By Vusumuzi Sifile, September 5 2013 When Martin Luther King Jr. made his world famous "I Have a Dream" speech on 28 August 1963, he inspired hope among millions of the downtrodden and impoverished in America and beyond.
In that speech in Washington D.C., [United States,] the civil rights legend lamented African Americans living "on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity." He condemned the "manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination," which he said had "badly crippled” the lives of black people.
And now five decades later, the poverty and a myriad other social justice issues that King raised continue to pervade underdeveloped and developing countries especially in Africa, whose maximum potential is either undermined by conflict, corruption, tribalism and nepotism, among other such ills.
It is indeed depressing to note that millions of people in Southern Africa are still languishing in grinding poverty in a continent abundantly endowed with natural resources whose worth is incalculable.
Instead of appropriating these resources towards poverty eradication and better social service delivery, the ruling elites are shamelessly lining up their pockets, something Dr King and indeed our own fallen African heroes would frown upon.
The scourge of greed and graft is without a doubt exacerbating poverty and condemning the majority of Africa’s 1 billion plus people, particularly rural dwellers, further down the abyss.
The challenges of HIV/AIDS, climate change, weak governance institutions, unstable economies, and restrictive media environments have further compounded the burdens already faced by the marginalised populations who are barely eking out a living on the margins of society.
Millions live on less than US$1 a day. A United Nations (UN) Poverty Index of 2006 found that of the 50 least developed countries, 34 were in Africa. And in 2009, the UN's Human Development Index said 22 of the 24 nations with low human development were from Southern Africa.
These are depressing figures that require collective and concerted action. While the records indicate that the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of a number of African countries is improving, the flip side sadly shows the grim reality of millions plunging deeper into poverty.
In America, the poverty that Martin Luther King so aggressively campaigned against stands at 16 percent, which accounts for more than 40 million people, many of them minorities, according to a 2012 U.S. Census Bureau report.
Marking Dr King’s Washington march and historic speech, U.S. President Barack Obama regretted what he termed the enduring "shadow of poverty" in his country, and high unemployment among minorities groups, especially Blacks and Latinos.
And as Africans, as we also reflect on one of the greatest speeches ever delivered, it is important to join hands and fight for the fulfilment of King’s dream, a dream of a poverty-free humanity that is shared by millions across our continent. It is an African dream, a universal dream!
But for the dream to be realized, there are a number of hurdles that need to be removed, the main one being corruption. Conflict, favouritism and nepotism should never have a place in our fabric. That should be the starting point for poverty eradication.
It is incumbent upon the media to expose graft and bring together different stakeholders to not only debate but act on the various challenges affecting the continent. The media should give consistent reportage on poverty and give those affected the voice to be heard.
Journalists also have a responsibility to raise awareness on Southern Africa’s great potential. To achieve this, Panos Institute Southern Africa (PSAf) has been working with community and mainstream media to highlight different development challenges and opportunities across Southern Africa.
The organisation is currently providing fellowships to journalists across Southern Africa to help them conduct research mostly in far flung areas, mostly in the countryside. These fellowships have over the years produced some of the best investigative journalistic works, some of which have been considered for top international media awards. PSAf also provides capacity-building in the form of training and technical support to enable journalists to bring out development issues in a manner that would enable the marginalized poor to drive the region’s development.
Unless there is collective responsibility across different sectors, poverty eradication will remain just a pipe dream for Southern Africa.
Vusumuzi Sifile is the Regional Manager for Communication and Knowledge Management at Panos Institute Southern Africa. He can be contacted via email on firstname.lastname@example.org. This article was first published in the Zambia Daily Mail on 5 September 2013.