factors that are problematic with post-colonial religions which have a direct link with poverty. Firstly, it does not acknowledge and trivialises the role of humans in improving their lives and solving their problems by leaving everything in the hands of God.
This is why the believer of today would rather spend their productive time praying, fasting and pleasing the religious leader, instead of applying their energy on efforts to address their problems. Invariably, in Africa, if one achieves something, credit is given to God and not the person who has worked hard to earn it.
Similarly if a person helps another, credit is certainly given to the one who helped. Perhaps, it explains why there are more western donors and world heroes than in Africa.
The African human being is now reduced to a beneficiary or object of miracles, which are invariably, earned through prayer.
The development of a society is taken away from people’s capacity to define their present destiny in forging their future through hard work and talent. In fact, it has manifested into the notion that today’s problems are beyond human resolution; hence the focus must be on the spiritual and the next world.
Lived life is no longer celebrated as death is glorified as the entrance to the eternal world. It is the same narrative that has, for many decades, sustained the notion that African poverty is a curse and therefore its people need to pray more instead of working and thinking hard about their lives.
The second factor is that the post-colonial religion has sought to exonerate itself from propagating the above poverty among Africans by shunning opulence.
There are so many verses in different religious books that are used to shun opulence, glorify poverty and self-sacrifice as the route to eternity and to encourage giving out to religious institutions whatever is earned from hard work and sometimes lives, lest there are seen as religiously filthy.
Consequently, in most African societies, being wealthy and acquiring it have been considered a sin or a result of the some evil spiritual powers. It is a continent that is filled with religious beliefs that do not accept that people can work hard and turn around their lives without relying on some evil spiritual powers.
In other words, one cannot be wealth without a goblin or the aid of some supernatural powers.
People are discouraged from being wealthy or showing it lest they are accused of being servants of the devil.
Now if people can’t be productive for fear of being judged by their societies, how then do we expect the African to develop?
And if it is inculcated in our people’s minds that there is a social ceiling for their productive energies and achievement, that leaves the foreign investor, the same descendant of the colonialist, as the main actor to explore the available resources, while we pray.