I am an expatriate in Africa. I have been in and around Africa for the last 10 years. I came here with my parents and decided to stay. Africa has beggars, lots of beggars for that matter. The easiest explanation for this would be that, Africa has poverty and poverty has created a huge group of people depended on the society due to the lack of direct financial support to these underprivileged, by the government. This is an easy explanation I would say, its not wrong, but it represents less than 10% of the beggars on the streets.
I would like to go to a specific country for the rest of this discussion, as this would represent a case that can be seen in similar, but localized version else where in Africa.
Rwanda having strict laws against begging and a police force that is considered the least corrupt in the whole of Africa, benefits from having very few beggars on the streets compared to other African countries. By this am not trying to say that there are no beggars in the Rwandan streets. Having spent a long time here and Rwanda being a nation with very high expatriate and general population density it would be a wise and good example to analyse and would be the best example to bring my points across.
The country has seen rapid growth in the last few years, this has resulted in rural to urban migration. Do understand that this is a very small country with an even smaller urban area, the so called urban area would be considered rural in most other places. The most interesting part of the whole scenario is that, in most other places rural to urban migration results in a large unemployed population and they turn to begging. Here in Rwanda this is not what is happening. The beggars are of a totally different class. The beggars are not old or disabled people that cannot find jobs, but they are children and healthy people who are already employed in some way or the other.
The children usually come to the cities, running away from home for some silly reason. Initially they walk around the town and then join groups of similar children in some location in the city, there are several NGOs and there are government initiatives to provide shelter and schooling for these children on the streets, however they do not stay at these facilities.
The other class of already lightly employed beggars, these are young adults with some sort of semi employment, like washing cars, cleaning buildings, selling things on the road etc. This group are opportunistic beggars and does not fit the exact definition of beggars.
These are not the only types of beggars, but they are the most common.Let me try and explain the role expatriates play in worsening the situation.
The general attitude an expatriate in Africa has is of superiority, superior in terms of technology, medicine, financial strength etc. This results in a want to help attitude in most of the cases. It is this state of mind that the majority of the beggars utilize.
The children come around saying they are hungry and that they haven’t had food in so many days and so on. The most important thing to note is that they do not in general approach Rwandans. I have time and again observed this and know it for a fact that they know not to approach Rwandans. The main reason for this is that there is heavy media propaganda through radio shows, news papers etc to discourage such activities. Also the president has been saying over and over again at most international meetings that Africa doesn’t need AID anymore but it need foreign investment. This has created a sense of pride and an attitude to be self sufficient in most Rwandans, thus the children clearly know that if they approach a Rwandan there is high chance that they might end up in one of the many facilities that are working to protect and shelter street children.
Now the next important thing to know is that the money that they make by begging is not spent on food, its usually spent on what they call “Glue” which is a strong industrial adhesive that has a pungent smell, which has an intoxicating effect. The older ones spent it on cigarettes or marijuana. Alcohol gets the least preference due to the fact that it is generally expensive in Rwanda.
The negative effects of these children staying on the streets is usually that they end up in prison as criminals. If we look at it in another perspective these are children with potential to be make something out of their lives that become thugs and thieves. The majority of the children on the streets are boys.
The other category, which is the lightly employed young adults, this category includes both men and women. They usually have small jobs, with which they can make a living if they work hard enough. Now with the influx of a large number of NGOs and other expatriates, they have moved away from trying to work hard to make ends meet to begging. They see it as an easy source of money, it also lets them laze around and spent time doing nothing.
This generally makes them lazy and it results in them loosing the jobs they initially had and generally leads them to become petty thieves. Even this group will be very reluctant to go to a Rwandan to ask for money.
Let me look at it from another perspective, that of the one giving the money. We are walking down the street and young boy of say 10 years comes to us and tells us, in English or French that he is hungry and puts a really hungry expression on his face. The superiority complex (let me call it that way) that most of us expatriates have leads us to put ours selves in the position of the Saviour and what do we do? We give him a 500 RWF note, Which to us is less than a dollar. We walk away having the confidence of helping a fellow human being in need and a boosted ego. Do understand that, the dollar we gave him will not help him in any way but will only lead to him becoming a burden to the society.
When we give a beggar some money ,we are trying to make a quick fix without taking any effort, what so ever to find a real solution to his problem and in most cases the said beggar has no problem except laziness in the first place.
So the next time you want to do something good to a fellow human being, go volunteer with some NGO. You can easily find an NGO in most parts of Africa. IF you have come to Africa as part of an NGO then do understand that you are already doing enough to help fellow human beings
I would also like to add that a good number of Expatriates give money out of guilt of having money when they don’t. Even in this case giving them your money will only lead to their degradation in the society.
Let us not promote the degradation of the African society, they have gone through enough already.