I think that most low-income workers in Africa deserve to be poor because they choose to be poor by their actions and attitude. I know it sounds cruel and counter-intuitive but bear with me. The average poor unskilled worker in much of Africa has got a terrible work ethic. I noticed the same thing in many black Americans when I worked there many years ago as an exchange student. I saw similar tendencies in British students and other “low-class” whites in England.

There is this pervasive culture of working with minimum effort and trying to get things for free which makes me think that laws which force foreign companies to employ locals are counter-productive (my white American boss told me she preferred to hire foreign students like me). As much as I believe governments are the greatest cause of poverty, I think that choice is the second biggest cause.

Last year I interviewed a worker for the farm, gave him K60,000 ($12) for his transport to move his wife and kids to the farm but he just vanished and switched off his phone (never worked a single day). How can any rational person risk being arrested and jailed over $12? Same thing happened to my parents with another “potential worker”. A friend of mine hired some guys to work for 2 weeks in the bush near their village in the spirit of creating employment for the locals. After working partly, two of them took off to the village, got drunk and never reported for work afterwards.

Talk to anyone in the transportation business in Zambia and they will tell you how finding reliable drivers is the biggest headache. After getting paid, you will be lucky to see them 2 days later. One of my relatives says he pays his drivers on a Friday so that they run out of money by Monday (following a drinking binge) and report for work. They will often show up drunk on the job. These supposedly “down-trodden” poor people that we are supposed to feel sorry for ask for an advance or part payment after doing part of the work and if you make the stupid mistake of paying them, you will live to regret it. They have absolutely no consideration of how they inconvenience you when they just quit suddenly on pay day without notice like one of my workers did at the farm in the middle of planting season. They do not even bother to tell you they are quitting. They just disappear into thin air and change their cellphone number. Firing erring workers is an exercise in futility as the new workers you hire are just as bad or worse.

I have lost count of how many maids I have gone through just in the last 2 years. You would expect that they would think ahead and realize that it is better for them to work for you well and earn more money over time rather than quitting after a short time but it seems they have no ability to have foresight. As long as these maids buy their cellphone and new clothes, they have “arrived”. Some of my maids that quit ended up poorer and begging from their neighbours. Imagine the wasted man hours hiring / rehiring / training in a year. Why do we even complain about “casualization” of labour when it seems to me that most of these workers prefer to be casual so that they can take off anytime to get sloshed and come back when they please?

This pattern of bad work ethic manifests itself everywhere in Africa. No wonder Chinese companies prefer to import workers from China because they know how lazy locals are. In Angola for example, the locals will not work at night (the 2011 BBC documentary “The Chinese Are Coming” highlighted this). In Zambia, you find people sweeping the streets at 9 in the morning when they should have done it at 5am when traffic is low. It took 6 months (using local labour) to build a simple foot bridge along Kafue Road in Lusaka that would have taken a Chinese crew 3 to 4 weeks of 24/7 work in shifts.

So, am I wrong in concluding that these workers deserve to be poor?