10 Dec 2014


Umeh Onuorah’s “Ambassadors of Poverty” is a political poem which seeks to ridicule the ill of corruption in the society. Although the persona the poet dons in the poem does not mention a particular setting, it is not hard to figure that the country in question easily passes for Nigeria. The poem addresses two classes of people; the rich (political elite) and the poor masses who are all natives of the same land. The political elite hold public offices that democratically puts them in positions of stewardship but sadly they end up only serving their own selfish interests.

In the first stanza of the poem, the poet persona expresses his anger by likening them to thieves when he says in lines 3-4  

                                    ‘Patriots in reverse order
Determined merchants of loots”

He goes on to tag them “round trippers”, a metaphor that references the practice of buying airline return tickets, showing that they are more concerned with visiting exotic countries and meddling in their affairs which they consider more pressing than their concern for local issues. He categorically states that “they have their heads abroad and their anus at home.” In these lines, one deduces the extravagant lifestyles of the politicians. Under the pretense of attending conferences and seeking funds as well as aid from the international community to boost the economy, they secretly line their own coffers with gold. They take trips abroad to enjoy life while leaving their own country in a state of abject poverty and backwardness. It is common knowledge that most politicians for instance do not make use of public amenities like the hospitals, they receive treatment abroad. Their children and wards do not go to the schools available in the country rather they use the tax payers money to fund their schooling in foreign countries.

In his ridiculing the political elite for the corruption, poverty and suffering in the society, the poet persona does not leave the masses out of the blame. He apportions a bit of the blame on the masses themselves and calls them “gullible” as they allow themselves to be used and conned by the politicians. Their own greed in itself allows them to sell their votes and thereby allow corrupt leaders who do not have their interests at heart to rule them. They get impoverished and then begin to cry out when the anguish begins. These leaders, the poet person calls “dubious-sit-tight,” “patriots in reverse order,” “enemies of service.” The youths on the other hand allow themselves to be enticed with “crispy mint and food aroma.” They become “willing tools” to mow down any person who would become an obstacle to these degraded leaders pursuit of power.

The poem goes further to accuse us all of having a part to play in what has befallen the country. While it is easy to sit in the comfort of our homes and point accusing fingers at the ruling class for all that is wrong with our society, we forget that we ourselves have roles to play for the nation to develop.  This the poet persona clearly enunciates in the last stanza                                                        
“Ambassadors of poverty are
All of us whose in-actions
Steal our collective joy
Because of what we should do
Which we never do
As we bargain away
Our conscience in the market place
Under the weight of poverty
To assuage our hunger
And our master’s will”

The poem which is in nine stanzas closes on a note of admonition to all (both the political elites and the masses). The poet persona expresses the opinion that our lack of action in itself only makes us ambassadors of our own poverty. This clearly tells us that the fight against poverty and corruption in our society is a collective effort. A fight or struggle in which all hands must be on deck to help fight the fight of freedom. The last stanza of the poem can be interpreted as the poet’s hope that all is not lost yet and there is still a chance for redemption. His call on the poem to take action is a clear indication that the situation can still be salvaged only if everybody concerned plays their part. The sickening venom of corruption, the pangs of hunger and hold of poverty can all be eradicated. 

To read the whole poem, go here.

Akinwale Akinyaode,
University of Lagos, Department of English.
Yaba College of Technology, Graduate of Mass Communication


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