A number of concerns inform this reflection. The first concern is the apparent failure of West African states to respond adequately to the scourge of poverty that is ravaging the region harshly and unrelentingly. The increasing pauperization of communities constitutes the biggest challenge for the Economic Community of West African States (ECOW AS). Poverty also inhibits forms of cultural production and destroys the image of the region's populace. A historical approach may perhaps disclose the roots of the present dilemma in the structural faults of the past. Second, poverty alleviation schemes tend to emerge from the top of political hierarchies. There is a need to comprehend how communities understand the meaning of poverty and endeavor to combat its effects. This is a historical reconstruction that moves beyond the political arena to reconstruct the lives of common people. Third, and further informing this reflection, is a heightened awareness of the contribution of indigenous knowledge in response to modern social problems. This is an attempt to define poverty and wealth from an indigenous African perspective, and to examine how communities mitigated what they perceived as poverty. It uses language as an entry into indigenous thought and knowledge of these processes. It then examines how poverty was understood and combated through indigenous social and economic processes.
The emergence of the colonial project created a new type of poverty that was not conjunctural, but structural; the colonial political economy subjugated and eroded African social and economic structures, while racial prejudice held local knowledge in disdain. The complexity of the colonial period was caused by the weaving of three cultures: the indigenous, the colonial Western culture and an emergent hybrid form that emerged from African appropriation and reinvention of the Western culture. This chapter explains the delayed colonial response-state, mission, and secular-to African poverty. The responses of these bodies would alter understandings of poverty in new ways. This method also enables the search for new insights into intractable contemporary problems from the debris of ancient theories of knowledge.
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