Empowerment is the new word for Tyranny


The idea of empowerment has become a popular one in present times. To empower, simply, is to release the energies of a marginalized group, or individuals, so they can take control of their own lives. The Chinese have a proverb about giving a man a fish as compared to teaching him how to fish. Give him a fish and he comes to your home every morning with his grumbling stomach. Teach him to fish however, and he takes responsibility of his grumbling stomach. Teaching people to fish for themselves is the crux of empowerment.

Empowerment is also about giving people a voice, so they can speak up against oppression and injustice. Throughout history, there has been one empowerment program after the other. As long as inequality remains, there will always be the need for the strong to lift up the weak. Be it the empowerment of Black people, or of women, of sexual minorities, or of street children – there is always a need for someone to rise up and say ‘it is your time to speak up; you can lay claim to any resource around you, just like everyone else.’

Empowerment is important because it tries to do away with the coercive and oppressive relationships of power that often exists in some societies. It is really doubtful that anyone would find faults with empowerment’s honest need to give a voice to the oppressed and to make their lives matter.

Nevertheless there is a paradox in empowerment agendas that can result in the abuse of the very people whose interests it seeks to protect.

I will clarify this paradox with an illustration.  Mr. Mensah is an oil magnate while Budu sells cigarettes on the rough streets of Accra. Driving home from work one day, Mr. Mensah meets Budu and decides that Budu will be better off if he gets off the street. He does this because he sees the potential for success in Budu, so takes Budu home with him. Mr. Mensah believes that Budu will make an excellent lawyer someday, so he quickly enrolls Budu in the university. Budu is grateful, of course; Mr. Mensah has given him a new chance at life, he has given him a voice, he has empowered him; something no one ever did for him. Where empowerment failed is this: Mr. Mensah never asked Budu what it was he really wanted. Had he asked, Mr. Mensah would have known that Budu had always wanted to learn sculpturing at the community polytechnic.  Mr. Mensah gave Budu a voice, but it was a voice Budu couldn’t sing with.

The illustration of Mr. Mensah’s relationship with Budu is to establish that no matter the magnanimity of empowerment, power still remains in the hands of one the strong. That is, within the very structures of empowerment is the possibility of domination.

Empowerment comprises of two parties; the weak/oppressed who needs saving and the strong/free who takes upon himself the role of giving hope to the hopeless. Weak and strong, poor and rich – that is the dynamics of empowerment. Any displacement in the balance that exists between the weak and the strong will result in a new form of oppression, where the savior becomes the tyrant.

Can Budu ever complain if Mr. Mensah employs him as his lawyer personal lawyer? Can he ever say no if Mr. Mensah instructs him to forge documents and perjure himself in court? No he cannot; he owns most of his success to Mr. Mensah.

Tyranny can be cloaked as empowerment, and it is often the case when benevolent NGO’s, civil societies and donor agencies fall into the delusion that they know more about the needs of the poor than the poor themselves do.

With the argument that empowerment can serve as a tool for oppression, it is important to understand poor doesn’t necessarily mean dumb. Can saviors overcome the seductiveness of a new form of oppression? What will be the motive of empowerment, teaching the hungry man to fish for himself, or teaching him to fish so he calls you “Master”?

By Dede Williams

Wisdom as a Product of Consistent Stupidity By Dede Williams

Note to readers: the word stupidity will be used more than two dozen times. It is not intended to be offensive, but merely descriptive. This work is in itself an exercise in stupidity.
There are several time-tested ways of becoming wise. From the inception of the various religions and philosophies, different thinkers have theorized on wisdom and how to arrive at it. In all of these theories, one important way of arriving at wisdom has often been ignored. It is the way of consistent stupidity.

Consistent stupidity is when a person who otherwise is audaciously stupid, remains consistent in the application of his/her stupidity. With time, their consistency in churning out crazy ideas and impossible utterances begins to take on the coloring of wisdom. Rarely do people care how one becomes wise. The focus has always been the end, which is wisdom. So consistent stupidity should be given a chance.
There is only one thing worse than abject stupidity, and that is the inability of people to stick by their ideas, irrespective of how crazy they are. Most greats of history are remembered today not because of their words of gold, but because they consistently defended their crazy ideas with a passionate intensity. When you’re consistently stupid, observers cannot help but applaud you with laurels. They say ‘well done, good and mighty oaf, you’ve been consistent to the end’.

I will illustrate consistent stupidity with this example. Let us assume you put your foot in your mouth and call a group of noble people some very unsavory names. In the case of backlash, you have two options: option A, you can take back your words and apologize profusely, and option B you can stand by your claims with an unflinching faithfulness. Option A will bring peace and it is the mature thing to do.

With option A, you may get back into the good books of the noble people, but only after you’ve submitted yourself to thorough embarrassment by apologizing for your idiocy.
With option B this is what you do: if you honestly meant the insults you rained on our noble people, then by all means be consistent.

Give consistent stupidity a chance. Posterity will thank you for it, they will sing songs about you.

This is another beauty about consistent stupidity: assuming that our noblemen are indeed scoundrels, you nullify your initial insult by choosing option A. Any attempt you make to re-insult our noblemen will deepen your stupidity. Had you chosen option B, consistency would have will glorified your name. You will then have all the right in the word to gloat about how right you were.
Consistency has won wars; it has made strong men and women out of ordinary wimpy people. Consistency has been instrumental in mixing up genuinely wise people with the audaciously stupid. Today, we are none the wiser, the idiot and the thinker are our heroes. This is the end of the matter: in case of doubt, be consistent in all your doings, even in stupidity.