Christopher Lowman says: “Within the first month of arriving in Kenya, I’ve been asked around 10 times for money. One person wanted money to record a song. Just this morning, the lady who serves me chai, out of the blue, asked for money to help her school, a shop owner wanted me to help sponsor her living costs.” This is a cautionary (snapshot) tale of Africa’s insidious handout mentality.

True story: I was updating the Afritorial facebook page, when I saw a comment made on one of the posts.

I’d put up an image of Bi Kidude is a Zanzibari singer, considered to be the Queen of Taarab music. Someone African had responded to the post with a comment that mentioned that the Queen of Taarabu was actually not doing well financially and that we (Afritorial) should put together a fundraiser for the woman if we cared so much.

The writer must have assumed that because we were an online magazine, we

1. Should have known about her situation (which we did not)

2. Should be oliged to raise money immediately to help her (which we are not but are more than happy to investigate further if asked nicely)

3. Are more flush with cash than they are (which cannot be proven at this stage … but flush with cash we are not!)

It made me reflect of the one behaviour common among many Africans that I’m seriously NOT a fan of – the handout mentality. This is where Africans – with the mental and physical energy to make it for themselves – have a poverty mindset, and look for help, especially financial, from anyone else, but themselves.

A lingering symptom of from colonialism, badly managed foreign aid, the high propensity of NGOs to ‘save’ Africa, and poor leadership over many years in Africa, its’ so deeply rooted, that many of my fellow Africans don’teven know they’re living with a handout mentality.

It’s ingrained, insidious, learnt and downright shameful.

Why was the first thought from my dear facebook friend that someone else would be the source of help and not himself? Why couldn’t he have suggested a fundraiser that he would organise himself?

Africa, we’ve believed the lie that we’re not good enough Africa and it really saddens me. Instead of waiting for someone else to do the job for we need to believe we have the power of mind and the energy of spirit to make do ourselves,.

I also thought I’d share the view from a ‘mzungu’. Christopher Lowman is a ‘white man’, of European heritage living in Kenya and his blog post caght my eye and I thought I’d  share his thoughts from the other side of the fence, which I thought were very pertinent:

Christopher Lowman discusses the ‘Handout Mentality’

Last year, despite living in a leprosy community in India that had a healthy amount of people who begged for a living, I was never directly asked for money or seen as the money man.

Within the first month of arriving in Kenya, I’ve been asked around 10 times for money. One person wanted money to record a song. Just this morning, the lady who serves me chai, out of the blue, asked for money to help her school, a shop owner wanted me to help sponsor her living costs.

I am often called “muzungu,” as I walk down the street. It translates to something like, “rich, white person.”

I get angry when I hear it, frustrated.

First, I don’t like being singled out and labeled that way… the separation. Second, it raises a deep issue about the culture I’m beginning to understand.

Again, the contrast is stark.

In India, I was among people who earned $.50c/day but I was not asked for money. Not once in a year.

Yet here in Africa, people ask the white person for money, they see him or her as a savior.

I’m certain this is a symptom of trauma, of the brutalization of the African culture at the hand of the white, Western world, as well as the dogma (with no disrespect intended) of the Christian Church that preaches salvation in a white male, Jesus Christ.

The knee jerk to trauma is to look to the outside world for help.

It’s why the religious conversion rate was so high here. First, there was the brutalization, then the religious missionaries were sent in.

They knew what they were doing.

It’s a troubling issue, and what has caused me to think that there is a certain element of hopelessness to the poverty situations I’ve seen so far.

If you’re living in hope of a savior coming to make your life better, it doesn’t matter who you are, what your situation is, where you are from, you’re not going to have a good result.

We know that God helps those that help themselves.

Said less religiously (and this is something I made a point of several times working with my kids last year), if you take the first step to solving a problem, pursuing a dream, etc., reality responds to assist you.

The first step of a million miles is the hardest one to take because you have to overcome beliefs about impossibility. It becomes even harder if you believe you need a savior.

You are your own savior.

But we know that Africa, the African people and culture have been under attack and this handout, waiting-for-the-savior mentality has resulted.

Which is exactly what the brutalizers want, it’s a disempowered place to be in.

(By the way, it’s a pattern found in the Western world as well, especially the USA. We saw evidence of it during the 2008 Obama campaign for “hope.”)

My heart breaks for this, especially when you know how beautiful the African spirit is, its people, and understand that this continent is the source of profound wisdom.

I’ve remarked to myself that the African spirit contains all the keys that would unshackle humanity.

Perhaps this is why it’s been such a target.

Update: Also interesting to note is that when you do carry the ‘handout mentality,’ this will push people away who actually could help you and invites people who will further take advantage of you. It’s another negative feedback loop.


Christopher Lowman, ‘The Living Smile’ –

Photography: Images by Robin Hammond in Zimbabwe (‘The Price of Gold’ series)

4 Responses

  1. Martin

    If that was the only negative mentality in Africa, it wouldn’t be that discouraging but the biggest issue that hinders a progressive mentality is that most African cultures refuse to question themselves. You all know the sole response they have in their mouth:”It’s our tradition! We are proud of it. The Whites are never going to change who we are.” Well, changes have occured, occur and will occur for Africa is not a bubble, on the contrary. It’s only a shame and a pity that you refuse to be the promoter of your own transformation and continues to endure it.

  2. Beyang

    The description of the problem is very true. You are asked for money by just everybody. But christianity has nothing to do with it. I see the same in muslim countries. Married into an African family, and knowing hundreds of people in Africa and the diaspora, I have other hypotheses about the origin of all this begging – too pessimistic to share.


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