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A continent of beggars? What is going on? Why have we turned into a continent of beggars? Our leaders go abroad to beg for "aid" to run our countries. Our police and immigration officers have turned themselves into "beggars in uniform". From extended family members to the young bank teller, everyone seems to think begging is okay. Why?

What is going on in Africa? From Burkina Faso to Madagascar, from presidents to street children, I have never come across so much begging in my life. Every single day, no matter which African country I am in, I am accosted by beggars. And I don't just mean the regular beggars we see on the streets everywhere in the world. No. The African culture of begging permeates all spheres of life--from extended family members to the young bank teller, everyone seems to think begging is okay. In fact, some of us have even become professional beggars and live solely by this way of life.


Can you imagine the frustration of arriving in a country and dealing with immigration staff that are nothing more than beggars in uniform? I have known situations where immigration officers, on the pretence of checking for contraband goods, have rummaged through my belongings and begged for whatever item catches their fancy.

Recently, on arriving at the airport in Accra, Ghana, I was disgusted when an immigration officer actually begged that I give him the biscuits I had bought for my children. Just ordinary biscuits, which he could easily have bought on the streets of Accra! Naturally I refused. Can you believe another young officer escorted me to my waiting car, all the while trying to convince me to part with the biscuits? What kind of begging is this?

After extracting myself from that irritating situation, it was time to go home. But not before the hangers-on at the airport had demanded I give them "pounds or coins". All across the continent, you see young men standing at the airports, ready to help you push your trolley to your car for some "small change". Whether you seek their assistance or not, everybody is keen to "help" you. But of course you soon find out this "help" comes at a cost.

These days, one of the biggest beggars (like our immigration officers) also comes in uniform. I am talking about African policemen and women. Even if you are the victim of a crime, the police have no shame in begging you for money before coming to your assistance. Right now, drivers in Ghana are being accosted every day and night by these "beggars in uniform".

Because of the high incidence of robberies in the past, the Ghana police started mounting barriers at night, as a way to protect innocent members of society. The idea really is for the police to search each vehicle to make sure it is not full of robbers carrying dangerous weapons such as guns. Instead, when a driver gets to a barrier, the police shine their pathetic torchlights in the car and, sometimes, ask for something "small for iced water or Fanta". I mean, what kind of life is this? Why should policemen and women turn themselves into professional beggars? I know they are underpaid, but come on, begging for money from the populace is not cool.


These "beggars in uniform" are all over the streets of West Africa and travelling by road from say Ghana to Benin is no laughing matter. You will come across so many barriers and you know at each one, a beggar in uniform will demand something from you. For doing their job! That is what gets to me the most. The majority of people begging in Africa are in full-time gainful employment. Yet they beg for money from you for them to do their jobs!

Can you imagine, after withdrawing your money from a bank, the bank teller begs for "something" from you? I have heard of secretaries who, no matter how many times you visit their offices, will tell you their boss is unavailable. Yet the same secretaries have no shame in begging you for "something". "Something" which, when it materialises, guarantees you a meeting with the "absent" boss.

This culture of begging has permeated the whole African social order, from our governments down to every sector of society. In the classrooms, teachers beg schoolchildren for their "luxury foods" such as apples which they cannot afford on a teacher's salary. Pathetic but true! Visit any establishment and the security officer will act as if he is helping you to find a parking lot. The minute you step out of your car, the begging starts: "Oh madam, I dey ooo!"

You stop at the traffic lights and young children who are supposedly trying to earn a living by cleaning your car windows or selling chewing gum, all of a sudden turn into professional beggars. These days, many of our young men are creating work for themselves by filling in the potholes on our roads, whilst at the same time begging for money!

What is going on? Why have we turned into a continent of beggars? Our leaders go abroad to beg for "aid" to support the national budget or else they can't run our countries. They beg for loans, grants, and experts to develop Africa. It makes no sense, when you have everything you need at home to cook a good meal, to go begging your neighbour for their food. You may not be a good cook, but once you have the ingredients, surely you can only try?

For as long as we keep begging foreigners to produce for us, we will never know how to manufacture anything. We may not know how to mine and polish diamonds, but how can we know when we do not learn? We would rather beg foreign investors to come and do it for us, on their own terms!

I don't have a problem with asking for help when you need it. But I think Africa is asking for help from the wrong quarters. For a long time, I was one of those angry Pan-Africanists who hated Europeans for the way they treated Africa in the colonial days. But after living on African soil for so long, my anger has abated. Yes, the Europeans committed evil against us. Evil which must never be forgotten. But now, I no longer blame them solely for what is going on in Africa. I also put some blame on Africans ourselves and our leaders.


Take the issue of diamonds, for example. In Africa, diamonds are just stones found in the ground. We don't worship them. We will not kill for them. Now look at the Western world, where people are judged by the material goods and money they possess. These Westerners worship the diamonds found on African soil. "Diamonds are forever", they say. "Diamonds are a girl's best friend", they add. And instead of grasping this and taking control of how we mine, polish and sell our diamonds to the world, we would rather beg European companies to come and take over and do everything themselves. It does not make any sense.

The West seems to need our diamonds more than we do, so how come they make more money from them than we do, the people who actually possess the diamonds? African leaders should be in a position where they dictate the prices of our natural resources, instead of turning themselves into professional beggars.

As I have said, I have no problem with seeking help. It is obvious that Africa needs a great deal of help before we can be self-sufficient. But this help, I think, should come from committed Pan-Africanists in the Diaspora. For example, rather than going to the Dutch or Indians or Japanese for aid, committed Pan-African industrialists, agriculturalists, philanthropists, doctors, engineers, dieticians, construction workers, manufacturers, inventors and the like, should be the ones developing Africa. There are so many professional, skilled and experienced Africans in the Diaspora who can make a difference.

Sometimes, when I think back over my education in the West, I feel it was a waste. I wish I had studied a subject that could be used for the betterment of my people today as I live on African soil--something practical like urban planning or agriculture. But let me not digress. I was talking about the culture of begging as seen in Africa.

Begging is not a positive activity. I don't think it is right and I certainly do not encourage it. I have told my children never to beg me or anyone for anything, even forgiveness. They must ask for forgiveness when they think it is the right thing to do, but to beg for it ... please.

This culture of begging has to stop. Yes, salaries are low across the continent. Yes, most of us are living hand-to-mouth lives. But begging is not the answer. What most beggars also do not realise is that, the person you are begging from is probably in the same situation as you. Just because a bank teller sees someone withdrawing money, that does not mean the person has extra money to throw at the teller. I can appreciate the police are poorly paid. But begging money from drivers is not the solution. Those drivers are also probably poorly paid too. But hey, these are just the reflections of an ordinary African woman.
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Title Annotation:Reflections of an Ordinary Woman
Author:Djanie, Akua
Publication:New African
Geographic Code:0DEVE
Date:Apr 1, 2010
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