Given Africans’ sharing nature, many young people, who are just starting off their careers and lives, find themselves expected to bear family financial burdens. But where does one draw the line between kind assistance and being exploited? BETTY MUINDI explores
Back in 2015, in a heartfelt chronicle, world-renowned football striker Emmanuel Adebayor shocked the world when he revealed his long-term discord with his relatives.
The disagreement affected his performance so much that his team at the time, Tottenham Hotspur, granted him leave to go and attend to his unspecified issue. It is during that time out that Adebayor laid bare what ailed his family. In an almost a thousand-word rant on his Facebook wall, he went on and on about how even his closest family members did not care about him but his money.
As a player in the English Premier League, Adebayor earned quite a tidy sum every so often, running into billions of shillings. From assisting his brother get a chance to play at a French football academy, but instead stole 21 phones from his teammates, to opening a cookies business for his mother.
From endlessly giving his brother big sums of money to start business to him paying school fees for another’s children, the list is endless. Years earlier, at 17, he had used his first professional salary to build a house for his family to make sure they were comfortable.
The former Arsenal and Man city star, who now plays for a Turkish club, İstanbul Başakşehir, said his family members, despite everything he did for them, were always ungrateful. “My brother has now been in Germany for 25 years. He travelled back home about four times, at my expense.
I fully cover the cost of his children’s education. When I was in Monaco, he came to me asking for money to start a business. Only God knows how much I gave him. Where is that business today?” he wrote.
To solve his family issues once and for all, he called a meeting with his entire family, and when he asked them about their opinion, he was not ready for another blow. They said he should build each family member a house and give each of them a monthly wage!
“Today, I am still alive and they have already shared all my goods, just in case I die. For all these reasons, it took very long for me to set up my foundation in Africa. Every time I try to help the people in need, they had to question me and all of them thought it was a bad idea,” bemoaned the player.
Reading Adebayor’s story may bring out a bit of nervous laughter because of his family’s crazy demands, but it also makes you queasy. It paints a grim picture of how families put expectations on their perceived well-off kin. Many young people, like Adebayor, who is just 34, find themselves held hostage financially by relatives.
Woe unto you if you are the first to get a job or seem to be at a higher pedestal than the rest of the family members financially. You will be overwhelmed by demands ranging from school fees, food, medical bills and some even wanting to camp at your house.
If you oblige to these unending demands, you will be forced to put on hold your plans and even deny your own children some comfort, in order to sort out their needs. Even the not-so-needy relatives will every so often try to squeeze some little money from you.
Cousins, uncles and aunts, some even unknown to you, will call, wait…flash, and when you call back, they will give you a list of needs they would like you to sort for them. Rose Kamweu, 29, relates to this too well. She is the marketing manager of an international organisation in seven East and Central African countries.
For four years since acquiring that position, her phone never stops ringing, and her guess is always right. As soon as she picks up, the callers care less about how she is doing, all they want is rant about the deplorable situation they are in, and therefore, need assistance.
“I see my phone ringing and sometimes I have to quickly think of an excuse to explain why I don’t have the money they are asking for, before I answer that call,” she explains, an uneasy smile sweeping over her face.
Rose says some of her relatives who call are not even known to her, “I have to ask them how they know me and how they got my number, and they will describe our relationship as very close,” she chuckles, adding, “they will even say that they baby sat me at some point when I was a little baby, and just like that, they need me to educate their child through college.”
She says her parents have not made things any easier for her. They encourage this habit by sending her siblings, relatives and even friends to her for help. “I earn about 10 times more than my sister, who is a TV producer, and in the beginning, I was always glad to bail her out whenever she was stuck, but she has now taken to regularly asking me to cover other expenses such as rent.
I don’t know where she takes her money, she somehow always has something she did with it,” Rose mourns. There’s a time her sister got so drunk during an evening live programming, that some equipment worth Sh250,000, which was under her care, got lost.
She was given a month to repay them or get fired. “I had to pay a whopping quarter a million, and when she asked me to help her pay, it did not seem like she was remorseful about what she had done,” she regrets.
Her family and extended family’s constant demands, Rose explains, has delayed many personal development projects she had been planning for herself such as advancing her education and travelling. She also has had to put some of her luxuries on hold in order to finance her relatives’ unending needs.
The expectation of putting siblings or other relatives through school or helping them pay hospital bills is an African issue that has existed for decades, and is a common feature in many households, explains psychologists. Dr Geoffrey Wango, a counselling psychologist at the University of Nairobi, attributes this behaviour to Africans’ kindness and sharing nature.
People cannot understand why a moneyed relative cannot just share with their less advantaged ones. The giver also feels like it is their responsibility to assist their poor relatives, even though they are straining. The financial assistance includes giving money, paying school fees, medical bills and so on, to siblings, parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts and more.
“But what is the problem with a rich relative assisting his poor kin?” asks an astounded Edmond Wanjala, an IT specialist. “Your brother or cousin has so much money. Can he not help you educate your child?
I was brought up in a way such that, if one makes it, we all make it,” he says, adding that he does not depend on relatives financially, but credits his current job to his distant uncle who connected him to it. He says he would support a relative in a heartbeat, just like he was assisted to get a job by a relative.
“I would feel bad seeing one sibling doing so well and another struggling. It makes me question our society’s values. Our families are our responsibility. Discouraging assistance to relatives would bring out a level of selfishness and greed that is out of proportion,” he says.
While Dr Wango thinks that it is okay to assist relatives because it helps the poor families get by, it has to have limitations. This will help one remain sane and not to burn out. “Funding family members can also create issues of enabling behaviour, where people may come to rely on the generousity of a rich relative and even avoid working because there is always someone to sort them out.
These good intentions may be creating generations that are disabled when it comes to financial responsibility,” he says. It also restrains the richer sibling’s upward mobility because they are continually sapped of their newly found success in terms of economic resources, and they can’t save or invest as much.
Another problem of enabling some relatives is that they will sit back for you to do whatever favour for them, all the way. You will give them a cheque for school fees, and they will say they don’t have money for transport.
Or if you ask them to do a small favour for you, such as wash your car, they expect you to pay for it. The solution, Wango says, is to establish clear terms, conditions and timelines with any contribution to a family member.
Counselling psychologist Arthur Muriuki of The Brain Initiative agrees that this is a waking reality for majority of urban dwellers, especially those living in big towns.
A family member who leaves the village and heads to an urban area in search of a job, a student who graduates and gets a good job, a businessman who begins to thrive, a young woman who gets married into a well-to-do family, are some of the potential victims of these unhealthy family dynamics.
The family back in the village, or maybe living in the same town but seemingly not doing as well financially, thereafter will begin to lay financial demands on this young graduate or newlyweds. They will sometimes, in cases where the relatives have school-going children, send them to these homes where their kin is well off on some or all holidays.
You will be expected to be compliant and accept that this is your new norm. You will feed, clothe and entertain them for their period of stay, and encourage them to visit again when the holidays fall next. Their fees and medical bills will suddenly be too expensive for their parents to pay.
Their food and house rent bills will also suddenly be unmanageable. When these demands are brought to your table, their expectation is that you will pay promptly without flinching. For those who attempt to negotiate or say no, the relatives bring up sob stories of how they took care of you when you were young and how they suffered and denied themselves the little pleasures of life to see you through school. When this approach fails to achieve its goal, the resulting consequence is threats and intimidation. Some go to the extent of threatening to curse or disown the poor fellow.
Although this is something common in some African cultures, Muriuki points out that it is the relatives and the extended family rather than the parents who are likely to behave in this manner. What goes on in the minds of such relatives is a sense of entitlement, Muriuki notes.
They feel and believe that it is the responsibility and obligation of the one who made it in life to uplift the others. They believe this so strongly that any contrary option is unwise. Some psychopathology also commonly observed here is disorders associated with substance use.
Relatives who cannot sustain their substance use may constantly pester the urban relative to fund the same through guilt trips or requests to finance nonexistent projects.
“I’d advise the stable individual to acknowledge this as a family dynamic they have to actively deal with,” he says. Muriuki agrees with Dr Wango that creation of acceptable boundaries is critical to establishing functional relationships.
They should learn that saying ‘No’ is a healthy and appropriate response to unreasonable demands, and, the most fundamental thing that will ensure sustainability of these new ways of interacting is consistency; you will not set a healthy boundary and soon after violate it. “Human beings are adaptive to most environments and situations when they accept that the condition will not change.
Therefore, they can adapt to the new you who determines for yourself who and how and when to help, which interventions you should not initiate and when you are unavailable for interaction,” he offers.
The psychologist, however, notes that change is not always well received. Sometimes it is painful, and sometimes, it is gainful pain. The choice is on the individual to decide what they want to drag into their future; a culture of dependency or healthy symbiotic relationships.