Africa and the Economy of Exclusion-Prespectives and New Horizons from The Joy of the Gospel of Pope Francis
The tragedy that has befallen the African continent for centuries directs attention to the asymmetry evident in Africa’s paradox of plenty – a continent abundant in valuable natural resources but lacking the wherewithal to turn these resources into wealth for the people. Virtually all the resources for the world’s technological development abound on the African continent. Africa harbors 42% of the world’s bauxite, 38% of the world’s uranium, 42% of its gold, 73% of its platinum, 88% of its diamond and 10% of its oil. If Africa is this resource rich, why is it so backward and economically poor?
As one of the privileged Africans who have had the benefit of education and close and sustained interaction with Europe and America, I lay the main blame on my own African people. First, the blame on my African ancestors who, for a little inducement of gunpowder, money, and materials, sold our young and vibrant Africans into slavery and colonialism, and now, for money, wealth, and power, continue to sell the conscience of the continent to the ideas, philosophies, and inducements of the West—to the extent that the whole of the African continent today owes the West and its finance capitalists. It has accumulated debts that are almost thrice the gross domestic wealth of the continent. Africa has reached the present lackluster morass because its leaders have always been blind followers of the West, which is why I have called Africa the “continent of followers.”
At the height of the international slave trade, African leaders readily embraced slavery as a vehicle to wealth and power. When colonialism replaced slavery, African leaders readily pawned their kingdoms, dukedoms, and empires to the colonizing powers. When colonialism became discredited and communism, socialism and capitalism became the dominant competing ideologies in the West, African leaders readily embraced one variant or the other of communism, socialism, or capitalism. Now that communism and socialism have been virtually exterminated by the West, especially by the U.S.A., and have been replaced by free trade, liberalization, deregulation, privatization, globalization, and other capitalist shibboleths, African leaders and governments have followed these as the main path to economic development, political resorgimento, and resurgence.When the West extended the carrot of loan capital to the African leaders and governments, they followed readily, and ended up in the web of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, the Paris Club, and the London Club of Creditors who now virtually run the African governments, with ready acquiescence by the African leaders. All these movements have left Africa poor and underdeveloped, with a culture of hopelessness, criminality and lack of any meaningful economic vision for the future. What has God to do with all this? A lot, and with good reason.
To begin with, the continent of Africa is notoriously religious. It is difficult or near impossible to find a self-declared atheist in Africa! There is no need to prove the existence of God to an African. The various African cultures are so loaded with religious imagery and language that faith in God is connatural with life. Furthermore, Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular, have experienced exponential growth in the African continent. At the start of the 20th century, the number of Catholics in Africa numbered slightly over a million people. As the number of regular churchgoers drops in Europe and the United States, the number of faithful in Africa has risen dramatically, greater here thananywhere else in 50 years. In Africa, between 1978 and 2007, the number of Catholics grew from 55 million to 146 million, according to the Vatican. A recent study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life shows the continent’s Catholic population at more than 175 million.It is projected that by 2030, there will be over 230 million Catholics in Africa, that is, over 21% of the global Catholic population.
If demography is destiny, then Catholicism stands a great chance to turn the economic tide for Africa, given its ubiquitous influence. A strong reason for Catholicism’s popularity has been its explicit support for the poor. The Catholic Church has tens of thousands of schoolsthat provideeducation and religious instruction. In several African nations, half of the population is Catholic and the church is perhaps the biggest non-government aid agency. Continent-wide, the church runs 55,000 schools and over 40 universities that provide degrees for hundreds of thousands of Africans who would have little chance at an education otherwise. With such an active presence in the public domain, can Catholicism translate charity into a political and economic advocacy for systemic change? Based on this conviction, the Joy of the Gospel of Pope Francis offers new hopes that Africa could not only escape this malaise of economic exclusion and isolation, but also transform itself into a continent of active market partners.
For a religious experience that began as a minority movement in a religiously complex Roman empire, singling out Christianity’s unique approach to the social question is no mean task. To think of the fact that Christians have always had this mind-set of resident aliens, being here and not here at the same time, further compounds the possible responses one might get. A Christian who is not otherworldly might be a contradiction in terms, since Jesus famously said that his kingdom was not of this world (Jn. 18:36). Down the ages, Christians have made heroic sacrifices influenced by this conception of the transitory nature of the Christian vocation, such as the embrace of religious martyrdom. After all, “we have no lasting city in this life, but we look for the one that is eternal” (Hb. 13:14).
Be that as it may, Christians do not live in a separate planet of their own. They share in the social and economic questions of the world in which they find themselves. The Christian involvement in the social question could be encapsulated in one text of Scripture: “For God so loved the world, that He sent his only begotten Son, so that whosoever believes in Him, might not perish, but might have everlasting life,” (Jn. 3:16). The Christian is involved in this world, not with a slavish attitude to the world, not by living a life that worships the worldly systems that could easily become totalitarian, as we have seen in Nazism, Communism, unbridled Capitalism, Apartheid, et cetera. The Christian is bothered by the social question because the Christian loves this world and knows that this world is so precious to God to have necessitated God sending God’s only Son to save the world from the path of self-destruction, at the root of which is human greed and the idolatry of the human ego. To love God as Christians is to love the world that God loves, and to share in God’s ongoing salvific work in the world.
In other words, the theological basis for Catholic Social Teaching is God’s revelation in Christ Jesus. The early Christians captured this all-encompassing experience with the brief faith profession, Jesus is Lord – Dominus Iesus, (2 Cor. 4:5). Catholic social teaching is therefore Christological and Ecclesiological: it is Christological because it is based on the conviction that God has offered a new pattern for right living, right social relationships in Jesus of Nazareth, who is Lord. It is Ecclesiological because it is convinced that to say Jesus is Lord is to say it with the community that says it, the Church. I cannot say Jesus is Lordin a kind of spiritual nirvana. It is always with the faith of others, past and present, a being with every tongue that confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11). The Second Vatican Council, when talking about the Church’s relationship to the world, remarks that the Church is called to be a leaven and, as it were, the soul of human society in its renewal by Christ (Gaudium et Spes, 40).
This often demands an ambivalent attitude on the part of the Church, in the sense that social action is understood not just in the context of this-worldly amelioration, but in the context of salvation, of directing men and women to their ultimate end, in Christ and Our God. Paradoxically, the Christian lives out this commitment to social action with the ultimate certitude of being a resident alien, as described in the great 2nd Century Letter to Diognetus. Christian social action is therefore inherently paradoxical. The inability to recognize this paradoxical element of Christian involvement has often led to charges of politicization being levied against the Church, by either the so-called political left or right, especially in the Western world. How did Catholicism construct a social doctrine on these Christological, Ecclesiological and Eschatological foundation, recently enriched by the Joy of the Gospel of Pope Francis?
To be Continued