A friend’s Facebook post and subsequent comments in response to the Forbes inaugural list of the 40 richest people in Africa inspired this post. He wrote:
“The truth is that 70% of Africa’s population live on less than $2 a day. I wish these wealthy folks can come together and team up with some governments to proffer solution to some Africa’s problems!!!”
Why do the so called “individualist cultures” seem happier than “collectivists’ cultures”? I found an answer by the distinctions proposed by Triandis and Gelfand (1998); “individualistic,” could mean either, free from social coercion, or could mean self-interested and socially competitive. The first distinction seems to give the explanation to why the rich give in such cultures because we see the combination of a “sense of social responsibility and solidarity with a high degree of freedom for people to make key life choices by following their internal compass. These cultures may also put relatively less pressure on their members to excel at the extrinsic goals of becoming rich and looking beautiful, thus leaving them somewhat freer to work on meeting their intrinsic needs”.
In contrast, ours cannot be categorised as a national culture but our attributes describe a tight social framework, we also have a philosophy that idealizes extrinsic goals of wealth acquisition, individualistic, anarchic, self-interested and socially competitive pursuits.
Wealth gotten through hard work is a favour, a reward to those who are blessed with it. Therefore it would be wrong to condemn the efforts of those engaged in the production of such wealth; however, the dangers of riches are also enormous. Wealth is external to man and therefore inferior to intrinsic aspects of his person like; wisdom, good character, love etc. These are what makes us human and gives true happiness and are also the qualities we need to possess to be able to give out of what we have. However, our society has conditioned our minds to place more emphasis on the instrumental value of money and wealth acquisition such that it becomes very difficult to part with just a little out of it to make the society better.
The concept of ownership versus responsibility also comes to mind; being able to share your wealth depends on your ideology about these two concepts and is also a predictor of what you would do if you were in the position of some of these “extremely wealthy folks in the midst of great poverty”. You may see yourself as the absolute owner of your business and as such, everything that accrues from it belongs to you and your family or you may see your business as a form of responsibility, a form of stewardship and you are an administrator.
The concept of absolute ownership is rife in Africa and encompasses all areas of our lives not only in business. Responsibility on the other hand involves more than operating your business in a way that maximises returns to you and the other shareholders but it also requires contributing to the welfare of the society where you operate. This goes beyond philanthropic gestures that are purely for marketing purposes and the obligations imposed by the law e.g. tax. Seeking the common good of the society would make life easier for the rich for example, it would reduce the amount spent on security by these rich folks to protect themselves.
Remember the story of the rich man Jesus told to go sell all he had and give to the poor? Giving has never been an easy task for the rich. Their hands are as tight as a….