I have to admit that I miss blogging in its essence, writing without caring about form, rhythm, structure… simply flowing like thoughts. So much freedom. There is this particular subject that I have wanted to talk about lately but I’ve been swamped with work. Last time I did a piece on it was a music piece that I called Chasing Ghosts in which I talk about the fear of not having money and the fact that it is the main reason why we wake up in the morning and go to work every weekday. So today I thought I would try to share my views on how I see money and how it works in my world.
To start, if I were a white kid from a wealthy family somewhere in Europe, I would probably open the post with “One important lesson about money that my dad taught me is…” But unfortunately I did not grow up with my dad and I come from a poor African family. And when I say poor, I mean the kind of poverty in which affording a meal once a day on the regular was considered a luxury. I used to be sent home every term because I never paid school fees in time. So on the nine-month academic year, I always missed out about a month or so throughout my education till I got a government scholarship at university. If you are wondering why it was such a problem affording a child’s school fees, well this was due to political instabilities across Africa towards the end of the 20th century. I believe you know this already. I’m not going to talk about politics. I hate politics… sometimes I think all these so-called human organizations, religions included, are the reasons we suffer and will continue to suffer. At the end of the day it is all about a group of few creating fear in the mass so they can exploit them. After the evil of politics and religion, another thing I believe is a catalyzer, not the cause, to evil is money.
Let’s start from the beginning. Before the arrival of colonialists, there was no money in our systems. We had political, religious systems, even economical ones but no money. We had barter systems. From what I’ve learned, it was all about getting what you needed. For instance, if you had more maize in your field and needed beans, you could come to terms with the neighbor who had more beans and needed maize and exchange the goods to your mutual satisfaction. And that’s how it was across the continent. I didn’t live in that era so my experience is totally different.
My granddad, whom I consider my hero, though in exile had managed to secure a good position in a company and lived a good life. He was the first generation to experience money and I must say he did quite well from what I’ve heard until one day he decided to go venture in Kenya and was “nairobbed” all his savings. I was born a couple of years later and all his successful life was history. It took one robbery to turn my life into misery. From privileges of owning hills before colonialists to exile to dying with no property whatsoever, I don’t know how he managed to stay optimistic for 77 years. That just makes me believe more that money has nothing to do with happiness. He was happy.
Money was introduced in Rwanda in the sixties and being born in the eighties, I consider myself a third generation of money users in this country. So having inherited nothing and observing my family borrow money here and there to pay bills, I don’t find any shame in borrowing. After all borrowing is the essence of African solidarity, am I right or am I right? Borrowing is actually a way of life. We borrow salt, cooking oil, water, clothes, cars, money… everything! I don’t know if people still do but that’s how it was back in the day. We were socialists by default. Today capitalism got us building huge fences and confine ourselves in the prisons of “modern civilizations,” tint our cars so that even when we meet our neighbors, they don’t know who we are. It’s funny how a black person can change overnight. What change are you tweeting about? Look at you? Not long ago you had no shoes on your feet but today you’re all picky about them and some, you can’t even walk in them properly. But it’s progress, isn’t it? Of course… of course it is. As long as you have a job and a contract, you can borrow from the bank and buy shoes, clothes, rims, or even just borrow so you can keep a couple of shots of black Label in your glass, ain’t that right? Oh the things we do to maintain a certain class are insane! I’ve been trying to figure out why we, black people, live beyond our means and as absurd as it might sound, we have zero education about money and I believe the system does it on purpose because the less you know about money, the more of it financial institutions make. Even on national levels people are still debating whether aid is good or not. You see I’m not the only dude confused here yet sometimes I see it all clear. A thief comes to your house, loots everything then waits when you’re about to die and lends you your own stuff with some conditions that are only favorable to him. Then you have to do as the thief says and even live how he wants you to. But he does all that because he cares. I mean you were about to die, right? He is your savior, isn’t he?
So today we work, earn some money, spend it… actually spend more than we earn and every 18th of the month, we withdraw the last notes that can only last a couple of days because we have lots of “needs”. Sometimes, the “need” is so urgent that we borrow and pay with interests whether it’s from the sharks we know or the official ones. I mean the banks. Like most people, when I go to the bank and ask for a loan and they say with a smile “The interest rate is only 20%.” I have to admit that I will take the money even though I don’t know what 20% means forgetting that I already have a tough time managing the full salary. I don’t know what the statistics of people in debt in Rwanda are but I would bet 99%. The nail on the coffin is that with everyone owing everyone money, banks offer mortgages payable in 20 years starting at 20%. My question is, “You as a person who’s bad at budgeting, do you know what that means for your family? For your children?” I won’t even talk about financial freedom because the moment you get a loan, you are screwed. That’s where all the fear of not being employed comes from. Is it me or it’s simply ironic that the same model that is collapsing in the west is our reference to build our future?
With no education about money, sometimes we borrow just to spend. Maybe it is because we grew up with nothing and the illusion of something gives us a sort of comfort that we end up misusing. I mean you just have to switch on your TV to see rappers with diamond teeth talking about their previous miserable life. It’s like the moment we get some little money, everyone has to know. Maybe it’s a phase. I hope we’ll get passed it. At the same time as Africans, we don’t think about tomorrow. It is already a miracle that we made it to today so why not enjoy the moment. And so we party like we’ll die the next minute. After all “T.I.A, you never know. Why save? Iby’ejo bibara ab’ejo” What about the future of our kids? Well, we grew up and so if life allows, they will too. So we get money, spend it, get broke, borrow and the cycle continues.
Another factor that constitutes to a continuous state of being broke is the people around us who, just like us, don’t plan. These are friends and families. When I was still at college I thought, as soon as I get a job, I’m going to get myself a nice car, rent a cool house and I’ll be throwing barbecues parties every now and then. Little did I know that the moment you get that first salary is the moment you realize, you no longer live for yourself. There is no way your grandma would call you asking for medication money and you dare say you don’t have it. How can you not? It does not matter how much money trouble you are in, you have got to do whatever it takes – borrow if you must but you are a man. An African man. An African man is a provider by default. Not only she is in need but your pride is at stake as well. And sometimes friends take advantage of this, I mean those people who have been in your life for a while but have contributed nothing but who take and make it a habit. I’m talking about those homies you call to catch up over a beer and appear with a group of pretty ladies at the bar, order food and expensive drinks only to act as if they have a super urgent call when the bill comes. And you know they got this move by the script because they will send you a text to tell you that they got no money before they come back and enjoy the rest of the Heineken they can’t afford. And the African man in you takes another hit with a smile. After all you are friends, right? You’re not going to avoid them because you have a job and they don’t, are you? But then others do it to you and over and over again till you wonder whether you should stop drinking or simply become mean, both tough decisions that don’t solve the problem.
Personally I don’t have any attachment to money (so far) because I have seen it change people, families, countries, the whole world and sometimes I wonder if it’s people’s understanding about it that lead to the fear of not having or the opposite because to be honest, I don’t know. I don’t understand these numbers on papers. I’m already bad with numbers.