Walking as Jesus Walked

Having the Mind of Christ

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Challenge for Africa

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I had a chance to share about our mission trip to Tanzania with loved-ones and friends. It was good to let others know about the church's mission there and to reflect on Africa's situation in terms of the future, that is, in terms of political and ecomonic challenges and leadership. The challenges are daunting and severe, to be sure, but the opportunities are endless. Trying to make sense of this continent requires a great deal of wisdom.

One of the ways I have been trying to make sense of our experience in Tanzania is to read Wangari Maathai's amazing book The Challenge for Africa. Wangari Maathai is a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and founder of the Green Belt Movement. In her book, she presents a different vision of Africa that brings to the surface the complexities and possibilites for change and improvement. She offers the kind of "hardheaded hope" and "realistic options" many are seeking on different levels of engagement, while also providing a necessary critique of what Africans can and must do for themselves, stressing the importance of responsibility and accountability along the way. Throughout, she is passionate about Africa's situation.

An example of what Maathai writes is worth noting. Near the beginning she writes how Africans need to break out of the "culture of dependency" that has arisen over the decades and centuries which has resulted "in too many Africans waiting for outside help instead of unleashing their energies and capabilities and taking actions today that will improve their lives in the future(p. 23). She goes on to say how "only Africans can resolve to provide leadership that is responsible, accountable, and incorruptible. It is they who must embrace their cultural diversity, restore their sense of self-worth, and use both to create thriving nations, regions, and the continent itself. It is they who must begin the revolution in ethics that puts community before individualism, public good before private greed, and commitment to service before cynicism and despair" (p. 23).

These challenges, of course, are not simply for Africa but for the world as a whole. In fact, what Maathai writes applies to families and communities as well: how can we all help to nuture the kind of healthy relationships that will provide for human flourishing and well-being? How can we re-imagine ways of relating to the environment that will work to sustain the precious balance of nature? How can we treat others with dignity and respect? These are good, basic questions.

I like what Maathai writes. She has lifted up issues of importance that affect the lives of millions. What I appreciate is her honesty: she writes with clarity of intention, but also with ease and elegance. And yet, she doesn't back away from the hard issues. For example, I appreciate how she addresses the nitty-gritty issue of leadership. One of the major tragedies of postcolonial Africa is that the African peoples have trusted their leaders, but only a few of those leaders have honored that trust (p. 25). It's a story becoming all too common in church and society, not simply in Africa. Getting to the crux of the matter will take courage and commitment as well as patience and perseverance. It won't happen overnight. Maathai encourages us to get beyond simple solutions and slogans.

In many ways, Maathai writes a parable about Africa: facing overwhelming odds, Africa is still a land of hope. There are still ways to reverse the despair. In fact, Maathai points out, Africa can change. And yet, Africa cannot travel down the road of victimhood as in the past. Rather, it must engage in the kind of solution-making that begins and sustains a conversation and looks for ways of making a difference, that is, the kind of solution-making in which we all need to share.

I know I am glad I have found a conversation partner to make sense of what I just experienced. I am glad I have found Maathai's book.

Pastor Andy

Ps: Please leave comments. I have gotten several, so it apparently is working. Thanks.

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