May 12, 2016 / Theology
In this essay, John B. White explores how (not) to exercise.
August 8, 2005
New values for African nations will liberate the African people from various forms of poverty, lawlessness, dictatorships, dehumanization, diseases, and a distortion of cultural identity. However, such values must evolve naturally and independently of external pressures because they must arise from the needs of the African peoples themselves. Most of us have learned the lesson the hard way that, on the one hand, imported values will only under-develop a people, all under the guise of globalization, and on the other hand, a society or community without homegrown values, will fall for anything. A new value-system must emerge from the present socio-politico-economic situation, and yet be consistent with our African culture, in spite of its diversity which actually is to be regarded as an asset. For this to occur, there ought to be “a mode of thought and action in which the centrality of African interests, values, and perspectives predominate” [Asante, 2003, 2]. The Africa people must see themselves as the agents of change—making things happen for the betterment of the African who are part of the global village.
Almost all African nations have experienced a degree of not only political but economic, social and religious destabilization or subversion in the past hundred years. Societies cannot presume to evolve normally after decades of being disoriented by European cultural hegemony. Consequently, in an attempt to “resume” normalcy, it is mandatory that they identify or come to terms with who they are, what they are, and where they ought to be. After several decades of colonization which thrived on disorienting the indigenous people in order to exploit them more effectively, all under the guise of a “new civilization,” there is need to re-educate ourselves as well as reassess and evaluate our socio-religio-economic and political status quo. This obviously is a mammoth task which, however, is long overdue. In this article, we believe that liberation theology contributes the necessary reorientation needed for a truly liberated people. Expressed metaphorically, the machine gun may have chased the enemy, but there is a terminal cancer in the nation which, we submit, only liberation theology can treat and heal, bringing the nation to wholeness.
Liberation Theology Defined
Based on accepted biblical criticism and a hermeneutics that grows through experience, liberation theologians have succeeded in creating a total picture of the Christian reality in responding adequately to the moral challenges of our day and age. Placed in the hands of responsible God-fearing scholars, Christianity is an instrument with which to transform the world. Both in the Old Testament [Exodus 3:7] where God appears to Moses, and in the New Testament [Luke 4:18-19], the divine revelation in history is focused on the liberation of the suffering, the poor, the dispossessed and the oppressed—quantifiable human condition. Thus Christianity has joined hands with other “progressive” or life-affirming world forces which are committed to the liberation of the oppressed. This means that liberation theology is neither exclusively a “pietistic” nor “mundane” phenomenon. Nor is it elitist because it is the “voice crying in the wilderness” [John 1:23]. Rather it summons thought and experience, interpretation and realization in formulating and articulating praxis. Liberation theology is a radical interpretation of Christianity calling for serious answers to a people’s plight. It is not an “armchair theology,” which, for instance, attempts to figure out how many angels are on duty at any given time in heaven; or what was created first angels or the universe? Ours is urgent business, seeking to transform the world through liberating the down-trodden, starving, dying, and the oppressed, by any means necessary. After God tried prophets, and signs and miracles, He ended up coming Himself in Jesus to incur Calvary in order to redeem the world from evil. Liberation is serious business undertaking, yielding a new life. To some liberation happens even prior to demanding their independence, while to others—the majority—it is what happens after political independence. In each case, it originates from within oneself. Put differently, it is a peculiar self-consciousness, being a new authentic self.
New Value System
Since calling for a new value-system is common in human history, it is quite in order that we embark on such a mission, with view to define our liberation, decades after the foreign imperialists have been forced off the continent. The focus here is on how the African people are dealing with their own socio-political affairs in the face of annihilation, years after conquering the white settlers, decades after establishing their nations as sovereign states. It is time for a new birth, a new value-system.
In Biblical terms, when Jesus called for “repentance…for the kingdom of God is at hand” [Mark 1:15], he was summoning for new values which would correspond to the new kingdom which he was announcing. Regarding the African political situation, independence did not just mean majority rule, but signified the potential for new values, new humanity, and new prospects, which unfortunately most national leaders did not call out for. In Zimbabwe, the leadership emphasized destruction, justified celebrations of how we overcame the enemy [pasi na Smith], glaringly at the expense of calling for new values. Much effort was spent on re-writing history, instead of re-orienting the masses in order to prepare them for the meaning of responsible self-governing, being a sovereign state. It is sad to note that there are still some Zimbabweans who still think that Zimbabwe belongs to ZANU PF [the ruling party] rather than to all Zimbabweans. And those in government steal national resources to the point of national bankruptcy because of a mentality that dictates that Zimbabwe belongs to somebody, other than themselves. Or else, why would they steal national resources to the point of making the nation bankrupt? [national debt stands at way over US $4.086 Billion, 2004] We contend here that all this is due to the fact that liberation of the mind did not follow political independence. True liberation comes from a new sense of ownership, new values ranging from human rights issues to a whole new perspective on cosmology including natural resources.
Furthermore, since God says, “for the world is mine, and all that is in it” [Psalm 50:12b], certainly His kingdom—namely love and material abundance—should reign and all creation must receive benefits from it at some point. In addition, God gave us dominion of the earth, to rule, not to ruin it; He gave us a new charge when we took power, even by force, from those who had hitherto mismanaged the application and meaning of “having dominion over the earth” [Genesis 1:28-30]. This actually signifies new beginnings of a new culture, a transformed society. In his teachings Jesus, the Galilean, understood that it was not prudent for anyone to put “new wine” in “old wine skins” [Matt. 9:17]. Thus, the need for new values—our own values—can never be overemphasized. “Nothing can ever achieve for us the victory we seek but a recapture of our own minds” [Asante; 59]. Most scholars of liberation theology agree with the view that “culture is the basis of all ideas, images, and actions. To move is to move culturally, i.e. by a set of values given to you by your culture” [Cone, 1997, 132]. Thus, liberation is far from being comprehensive unless it is embedded in the matrix of one’s culture. Herein lies the problem of liberation on the continent. Most nations have acquired independence but have never experienced true liberation.
Ours has been liberation devoid of a genuine African culture; liberation in a foreign “cultural garb,” which is no liberation at all. As stated earlier, it was independence without liberation. At best it is the type that lends itself to a “double standard” culture. No wonder, in many instances, the African in power is ruling through foreign concepts of governance; there is gross economic mismanagement that is primarily due to use of alien economic systems. The same could be said of the justice system and the rest of the other political processes and social structures which are not indigenous to the continent. While it is true that there is no longer such a phenomenon as pristine African culture, we contend that there is such a thing as an African identity, which only Africans can create and nurture. Of course, every society changes; but it is one thing to change and still retain an identity and quite another to lose one’s identity in the process. Africa generally speaking belongs to the latter. We have not developed an African philosophical base on which to build our political and economic systems as well as redefine or create values that are consistent with our culture. In this regard we cannot agree more with the position that, “economic freedom must always be connected to political and cultural freedom else freedom does not truly exist” [Asante, 15].
When African nations procured their political independence—some 50 years ago (Ghana, 1957) and others only 11 years ago (South Africa, 1994), and the rest in the middle—the call for new values, in most cases, only amounted to “becoming the new powers that be.” It merely entailed “taking over” the reins of Government. For some, especially those who did not experience political rebirth which here I refer to as “true liberation,” it meant merely mimicking the lifestyle including values of the former oppressors, without being faithful to the spirit of the law, either. It was proven that whether in the “direct rule” or “indirect rule,” the most educated African might have mastered everything French or British, respectively, but still was different or less than either. Neither did he/she become a truly liberated African. But for those who experienced liberation as rebirth, liberation meant something much more profound. They sought to “enshrine the idea that blackness itself [or being African] is trope of ethics. …to be black is to be against all forms of oppression, racism, classism, homophobia, patriarchy, child abuse, pedophilia, and white racial domination” [Asante 2]. Perhaps the average Africans underestimated the colonial damage incurred during foreign rule and domination. And so following independence, they thought to continue “business as usual.” In retrospect, we can perceive that there was not adequate self-preparation for this re-birth experience generally and erroneously referred to as liberation. Where the re-birth occurred, it was largely culturally and conceptually tinted with colonialism and neo-colonialism.
In many nations, especially in Sub-Sahara Africa, the colonialists fled the countries when the African majority took over political reigns, assuming that things would be so different that they could not co-habitat with us. But shortly after, some returned (some missionaries actually remained in place). Why? Nothing had really changed much because the European cultural hegemony still persisted! Since that time, most African government leaders are still “walking in the shadow” of their former colonialists—from the parliamentary system, the army, the police, and the like. Needless to say, walking in someone else’s “shadow” can be a very dangerous thing to rely on because one walks without vision. The word of God warns: where there is no vision the people perish [Joel 2:28]. In various ways, this signifies that “nothing” had changed really beyond the pigmentation of the faces running the government. What political scientists would call neo-colonial period could also be characterized as neo-African and neo-European values era. Because “neo” is neither pristine African nor European, it is just that—something else. Now, the African cannot continue to live in a “neo-state,” with neo-values, neo-religion, neo-philosophy, neo-economy, neo-culture, neo-identity, and so forth. It is high time the “neo” was transformed into something “authentically” African. Thus, the call for new values is also the call for authenticity; hence true liberation. By the way, authenticity does not mean self-isolation at all. In fact, it should signify “being different but equal” to all other participants! We could not agree more with Asante’s assertion regarding the meaning and necessity of being Africa-centered that “Afrocentric awareness… is when the person becomes totally changed to a conscious level of involvement in the struggle for his or her own mind liberation. Only when this happens can we say that the person is aware of the collective conscious will” [Asante, 62]. In our context, liberation cannot be viewed as an individual’s isolated experience. Rather, it is communal experience, by the community, of the community, for the community ideally in the context of the global community. Meaningful life is life in community.
The need for a call for a new value-system cannot be overemphasized. When the English settlers “colonized” North America, their first task was to create a new value-system that distinguished them from the old English European mentality as well as facilitated their adjustment to the “free country” grabbed from the native Americans. Any Caucasian immigrants had to undergo this orientation upon arrival because there was need for a “new value-system.” This was accomplished by way of new ideologies which were deemed necessary for their own self-empowerment.
At the same time, Blacks whose socio-political circumstances (slavery) did not permit them to fashion new values and new ideologies, by and large remained disoriented by design for the next four-hundred years. Nor could they retain the old ideologies they held prior to enslavement. Apart from casual revolts, at best, the black population in North America, “took on” or “copied” the white man’s values which were unfortunately alien to them and consequently did not do them much good. The white man’s intent was so the Black man would disown his true African heritage thereby becoming more useful, i.e. obedient slave. Thus, losing not only a sense of human worth but racial and cultural identity. Fortunately, that did not work in the long run partially because the black people had such a strong sense of culture that the legacy of slavery did not completely strip them of their African-ness, although sufficient harm was done. As in the case of the African continent, we should never underestimate the cultural damage incurred by the blacks. However, overall the new values which evolved within the Black community were, for the most part, undesirable since they tended to be primarily politically and socially expedient. It seems this history is repeating itself on the continent.
Regarding the current situation in Africa, the call for a new value-system means the creation of true liberation—new wine in new wine skins [Matthew 9:17]. Liberation and prosperity on the continent will come with the emergence of a new African; with a new value system. This conversion is necessary, and conversion is not only a religious phenomenon.
Religion—whether it is Christianity, Islam, Judaism or African Traditional worship—would have to be defined in African terms, and not in any superficial manner but actually embedded in culture. Ideological and cultural conversion [new value system] is one major contribution religion could make on the continent. Governance would have to be fashioned according to what is truly indigenous to the continent. After all, as one of the oldest world civilizations, African kingdoms existed for centuries in peace and prosperity. Barring the inevitability of change, it can be argued that that was due to the fact that all the political, economic and social ingredients were indigenous. Furthermore, an African cultural and political hegemony prevailed. Of course in saying this one should not be misconstrued to advocate social or cultural narcissism. Normally, every society, even the most pristine, is in a state of change no matter how gradually. The African societies are not exceptions to this principle of social evolutionary. Rather true liberation advocates or brings about social change that happens when the African people participate as the agents of such evolutionary progress. This would yield true liberation, which as pointed out earlier occurs from within, as opposed to being imported or imposed. Imported or imposed liberation is just a different form of oppression and cannot be a humanizing experience. Just as democracy imposed is no democracy at all, so is the case with liberation. Like economics, every people should evolve a system of government that is peculiar to and suitable for itself.
To say this does not necessarily imply that cultures or government systems would have to be exclusivist. Nor does it mean that they have to develop in isolation from the global village, assuming that all nations are active participants in the global village. To the contrary, true liberation actually means “spreading out,” not being “boxed in.” But spreading out implies unfolding from within. It is like a spring of water that bubbles from its own abundant and eternal existence. This is the concept the Chilean priest G. Gutierrez develops in one of his prolific literature titled: We Drink From Our Own Wells . The point of liberation here is that the African is in the process of fashioning something that is genuinely one’s own making when it is truly African, it will not have to be defined in European terms. Yes, it may be “compared” to other value-systems, just as we compare, for instance, world religions, each in its own right, not validating one on the basis of the other.
When true liberation happens on the continent, African refugee camps will be converted to sanctuaries where Africans celebrate the new life, new values—being truly human. There is a staggering three million refugees in independent Africa. The majority are in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. Prisons and mass graves where masses are buried by dictators, will become altars where we worship the Creator [Isaiah 2:4; Micah 4:1–5]. In Namibia, near the town of Ondangwa, one at Okakwa, Ongha, and Onhumo near the town of Ohangwena (http://www.mg.co.za/article page). For the Zimbabweans camps like Chimoi and Nyadzonya ought to be sanctuaries because they are sacred.
Prof. Gwinyai Muzorewa of Zimbabwe is a Systematic and Liberation theologian who is both published and practicing in the field. He is committed to the true liberation of the “independent” African nations including his own, which is now in a state of economic ruin, due in part, to gross economic mismanagement and political egocentrism disguised in pseudo-nationalism and neo-colonialism. His most recent publication is KNOW THYSELF: Ideologies of Black liberation, 2005.