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Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Ambassadors of Poverty by Philip Umeh

Literary Analysis (Summary)

Africa has long been bedevilled by poor leadership. So many years after independence, the continent’s biggest problem still lies with leadership. Africans agitated for self-government from their colonial masters, which they got with the hope of a promising future devoid of foreign interference. But years after, African nationals are yet to enjoy the dividends of independence.
Ambassadors of Poverty is a satirical poem that ridicules and captures with extra dimension the nature of bad leadership in Africa as a whole and Nigeria in particular. The poem aims at different set of people whose actions and inaction have contributed in plunging the continent into economic misery. These are the citizens whose roles in one way or the other have compounded the rate of poverty in the country. They are the leaders whose corruptible and bad governance have led to poor economic growth.

The poem goes a long way to mock the leadership style of African leaders. After all, leadership plays a pivotal role in the progress of any nation. As a result, the poet, Philip Umeh, feels that when a nation parades myopic, egocentric and visionless leaders, there is bound to be a massive underdevelopment and poverty among its people.

As the giant of Africa, Philip Umeh uses Nigeria, his own country to exemplify this major problem that affects all African states. He makes use of Nigeria as a symbol to other African countries, who are suffering same problem of bad leadership. The poem looks at the Nigerian political leaders who has plagued the country into economic devastation by their act of corruption and maladministration.

The first stanza examines the political leaders, who steal from their country’s treasury and ferry their illegal loot abroad: “merchants of loot”. They are meant to be good ambassadors of the country in the outside world but they turn out to be ‘patriots in reverse order”. They stash their loots in foreign accounts, build mansions and invest to “boost the economy’ of the overseas countries, while their “brothers and sisters at home” are impoverished.

Stanza two focuses on another set of ambassadors of poverty. They are the civil servants most of whom get the job through high and powerful connection rather than on merit: “Barons of incompetence”. These public servants seem to be more “locked in corrosive war of corruption” than their leaders as they place their “kleptomaniac fingers” on “their people’s treasury” without any sense of guilt. Besides, as the representative of the people in government circle, they prefer to bear the title of “ambassadors of poverty” than “saviours of the people’.

In the third stanza, the poet addresses the lethal ‘sit-tight’ syndrome killing governance in Africa. So many Nigerian leaders believe in the power of incumbency. This venomous syndrome has eaten deep into the Nigerian political system. They hold on to power at all cost at the expense of their frustrated followers who are denied opportunities for governance. These “beleaguered, hungry and famished” set of people cannot resist the temptation of power. Power offers them the opportunity to act as they like. They have the immunity while in office. Being political leaders, all their expensive provisions and outrageous needs are being taken care of from public funds. Hence, they greedily hold on to power by all means.

From there, the poet moves to the “political elite”, especially the legislators who feast on the fiscal allocation earmarked for welfare projects in ‘their impoverished constituencies”. They divert the money to build “air conditioned chambers” and buy “exotic cars”.Having siphoned their constituency’s allowances, the social welfare of the people is abandoned and the social amenities are left in ruin. The constituencies are left with “death traps for roads/ mud for water, candle for light/ underneath trees for schools”.

In stanza five,Umeh shifts his severe criticism to African despots, warlords and rebels, who engage “in battle of supremacy for the control of power and their people’s wealth.” They engage in a show of force to outwit one another on who steers the ship of the country. They use all sorts of weapons of mass destruction purchased from overseas countries to bring the country to its knees. These “white man’s machine” from the western world are used to wage ethnic wars where “women and children lie unmourned in shallow graves”.This is an indictment of the western world on their hypocrisy andmonstrous roles in fuelling crisis in Africa and thereby contributing to its underdevelopment.

The next “ambassadors of poverty” are the successful business tycoons who evade taxes, cheat the government and exploit the people with fictitious claims of importing practically non-existent goods and services. Consequently, they are paid subsidies for goods they never imported, “sand inclusive”, the poet adds with a touch of sarcasm. They milk the nation’s treasury for personal gain harvesting in foreign currencies, while their people wallow in abject poverty.

In stanza seven, Umeh goes ahead to castigate “able-bodied men” who roam aimlessly on the streets without jobs or being usefully engaged. He also tags them as ambassadors of poverty because they are “without motive, without vision, without mission”. They leave the rural areas, where they can successfully embark on commercial farming, to the already congested cities to search for virtually non-existent white-collar jobs.When they cannot find their dream jobs in the cities, they become frustrated, “hungry and desperate”. They end up as political thugs, “constituting willing tools in the hands of political warlords”. Their youthful vigour is exploited by politicians, “in their fight for power”, to intimidate their opponents.

This satirical barrage continues in stanza eight where the poet accuses “those whose actions and in-action” has reduced “their people’s expectations to nothingness”. These are the people, whose actions and inaction have in one way or the other contributed in the aiding and abetting of poor leadership and corruption in Nigeria.  They desist from doing the right thing at the right time for fear of being harassed. When they have the opportunity of speaking against corruption in high places, they rather remain silent. This is because most of them have involved in some shady deals in the past which have incapacitated them from criticising the corrupt leaders openly. As a result, they “have lost the spark to inspire”. So, the “people lie in surrender having been defeated by poverty”.

In the last stanza, the poet-speaker casts the blame of bad leadership on “all of us”for our “in-action” and inability to rise collectively against the monster that has tormented the continent over the years. Majority of citizens of African states know the right thing to do to improve the fate of their countries, but they would never do them because they have sold their “conscience in the market place”. They would rather collect money from their leaders to relieve hunger and stay away from protests and agitations aimed at achieving good governance. The ordinary citizens have been mentally exploited “under the weight of poverty” in order to thwart their collective will and suppress their sense of self-awareness. In other words, the ordinary citizen in Africa has contributed to the widespread poverty in their countries.Umeh also categorises them as “Ambassadors of poverty”.

Poor leadership as the root of underdevelopment in Africa
The hypocrisy of the western world
The corruption of the political leaders
Incompetence and corruption in the public service
Exploitation of the masses
Power corrupts absolutely
Lack of insightful mission and vision by the youth
The annihilation of societal values and hopes

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  1. What an incisive review. The explanation has said it all. Literature WAEC comes up tomorrow. With this thorough explanation, I'm good to go. Thank

  2. Thanks for this.

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  5. This is a clear analysis of the poem even without reading the poem one can easily have a clear understanding of the poem'Ambassadors of Poverty'. Good job.