Poverty Alleviation in DR-Congo: Lessons Learned and Best Practices from Deuteronomy 15:4

by admin on June 20, 2010

By: Rev. Pastor Kisongo Ildephonse Mbeleulu (Congolese Theologian)

The year, 1960, is a pivotal year for African independences. Some years prior and after that year, many African countries won their political independence and national sovereignty.  Therefore, many of these countries are in the effervescence of soon celebrating a half century of autonomy and self-governance, and none of them wishes to miss this historical appointment.

However, the records of developmental progress in these African countries are negative in many ways. Economies are broken. Eradicated diseases present in the colonial period are progressively making resurgence. The populations are malnourished and underfed. Corruption and social injustice are now part of the administrative systems. Poverty has increased enormously and misery has reached its paroxysm. Independence is now a frustration and a nightmare for many people who wish to see the return of the colonials in their countries. But God said:”There shall be no poor among you…” (Deuteronomy 15:4). What is the significance of this biblical text in regard to the situation of African countries described above?

 “There shall be no poor among you…” is a revolutionary thought of God against the political, economic, and social systems that prevailed in ancient Canaanite and Egyptian societies (Genesis 47:13-26). God wanted to raise a new type of society based on a community lifestyle. This would be a distinctive sign of God’s people in comparison to the other surrounding nations.

 As a matter of fact, the poor of the Canaanite and Egyptian people were victims of the economic and sociopolitical systems put in place by their own elites. These systems atrociously exploited the lower social class for the benefit of the elites. Because the economic systems were essentially based on agriculture, taxes imposed on the peasants by the “City-State” were heavy to bear. Peasants managed to pay these taxes by giving away a share of their produce, or by simply paying it with cash money. In case of a scarce harvest due to drought, infertility of an overexploited soil, a natural calamity, or a physical disease, the peasants would lose their land trying to pay their debt. In a worst case, a peasant would have to sell his wife or children into slavery in order to pay his debt. So, exorbitant tax was (in a way) an example of a machine which produced poor people. It was an easy way one could lose his land (property), the only means to survive that some poor people possessed. Tax forced and kept landowners in permanent poverty and eventually slowly provoked their sure death. In comparison, this situation does not differ much from what is happening in modern African countries today, except modern African countries have diversified methods of oppression: extortion, dictatorship, tax, withholding employees’ salaries for months or years, etc.

The Bible considers poverty as a human creation because it results from the plans and political and economic decisions of the elites which manipulate power in their own favor.  The Jewish monarchy in the time of Rehoboam, son of King Solomon (1 Kings 12:4-5, 10-11), the impoverishment and the enslavement of the Israelites in Egypt (Exodus 1:8-22) are few examples.

God has blessed African countries with necessary resources for the development and welfare of all their residents. However, African future is still hypothetical and mortgaged. The elites in power are playing a double game. On one hand they are actively impoverishing their own people, while on the other hand they are promising them the false hope of a bright future. The extreme poverty in Africa questions the integrity, the competence, and the ambitions of those who are in power. The same poverty questions the moral and natural rights of a human being today. Ultimately, extreme poverty challenges the moral character of God.

God does not tolerate oppression by any person or entity. The story of the liberation of the Jews in Egypt and the deportation of the same Jews in Babylonian exile give us powerful examples of this intolerance. When a system becomes corrupted, determined to maintain injustice and the status quo at any cost, to protect the interest of a certain minority or a ring of friends in power, isolated individual actions of charity are no longer enough to alleviate the poverty of the victims. Neither are superficial reforms sufficient to bring satisfaction toward that end. God, through individuals, moves by bringing radical structural change in order to result in a positive response to the cries of the oppressed people. At this level, the holistic approach obtains its full significance.  May this be a warning to all!

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