Perpetuating dependency. What our leaders are doing, particularly in Uganda, is wrong. It is perpetuating the dependence syndrome that is rampant in our communities. Go to the villages and count how many of the cows, goats, chicken, seeds, money, etc., freely given by government have made peoples’ lives better?
As we approach the 56th Independence anniversary, it does not hurt to make an evaluation. It goes without saying that the missionary enterprise did a lot in Africa in terms of education, health and socio-economic development. But there were weaknesses that helped to exploit the African for the benefit of their countries or opened the doors of Africa for the colonial project. The debate whether Africa is better or worse if the missionaries did or did not come is anybody’s to win or lose depending on how you look at it.
But we must try and move quickly from dwelling on the past to the present; to the role of African Church and government leaders today, in the world’s most endowed continent. I believe that what is good for the Church is also good for the government. For the partnership between the Church and governments in Africa in development goes as long as we can remember.
In 1972, a Kenyan church leader called John Gatu, dared to propose a moratorium on missionaries and mission funds from the West to Africa in order to help the Church in Africa to develop its own resources and identity to sustain itself in its mission in the world. Many, both in Africa and abroad demonised this man of God that he did not mean well for Africa. Nearly half a century later, I wish the Church in Africa had heeded his call. The Church is still waking up from its slumber for self-sustainability, social development and identity. For African governments, it is even worse.
The paradox of Africa as the most endowed and most religious and yet the poorest continent, with a huge basket for begging for its very life is a shame. Be it for the saving of its children, mothers, youth or the elderly, or for its education, health or infrastructural development, etc., Africa has to ask somebody to help, why?
How can both the Church and governments of Africa owe their living to others in the rest of the world? And yet, as the debt burden from such begging keeps growing higher and higher, we still chest-thump that we are glad to receive this or that money from this or that country? Why is Africa the only continent unable to lead itself sustainably? As Melania Trump visits next door Kenya, I am sure Ugandan officials are busy looking for baskets to send to Kenya to see if the wife of the man who called them S***hole countries, could drop a few dollars for this or that project!
Incidentally, Africa is the only continent that is being developed through stand-alone projects, not systematically planned governance! That is why our churches and governments are full of development projects that have nothing to do with our national plans. It is said a big river is swelled by little streams, but in Africa the little streams have no big rivers to feed into! The streams are an end in themselves! After half a century of this type of living from hand-to-mouth, Africa has nothing to show for its existence except very old men at the helm of begging nations and churches.
When I say these things, I speak to myself who, for 11 years, was at the helm of a diocese. I feel sorry and ashamed because it seems like pushing against the tide. For, begging is very easy and cheap. You just have to get your words and pictures right and areas of desperation and lack are found everywhere in Africa! Anybody can do this for a living and many are doing it because there are people in the West who want to make a living out of such. But planned development is tough, it demands self-denial, at least for a time, before the dividends come. We should not chose the cheaper option, which leads to dependence!
In a small book titled Life is a Challenge, more so in Africa, 2016, Gerhard Nehls and Walter Eric, say that many people in Africa suffer from the “If only …depression”. They further say “The question is how you respond to these disadvantages and disappointments in life. Will you give up hope and sink into despair, or accept them like a huge mountain that offers the challenge of climbing it and enjoying the spectacular view from the top?” That “life is a challenge that can bring out incredible strength and passion in us, really changing us for the better”!
I want Africa to choose to garner its energies to climb these challenging mountains with its own inherent resources and energies and overcome them with pride to show to the world what a people we are! For how long will we keep blessing others for helping us, and when will we be counted among the giving than among the begging peoples of the world? Moreover, the Bible says ‘it is more blessed to give than receive’! I want to say the Church must be known for its giving and sending capacity than for its seating and receiving capacity. Like John Gatu of old, I propose we declare moratorium on foreign aid and foreign experts who pretend to come to help us. Even if this means some of us will have to suffer in order for us to save ourselves from this killing dependence. Europe woke up from its own slumber when poverty, war and diseases such as plague did havoc to it.
This, although sinfully, drove Europeans to make slaves and colonies of Africa to save themselves from annihilation. We cannot assume people who used us and our wealth to make themselves what they are today, can now turn to be our benefactors! Aid and development experts must cease for a time, for us to realistically assess our capabilities and inabilities, to start afresh on our own charted development. Unless we do this Africa is going somewhere, which is nowhere!
What our leaders are doing, particularly in Uganda, is wrong. It is perpetuating the dependence syndrome that is rampant in our communities. Go to the villages and count how many of the cows, goats, chicken, seeds, money, etc., freely given by government have made peoples’ lives better? It may only be one eighth of the supplied! The rest are worse off than before! Let foreign aid and foreign experts stop, and free things cease for us to see what we can do with and for ourselves. It will be tough but doable.
The Rt Rev Dr Obetia is a senior teaching fellow, Uganda Christian University. [email protected]