The Meaning of Poverty
We had all been in the rain together until yesterday. Then a handful of us – the smart, and the lucky and hardly ever the best – had scrambled for the one shelter our former rulers left, and had taken it over and barricaded themselves in.
A comparison of poverty in Africa and India is instructive for a number of reasons. A comparison of the two regions shows how chronic poverty leaves communities and entire nations unable to protect themselves against the brutality of psychopaths – but in different ways. In Africa the absence of functioning states means that psychopaths find it relatively easy to seize power through violence. In India, in contrast, a functioning state and a powerful national army make that route to power problematic. Instead the preferred route for India’s psychopaths to access power is through corruption. A comparison of the two regions therefore illustrates how the threat from those with dangerous personality disorders changes as the context evolves.
Poverty undermines the safeguards that humanity has devised to protect against the brutality of psychopaths and people with severe narcissistic and paranoid personality disorders. Africa and India, each in their separate ways, show how endemic poverty corrodes democracy, undermines the rule of law, destroys the prospect of protecting fundamental human rights, and leaves societies vulnerable to pathological elites.
In Africa, widespread violence and war expose African citizens to a higher threat of physical violence than anywhere else in the world. The absence of properly functioning states leaves individuals at the mercy of thugs and thieves, whether in the form of the brutality of armed militias or the corruption of government officials. The absence of effective governments creates the conditions in which 700 million people live in abject poverty, two-thirds of city dwellers live in slums, half of women are illiterate, and child mortality is the highest in the world. The persistence of poverty in Africa is thwarting attempts to achieve the levels of health and education, the cultures of freedom and autonomy, the institutions of law and democratic governance, and the conditions for sustainable economic growth which are needed to finally remove the continent’s pathological elites from power.
In India, despite the formidable successes of its democracy, endemic poverty is also corroding the safeguards which protect Indian citizens from those with dangerous personality disorders. Poverty fuels corruption throughout Indian society. It is corroding public institutions including the police, the judiciary and the civil service. The vast gulf between rich and poor fuels separatism and the Maoist communist insurgency, sustains religious extremism, and creates a society in which the wealthy and powerful are above the law. The clearest evidence that India’s democracy is failing to protect against those with dangerous personality disorders is the fact that so many of them now hold positions of power in India’s state and national governments.
The Future of Democracy
The salvation of India’s democracy lies largely in its own hands. India has the stability and the resources needed to take the necessary steps to strengthen its institutions of law and government. The first essential step is glaringly obvious – barring criminals from standing in elections and from taking seats in parliament.
Africa, however, will need assistance to escape the tyranny of its pathological elites. A necessary first step is for rich nations to cease assisting Africa’s psychopaths, by refraining from hiding their fortunes in Western banks and from selling arms to tyrants to terrorise their own populations.
What Africa and India need most is pathology-free leadership. It is commonplace today to establish free trade zones and joint economic areas around the world to boost regional growth and development. Africa and India should build on the inspiration of their great leaders, Gandhi and Mandela, to establish a joint Pathology-Free Leadership Zone – to address the formidable challenges each faces and to restore the humanity of their most impoverished citizens.