This week, Rev. Silas Ntonyiri, a man of the cloth, shares insights on Africa in the Christian teachings with Josephat Juma of The African Executive.
Q. There is a general belief in the academia that Christianity was a tool of colonialists to pacify the bulk of the African folk before colonising and plundering them in what is generally termed as the three Cs: Christianity; Commerce and Colonisation. What are your sentiments?
A. I wouldn’t deny but that alone should not make one condemn the Christian faith wholesale. Consider a market. A market can be used to a peoples’ advantage or their detriment. A market in itself is not bad. How people interrelate in the market makes the difference.
Q. Do you agree that Christianity is the “White man’s religion”?
A. No. It is a religion for all. Going through the pages of the Bible, you will get all races. The fact that the west was used to amplify parts of it does not make it their religion. As a matter of fact, Africans are more religious than the whites. Consider Britain for example, many cathedrals, once beehives of church activity, are experiencing dwindling congregations. Most cathedrals are either shutting down or being converted to museums. The African needs to take to them what they once had!
Q. What is an African’s position in Christianity?
A. He is a man of dignity, made in the image of God as are all other men. An African has a great connection with the Creator and the divine. Aeons ago, records a Sumerian clay tablet, a race of gods known as the “Annunaki” operated from the African continent. Africa, called the “cradle of civilisation” has always been an interest even to the gods. It is not a dark continent as christened by coldly calculated manipulation which Africans can change if they really want to. Africa has a soft spot in holy writ. During creation, God ensured that one of the rivers that watered Eden, by the name Gihon, watered parts of Africa. Africans are thus not an afterthought of God but his forethought. I really pity my fellow Africans when they develop inferiority complex.
Q. Can you allude to some traces of Africans in the holy writ?
A. When King David’s son (Absalom) died, an emergency session in the King’s protocol was held to determine who was best suited to relay the news to the King. Two messengers Ahimaaz and Cushi (an African) were preferred. Ahimaaz was known for speed while Cushi, a slow man, was known for reliability. Cushi, the African, won the docket to stand before the King. Why? Africans are not only reliable but they are also good disseminators of information. The people of Africa are known to have communicated information almost instantly over long distances. This was before the telegraphic Morse code or radio. They had drum scripts so ingenious that they came close to a rhythmic mimicking of the human voice. This technology was a great boon to the West Africans who between the fifteenth and twentieth centuries administered empires as large as all the states of Western Europe put together.
Q. Any other case in point?
A. From time immemorial, Africa has been participating in international forums. In one such meeting held in Jerusalem an Ethiopian delegate attended. It was akin to the WTO of today. It was akin to the G8 of today. The meeting was crammed with jargon and issues that were alien to the African course. The Ethiopian was not involved in the process as happens today. Policies are brewed in foreign countries and imposed on Africa. Structural adjustment programs are formulated in the west and imposed on Africa without considering the view of affected countries. The ban of DDT that eradicated Malaria in the West is proscribed in Africa, subjecting Africans to death in millions. African leaders are bribed to receive foreign aid so that their countries can continue to be in debt. When nearly 2.5 million Zambians were on the verge of starvation, President Levy Mwanawasa was forced to bow to EU pressure to reject 26 000 tonnes of corn from the US on grounds that it was genetically modified. At the close of the summit, the Ethiopian left with many unanswered questions. When interviewed on the way back, he confessed: “How can I understand unless someone explains?” Africa is drawn in debates and pacts she does not understand. African citizens have become pawns in a war they don’t comprehend. Africa needs leaders who shall read between the lines and demand an explanation!
Q. All your examples are masculine. Does holy writ have a comment on the African woman?
A. The African woman has a special place in Christianity. She is recognised as beautiful, virtuous and hardworking. These qualities charmed Moses the Prophet till he married one named Zipporah. His choice extremely infuriated Moses’ sister and Aaron, his deputy. An African’s entry in the inner circle of religion and government tilted the balance, inviting jealous wrath and fear. God had to get involved. He struck Moses’ sister with leprosy and shelved the safari to the Promised Land for some time. I am shocked that up to now, most theological colleges fear to amplify valuable African customs. Most organisations are ashamed of hiring African expertise for development projects. In many places, what is African is looked at as evil and embarrassing. There is great fear of Africa’s political potential in the international arena. That is why Kwame Nkrumah’s dream of a united Africa, a dream carried forward by the Organisation of African Unity and now the African Union (AU), is always being sabotaged by the current global political order. They fear a united Africa. They fear a self governing Africa. They sponsor all manner of dissenting groups to further fragment Africa. Africa’s leaders must be on the lookout and read the signs of the times. African leaders together with religious leaders must rise above petty demarcation lines, tribal, party and stomach inclinations and embark on strategies that will see Africa self reliant and having a big say in world affairs. The African woman must rise above the morass of self pity and like King Solomon’s African wife declare: “I am black but beautiful!” The African woman need not gauge her worth and beauty as per Hollywood standards and ape everything western.
Q. Does Africa have a place in world economics in your religion?
A. Africa used to control the world economy. One moment in time, when there was a severe seven year global famine, Africa as a result of forward planning and contact with the divine principles of production had enough food security for herself and the neighbours. Joseph was Prime Minister in Pharaohs government at that time. Africa has great potential. She has 40% of the world’s potential hydro electric power supply; 11% of the world’s diamonds; 50% of the world’s gold; 8%of the world’s petroleum reserves and millions upon millions of acres of untilled land. In addition, she accounts for the world’s 70% of cocoa, 60% of coffee, and boasts of an unrivalled scenic grandeur and pristine ecology constituting the third greatest natural resource after agriculture and mineral wealth. Africa’s security was tight and efficient, prompting the messiah to seek refuge therein. Africa taught the West surgery skills such as Caesarean Section and eye surgery. She invented one of the earliest forms of writing and was unsurpassed in astronomy, agriculture, information technology, metallurgy, engineering and diplomacy.
Q. What explains Africa’s current predicament of disease, illiteracy, hunger and abject poverty?
A. I think it was Lord Acton who said that Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. At the height of her greatness, the government started permeating every sphere of individual life. Ruling elite cropped up and divided the society into two: the working class and the non working nobles. The working class produced as the nobles lived off its sweat. This motivated more people to covet the noble class. When it swelled, the working class could not meet its insatiable demands. Punishment in form of taxes was introduced to supplement the deficit. This had negative consequences, reducing production and causing producers to look for other places with optimum production environment. The rule of law became partial, favouring the ruling class. Property right institutions were violated leading to the raiding of neighbours. Family units were destabilized. Borders were sealed as the markets became regulated. The African forgot his creator and started serving the work of his hands.
Q. Does Africa have hope?
A. A time has come when God is saying “Blessed is Egypt (Africa) my people” says prophet Isaiah on the old cobblestone streets of Jerusalem. “Blessed” means endowed with divine favour. I watched a Jesus film in which an African at the scene of crucifixion is depicted as confused and absent minded. I don’t believe that is our lot! Blaming history will not save Africa. Meditating on heaven without working on earth will not save Africa. Relying on donor aid, however lucrative will not develop Africa. Africa needs to be entrepreneurial. The church needs to be entrepreneurial. The church should set pace worthy of emulation by the rest of the society. A new crop of people is required. People who shall be selfless and have the interest of Africa at heart. These people will sound the alarm that the solution to Africa’s problems does not rest in Tony Blair and his G8.They will sound the alarm that the wearer of the shoe knows where it pinches most. Africans need to own up their failures and past irresponsibility and generate African driven processes and initiatives. Then and only then shall we recover the glory of the past and be a hope for the future. Covering up instead of owning up, is the unspoken motto of all bureaucrats, said Carl Horber, a Swiss Political Thinker.