Let’s extricate ourselves from poverty mindset

A group of youths invited me to share a few tips on starting new enterprises. In my speech, I emphasised that everything they wanted to know is all in their mind.

That poverty is a choice for those who believe that “what will be will be,” since all future events have already been predetermined by God or some other powerful force.

Indeed, some religious groups are of the view that this fatalistic assessment may be true and predestined; it holds that whether our souls go to heaven or hell is determined before we are born and is independent of our choices.

In other words, if any of the participants had held a strong view that God had already decided their destiny before they were born, then my speech was irrelevant.

Those who will benefit from the talk are those who must allow their minds to be of free will. In free will it meant that they are to make choices unconstrained by certain factors. No one is born to be poor or rich. It is our actions and choices that determine the state we are in.


It is in this context that 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 says “And to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.”

Further, 2 Timothy 2:6 says “It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops.”

In essence, we all must work hard irrespective of our status. In our country, we have seen the rich become poor and vice versa. In no way were these dynamics as a result of fate.

The Concept of Hard Work in Islam states that “God relates in the Koran how the heavens and the earth were created in seven days and describes that as a sign for humankind.

Then the Koran directs a message to humanity that it should contribute positively to the earth, that is, it should work to make use of what is created for its benefit:

That man can have nothing but what he strives for; That (the fruit of) his striving will soon come in sight: Then will he be rewarded with a reward complete.” (An-Najm 53:39-41). Most other religious groups too have strong messages on hard work.

There is a popular view in Kenya that every event has a cause and that everything in the universe is absolutely dependent on and governed by causal laws. Those who subscribe to this view believe that all events, including human actions, are as a result of other actions.

For example, a man kills his wife then blames evil spirits for causing the death. There are several mundane issues that depend on our actions but we often blame the government. We dump our garbage into Nairobi River then we blame the government for not taking action.

We destroy forests then blame the government. We invest where there is no entrepreneurial opportunity then we blame someone else as having caused failure of the enterprise.

Obviously my speech made some of the participants uncomfortable. While some felt it was a challenge to God’s will, others thought it was an academic exercise that is far-fetched in our part of the world where we start from the point of failure.

Our mindset is filled with negative thoughts even before we make any effort. We miss opportunity because entrepreneurship is the process of creating something new with value by devoting the necessary time and effort, assuming the accompanying financial, psychic, and social risks, and receiving the resulting rewards of monetary and personal satisfaction of independence.

If we preoccupied our mind with negative thoughts, then we deprive it of time and effort to see us out of the misery of poverty.

For example, in the construction of the standard gauge railway, we should concentrate not merely on the negative aspects of corruption but the positive avowal that the high speed rail will help reduce road carnage and create opportunities for low income housing.

At speeds of 220 kph, the train will take less than 15 minutes to travel between Nairobi and Konza. It takes more than one hour by road to travel between Nairobi and Ongata Rongai. I leave you to figure out the entrepreneurial opportunity.

Robert H. Schuller, a renowned preacher once said: “It takes but one positive thought when given a chance to survive and thrive to overpower an entire army of negative thoughts.”

Dr Ndemo is a senior lecturer at the University of Nairobi and a former permanent secretary, Ministry of Information and Communication.