Africa, the "Dark Continent" of Western literature, is easily romanticized. It is raw, often primitive, and hauntingly beautiful. Like all of humanity, the people are full of virtues and full of vices. The culture is emotionally infectious and yet simultaneously filled with tragic flaws. Short of a miraculous turnaround in its continental sexual and economic practices, AIDS and other related maladies are predicted to reduce its population by more than twenty percent in the next ten or fifteen years. Most of that death will decimate the current under thirty-five population. We're talking multiple millions of people here. This crisis is easily comparable to the Plague, which reduced Europe's population in the 14th century by one-third.
Culturally, tribalism is still a dominant force in Africa. Tragically, over the last decades, it has given rise to tribal "ethnic cleansing" in the millions. Sudan, now under global scrutiny after twenty years of the ethnic-religious extermination of black Christians in the South by Arab Muslims from the North, follows on the heels of the Rawandan holocaust of the 1990s. Warring factions are active in numerous other regions throughout the continent. While these realities are often high-lighted, the truth is that Europe has been even more destructive of its own people in the last hundred years. In the main, the African populations are hard working. Considering the harsh realities of survival there, they are amazingly full of life.
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The Colonial West brought to Africa: Christianity, medicine, schooling, roads and infrastructure, Western culture and order, and of course a heavy dose of patronizing exploitation. When the "free African" movements emerged in the 1950s and 1960s, hope and "freedom" promised a new era of dignity and self-determination. That dream today has turned, in many places, into a painful nightmare of slow disintegration. Removing the "exploiters," while necessary, revealed how unprepared many people were to make the Western modern world system truly work in Africa. Race is not the issue; skill sets and worldview are. To make it all the worse, Africa, rich in resources, has been repeatedly exploited by one corrupt leader and government after another. Black greed has proven as ugly as white exploitation. Welcome to fallen humanity, no matter what the color of the skin.
What seems most obvious to me in my recent visits to both East Africa and West Africa is this: What must change is the maddening exploitation of the people by a spirit of corruption, bribery, and self-serving power manifested in so many places. Indeed, a culture's philosophy of power is the single most important indicator of how justice and resources are dispensed amongst its people by its leaders.
Power is either used to empower others or exploit them. It's either about "me" or "us." The clearest example of this is Christ's legacy of the power He demonstrated at the Cross. He modeled for us all, in a totally consistent manner, that power and love must commingle absolutely. They do in the heart of God. Showing what "your good at my expense" looks like, Jesus set the highest of examples for all to see. Human nature in the West is no different than human nature in Africa. What is different is the hundreds of years of pre-democratic and democratic institutions that have grown up in the West, making blatant corruption more easily detectable and therefore more difficult to practice. The question is how quickly Africa can begin to win its race against disillusionment and a quiet desperation which says, "This is the way it must be."
My hope is in the message and power of the Kingdom of God. Africa has more than enough Christ-loving Christians to turn it around. The issue, as in the West, is whether or not their view of the gospel focuses as much on revealing Christ's Kingdom on Earth in the present as it does on getting our souls to heaven in the future. Africa and its people are deeply loved by God. I believe in Africa's future because in the long run I'm betting on God and His here-and-now Kingdom focus.
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