African Friends and Money Matters
SIL International, 2001, 240 pp. ISBN 1-55671-117-4
David Maranz has lived and worked in several African countries since 1975. He is also the author of Peace is Everything. The book provides 90 observations of Africans in regard to relationships and finances. Fascinating personal anecdotes illustrate each one.
I really should have taken more notes on this book because it is chock full of fascinating and frustrating examples of how Africans view relationships and money. The basic perspective is very different in many ways from the Western perspective. There are many choice gems that could be so helpful to people who are going to an African country or who are living there.
Most of Africa is made up of collective societies wherein people rely on one another for security rather than on themselves or their government. The cultural pressures are so strong that breaking the expectations makes one an outsider, the worst possible outcome in a collectivist society.
Here are some of the observation titles (verbatim):
1. The financial need that occurs first has first claim on the available resources.
2. Resources are to be used, not hoarded.
4. If something is not being actively used, it is considered to be “available.”
5. Africans are very sensitive and alert to the needs of others and are quite ready to share their resources.
6. The fact that most people are overextended financially produces profound effects on society.
7. Being involved financially and materially with friends and relatives is a very important element of social interaction.
8. Africans assist their friends who are in financial need as a form of investment for those future times when they themselves might have needs. This arrangement constitutes a virtual banking or savings system.
13. The person requesting a thing or money from a friend or relative has a dominant role in determining whether his or her need is greater than that of the potential donor, and consequently, of whether or not the potential donor should donate.
14. A person to whom money or other resource is entrusted has a major say in how that money or resource will be used.
16. Precision is to be avoided in accounting as it shows the lack of a generous spirit.
18. Africans do not budget for special events; rather, they spend as much money and other resources as they can marshal for each one.
20. Living beyond one’s means and income is accepted as normal, and is almost universally practiced.
21. When someone goes on an errand to make a purchase for another, if he is given a bill or coin that is greater than the amount of the purchase, the person running the errand will normally keep the change unless asked for it.
24. Many products are purchased in very small amounts even though the unit cost is much higher than for purchases in larger quantities. (If you have a pound of sugar in your house, all your neighbors will ‘need’ to borrow some, but if you only have enough for today, you can refuse to lend.)
25. A network of friends is a network of resources.
27. Friendships and other relationships are built and maintained with gifts.
33. Africans prefer to apologize symbolically, rather than verbally, when they have made a mistake or feel personal shame.
35. Africans find security in ambiguous arrangements, plans, and speech.
41. In many rural communities, and less so in urban neighborhoods, people are afraid to accumulate more goods or property than their neighbors and kin, for fear of creating jealousy which may lead to reprisals being carried out against them on an occult level.
42. Money “corrupted” is not expected to be paid back; accountability is not enforced; restitution is not practiced.
43. A major function of government is to provide money and other resources to those members of society who are in power or have a close relationship to those who are in power.
44. Giving preference to the employment of kin over non-kin is a normal expression of family responsibility and solidarity.
45. An unjust settlement of a dispute is better than an offended complainant.
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Your comments and book recommendations are welcome.