What is something most people don't know about Africa?
That most Africans are poor, not because they really are poor, but because someone decides to describe
them as such.
My grandfather is ‘poor’. He certainly lives on “less than a dollar a day”. He is now 95 years old. In his nine and a half decades on earth, he has never lacked, and he has never begged. He only attended one year at a mission school in the 1930s and learnt how to read and write. This is how he pulls it off:
When he wants food, he goes to the banana plantation, looks at tens of bunches of matooke (banana) and decides which to harvest for the day’s dinner. Adjacent to the plantation is a sweet potato garden, cassava garden, yams and finger millet. To the south of the banana plantation are beans, cow peas or peanuts gardens. Down the valley is grazing land with tens of cross-breed cattle. They provide him with milk daily, 365 days a year.
He also has about 20 goats. In Uganda, goat milk was generally not considered palatable, possibly due to the abundance of cow milk, so we never milked goats. He would sell a couple of them to supplement income from other produce to send his children to school. He also reared a couple of chickens, more as a hobby.
The farm produces more than he can consume. He sells the surplus to afford such essential services as kerosene (recently upgraded to solar), soap, sugar.
Scattered across the farm are sugarcane (for eating, not for making sugar) and fruit trees (guava, mango, pawpaw, avocado, orange, passion fruit, pineapple). He drinks fresh juice from mangoes and passion fruit. As is evident, everything here is on a subsistence basis, but very organic. He has done this for the past 75 years.
He had eleven children, my mother being his first born. He sent all of them to school, saw eight of them through college. He sold at least two cows, some goats and some produce each school term to send his children to school.
I went to live at grandfather’s place when I was 5 years old. I left when I was 14 (my family lived in an urban area). I learnt how to farm, milk cows, tether goats, harvest fruits and harvesting honey.
Why the long story?
My grandfather, just like millions of other Africans that live like him, is considered poor. He rarely holds money, and he rarely needs it. He produces most of what he needs. But using the standard World Bank/IMF description of ‘poor’, my grandfather is poor. I live in the city and earn about USD 12,000 a year after tax, which in Uganda is a decent salary. But I can hardly match my grandfather in terms of providing for my family with fresh milk, fresh food and fresh fruits.