By Maurice Ashley Agbaw-Ebai (AMDG)
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 its people.
The blame lies on Africans. First, on 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 selling the continent’s conscience to the ideas, philosophies, and inducements of the West- to the extent that today the whole African continent owes the West and its finance capitalists. It has accumulated debts that are almost thrice the continent’s gross domestic wealth. Africa has reached the present lacklustre morass because its leaders have always been the West’s blind followers, which is why I call 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 colonising 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. Now that the West, especially the U.S.A., has virtually exterminated communism and socialism and they have been replaced by free trade, liberalisation, deregulation, privatisation, globalisation, and other capitalist shibboleths, African leaders and governments have followed these as the main path to economic development, political Risorgimento, and resurgence. These movements have left Africa poor and underdeveloped, with a culture of hopelessness, criminality and lack of any future meaningful economic vision. What has God to do with all this? A lot, and with good reason!
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 schools that provide education 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 of 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, Pope Francis’ Joy of the Gospel offers new hopes that Africa cannot only escape this malaise of economic exclusion and isolation, but can also transform itself into a continent of active market partners.
Christians do not live in a separate planet of their own. They share in the world’s social and economic questions. Christian involvement in the social question can be encapsulated in one Scriptural text: “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 with Nazism, Communism, unbridled Capitalism, and Apartheid, for example. The social question bothers the Christian because the Christian loves this world and knows that it is so precious to have necessitated God to send His 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 and social relationships in Jesus the 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 Lord in 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). When talking about the Church’s relationship to the world, the Second Vatican Council 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 Church’s part in that social action is understood not just in the context of this-worldly amelioration, but also 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 Second Century Letter to Diognetus. Christian social action is therefore inherently paradoxical. The inability to recognise this paradoxical element of Christian involvement has often led to charges of politicisation being levied against the Church by either the so-called political left or right, especially in the Western world.