Dec 1st, 2009 | By | Category: Featured Articles

By Very Rev Kofi Bediako

Director, Methodist Development and Relief Services

Poverty is very difficult to define, because it is multi-dimensional and has many intricately intertwined causes.  The Ghana Poverty Reduction Strategy defines poverty as “unacceptable physiological and social deprivations”. Thus, poverty is not only a matter of lack of food, shelter and clothing.  It can also be the denial of choices and lack of opportunities for living a tolerable life, or a type of social deprivation that impedes people from participating fully in their society and its development.

Given the complexities of the issues associated with poverty, the best approaches to dealing with the phenomenon of poverty must address the multi-faceted problems it presents. However, this paper will attempt to isolate one facet of poverty – that of mindset – which, if addressed, can significantly reduce other problems associated with poverty.

Mindset Poverty

Mindset poverty is a mental condition, or a form of slavery, in which the victim perceives life as hopeless, sealed, doomed and beyond recovery. It is a situation in which the victim believes poverty is ‘normal’ and even sometimes desirable.

People who are suffering from  mindset poverty blame others for their woes.  Even in adult life, they incessantly blame their parentage, demonic forces, the rich in society, or anything else they can think of to blame. They blame politicians even for problems like a lack of rain, and wait with eager expectation the day a government will come to wave a magic wand that will put money into their pocket without tears.

In extreme cases, victims of this ‘devastating complex’ fail to recognize their own state and wretchedness. Karl Marx referred to this state as ‘Alienation’.


There are many causes of mindset poverty, some of which are discussed below:.


The phenomenon is common to people who have undergone colonization and have been brainwashed to believe that anything native is inferior. One’s upbringing or socialization can contribute immensely to this canker. For example, from early childhood, many African children are made to understand that their parents are poor and they must behave as such. These children grow into adulthood believing that they are poor and inferior and must accept anything that comes their way – good or bad. They are schooled to exaggerate their poverty and present a demeanour that evokes sympathy and can attract gifts. When I was growing up, we used to greet white men with a refrain ‘obroni kכֿkכֿכֿ kyε me sempoa’, ( “white man I need a gift of 3 pence”).  I was surprised when I learnt recently that children in 2009 have not desisted from this beggar mentality.

Political Factors

After independence, greed, corruption and mal-administration on the part of our leaders and political office holders, have kept Ghana in poverty and contributed to the thinking of the majority of our people that our poverty has been determined by God.

Environmental  Factors

Geographical location, level of literacy and lack of exposure, are all contributory factors to poverty. In an environment where people all believe, behave and think the same way, with a poverty mindset, people will become complacent with life, remain small in all their endeavours, and live a dependent life consigned to oblivion.

Our background as a nation that was colonized, the attitude of our leaders with calabash in hand soliciting for alms from visiting dignitaries, the theology of some denominations preaching poverty as a virtue and demonizing riches have all contributed to the  impoverishment of our minds, causing us to docilely accept poverty as our normal standard of living.

As part of an assignment for a community entry workshop, I encountered a man living in the study area who owned 272 cows, goats and sheep. I took along some gifts in the form of provisions – milo, sugar, and the like. From our conversation, I learnt that he had four wives; their home was a mud house roofed with thatch. He had 17 children and only two were in school. His conversation centred on the fact that he was poor and could not educate his children. He was interested in when I could come again with similar gifts and requested that I bring second hand clothing as well.  I drew his attention to the fact that he was richer than I by attempting to quantify the animals in terms of their monetary value, but he laughed at me and would not accept my ‘lies’.

Need for Education

Since I took up my responsibility as the Director for the Methodist Development & Relief Services, I have travelled throughout the regions and interacted with poor communities.  These duties have convinced me of the need for the church to embark upon education that will eradicate mindset poverty as a prerequisite for wealth creation.

In fact, poverty reduction must begin with the mind. If hunger, disease and ignorance were demons, the most troublesome would be ignorance. Educate ignorance and the other two will fall into place. It is ignorance that allows people to live in abject poverty while sitting on gold reserves. It is ignorance that causes people to live mal-nourished lives while surrounded by leafy plants that can supply all their nutritional requirements. It is ignorance that allows people to live a life of abject poverty while surrounded by vast opportunities for improving their lives. It is ignorance that makes people blame their woes on political leaders and continue to wait in poverty till the day a government will come and put money into their pockets.

Mindset Poverty as concept

The concept of mindset poverty is not insensitive to the plight of the poor as some suggest. What it seeks to do is to diagnose how victims have allowed challenges of life to overshadow that powerful mental capability which God endowed us with. It seeks to make people responsible for their actions and to look to themselves for answers to their problems, instead of putting the blame for their troubles and failures on parents, the economy or the government.   It encourages people to make efforts towards their own development instead of being provided with handouts which, with the benefit of hindsight,have proved to be inimical to the self development of the poor.

While recognizing the enormity and debilitating effect of the factors beyond the control of the poor which sometimes render them incapable of extricating themselves from the doldrums, it equally stresses the power of God and the power of our own mental faculties to enable us to persevere, to work hard to surmount the challenges in our lives, and to turn around our circumstances for the better.

Research Findings

A critical examination of some people who live in abject poverty will reveal that sometimes people accept poverty as preferred choice of living.  Research was conducted on 12 people who were in tattered cloths begging in the street in a big city.  They were convinced to take up jobs that took energy and mental acuity but with commensurate wages. Part of the duties involved solving puzzles all day.  After six months, only two remained at the job.  The rest of the group had gone back to the street to beg.


Read carefully the testimonies below.

“At eighteen, I was a labourer with others on a vast forest land uprooting trees with  ??hteen, I mattocks and axes to prepare the grounds for a nursery. We escaped death by the breath of the hair when a falling tree almost trapped us to death. I immediately resolved to do something about my life. At the end of the month, I used my meager wages to buy books, borrowed notes from friends who were in secondary school, registered a correspondence course in G.C.E Ordinary level. After three and a half years of hard work and sleepless night I passed in seven subjects in G.C.E Ordinary level, etc. paving the way for G.C.E Advanced level and ending up in the university with two degrees and a good job. Most of my forest mates are senior labourers now”.

“I harmfully carried with me the idea that I was poor. Since all my life, I had acted like a poor child, I had become one. I felt that I had no purpose in life and there was no one to further my education.  One day, I had the opportunity to go to farm with my aunt’s husband who was an ex soldier. I did not know that he had noticed my frustration so when we sat under a mango tree after the day’s work, he started to advise me as the young man that I was. He started by narrating his own life story, the ups and downs he had gone through and how he turned around his life. From that meeting, my hopes were restored and I began to develop a positive attitude towards myself. My perception about life also changed.”

The Role of the Church

The church, taking a cue from the life and ministry of Jesus Christ (Luke 4:18-19), has, since its inauguration, seen the challenges of social concern and responsibility as an unavoidable consequence of evangelism and mission.  Since the Lausanne Conference on World Evangelization in 1982, the relationship between evangelism and social concern has been redefined and integrated as twin-duty. Viewed from three levels, Christian concern is now a consequence of evangelism, a bridge to evangelism and a partner to evangelism

Mental Capacity.

What the mind perceives, the body conceives – so goes that great saying. Ideas have consequences. “As a man thinketh in his heart, so he is” (Proverbs 23:7).  Our mental capability is very powerful. The way you perceive yourself will determine who you are and what you do with your life.  The environment in which we live, the type of information we receive, the discussions we have with peer groups, significantly influence our minds.

The Word of God

Christianity wields a powerful tool in changing mindsets. The word of God is a powerful sword in turning around for the better, people’s state of mind.

In Luke 15:11-32, we are confronted with the story of the prodigal son. He took his share of the father’s property and squandered it in profligate living. It presents a very deplorable and hopeless condition. However, the verse 17 of the same chapter, marks the watershed. These are few but powerful words: “WHEN HE CAME BACK TO HIS SENSES”. He questioned his self imposed impoverished condition and resolved to do something about his plight. He acted on his resolution and his circumstances changed. He could have died in that deplorable condition but for that verse.

We must inculcate into our congregations the idea that poverty is not God’s purpose or standard for us. The Bible goes further to mention what we can do to alleviate poverty by changing our mindset.


It has been noted that fear, a mental condition, is a stumbling block to self development and keeps people in perpetual poverty. In 2 Timothy 1:7, it is written, “For God has not given us the spirit of fear but of power and love and of sound mind.” In the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), it is fear that induced the one who was given one talent to dump his treasure in the ground.

Many people fall sick and even die because they fear that something is wrong and that they are too poor to get help. Many people possess the required potentials to succeed but find it difficult to initiate the required action. Many questions arise which are legitimate, for instance, if I invest my money in any venture, will I lose the whole amount as has happened to many friends? It must be made clear that life is full of risks. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, so it is better to take a calculated risk than to do nothing at all.
However, fear will always dictate inaction to you.  The fear of failure has resulted in so many people getting frustrated in life, becoming alcoholics, going into drugs, and sometimes going to the extreme of committing suicide.


The Bible has a lot to say about laziness.  The dictionary defines laziness as “not inclined to work or exert oneself”. It is an attitude that emanates from the mind. It is lack of vision and mission which make people lazy. It can also exhibit itself in procrastination – putting off work or delaying to take action. Proverbs 6:10-11 cautions, “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber.” The preceding verse questions, “How long will you lay there, oh sluggard? When will you rise from your sleep?”

Hard Work

The Word of God has a lot of admonitions about hard work. However, the theologies of some denominations have not helped much. They espouse the theology of prosperity without stressing hard work. Believers are encouraged to claim wealth by faith without hard work or tears. People are encouraged all day, all week, all year round, to pray for prosperity without hard work. This is contrary to God’s Word.

Let it be known that prosperity does not come by prayer without hard work. Paul in 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12, warns that Christians should not associate or entertain people who do not want to work or exert energy to provide for their daily bread. Unfortunately, some preach prosperity, faith and laying claim to riches without helping the listener to appreciate the place of hard work in the scheme of prosperity. Thus, it is not uncommon to encounter religious gatherings letting people spend four weeks in a daylight prayer with huge attendance without recourse to work. How different is this from the “SAKAWA MENANCE”? Religious beliefs or doctrine can make or unmake people, and wrong religious teachings can spell the doom of a people.


In all these, I don’t underestimate the place of prayer and God’s direction in our affairs. Psalms 37:5 says, “Commit thy ways to the Lord, trust in him and he will act.”

Lack of Planning

Some people have no defined purpose in life. They live like the butterfly, whose life is determined by the wind direction.  This is the perception of a non-zoologist. Proverbs 6:7-8 give us an insight into the life of the ant: “Without having any chief officer or ruler she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest.” We as a nation have a huge problem about post harvest losses or food conservation. Year in and year out perishable commodities like tomatoes go rotten while we suffer shortages of the commodity during the lean season. Can we draw any lessons from the ant?


In conclusion, I would like to quote the renowned motivational speaker and author, Emmanuel Darko. “The mind is actually you and in it is resident that part of man known as the soul or the spirit. It determines who you are, what you can be, and helps you create your perception towards life. All your thoughts are resident in the mind so every person has the freedom to choose his or her own life patterns and so it will be. It also means human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind. The mind is full of ideas and it is always prepared to help you, depending on how you take advantage and make good use of your thoughts.”

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  2. I want to contact the author

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  3. Dear Rev Kofi Bediako
    I am forming a christian NGO called “CRETOP”(church response to poverty) in Zambia.I have very much appreciated your material which has given me understanding of the other side causes of poverty.I look forward that we can wrok together to transform Africas perspective on poverty alleviation.My e-mail is provided and my mobile is:+260-974-000-198

    Dr Richard Kakuwa

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