Ambassador to Africa

Published on 16th May 2006

Richard & Anita Chapel
Rev. Richard Chapel, Pentecostal Assemblies of God in America’s (PAGA) Africa representative considers himself a lucky man. Having escaped beheading in Vietnam and being taken hostage in Iran, he believes that God spared his life for a purpose. A great motivator and counselor, Richard is out to show his gratitude to God by sharing the gospel that addresses the whole person. He and Anita, his wife, a medical practitioner in the US Army, spared The African Executive a few minutes, before boarding a plane back home after their two-week business trip to Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.

AE : How do you feel being in Africa?

RC : All I do know is that I have roots in Africa. I wish I could really know my origin. You are aware that Africans were packed in ships against their will and ferried to America. A lot of them never made it to the place due to mistreatment, disease and other factors. Those who made it were considered property – not human beings. This makes black Americans feel they are a people without a country. A few days ago I was in western Kenya, in Bunyore. One old lady insisted that I looked like one of the residents in the area. You see? I could be talking to my cousin. I could be talking to my uncle but I don’t know! This is sad.

AE: What do black Americans generally feel about Africans?

RC: They feel that the rest of the Africans don’t look at them as Africans. They are in between: not Americans and not really Africans. It’s been difficult. Some of them feel that they are neither welcome here nor in America. In Africa, you know your roots, clan, tribe and descent. For black Americans, it is different.

AE: In your view, do black Americans really know Africa? 

RC: A majority of black Americans have not had a lot of exposure to Africa. What they have seen and read in books is very little. It is not the real image.

AE: Briefly describe your childhood experience in the US.

RC: When I grew up, you could not buy a piece of land in America, you could not go to a school you wanted. You had to sit at the back of the bus. You had to walk past a white person with your head down. You were not supposed to look at him in the face. There were separate taps of water for whites and blacks. It was terrible. If I had married Anita then (being white), I could probably have been killed. She would in turn have had a difficult time.

AS: What changed the situation?

RC: Remember the marches of the 1960s? Various groups decided to risk their lives to change the status quo. Remember Martin Luther King? On the other hand, the fact that America has become diversified has brought a healing. You have got the Hispanics, blacks, Asians, Orientals, and many others. When blacks accessed education, things began to happen.

AE: Why are black Americans more prosperous than the rest of Africans?

RC: In America, one can pursue his dream to the end. There is always space to do something that earns one income. Let’s say that you do a job that earns you six dollars per hour.At the end of the week, you have some good income.

AE: Do you think Africa can realize this?

RC: O Yes! We were all created in the image of God. God has given us abilities that we can nurture to extricate us from any bad predicament. We are not more special than the rest of humanity. There is a transition that is taking place in Africa even today. Africa is moving from where it was to where God would have it be. Africa is a great continent. It is endowed with wealth. Gold, diamond, oil, rich soils – what are you talking about? They’re all in Africa.

In Kuwait, most Kuwaitis are rich. The government of Kuwait has guaranteed that every Kuwaiti owns land, a house and has sufficient money. In other words, the oil in Kuwait is benefiting the citizens of Kuwait. But  in Africa? What is happening?  Look at the diamonds. Who controls them? The oil. Who controls it? Most of them are controlled by foreign companies. Look at your tilapia. We are paying dearly for it in the US, about nine dollars. When de-boned, the price is even higher. Does the local fishmonger benefit from the sale?

There will be very little change in Africa until the average person of whatever country – Zimbabwe, Congo, Rwanda, Burundi – will stand up, be creative, exploit his potential and demand good governance. Corruption must stop; otherwise a few people will have a lot of wealth as millions are locked up in pockets of poverty.

Good infrastructure must be put in place. A nation can’t develop when the road network is poor. Power cuts should be a thing of the past. Hospitals must be equipped with enough equipment.

AE: If you were made the UN General Secretary, what would you have done? 

RC: I would get rid of the excess baggage in the UN. The UN has a lot of staff and departments that are doing a lot of paper work but not changing lives on the ground. It is not just enough to sit in big hotels, make press statements and lay strategies that don’t reach the common person. 

Two, I would ensure that every country that pledges to do something does it. Don’t just say I shall give 10 billion dollars to Africa and ten years down the line, you have done nothing. I would pursue them and give public statements on their progress. 

I would also ensure that farming in Africa is mechanized. There is no need for a hundred people laboring really hard only to produce meager harvest. Africa needs mechanized farming. I know this is controversial but Africa must embrace modern technology. 

AE: In your view, what does Africa need? 

RC: Africa has all the assets it takes to develop. Africa does not need another savior. Africa does not need another preacher. Africa needs to stand up and take responsibility. Look within yourself. This is what I told Iranians. You don’t need to blame everybody else for your status quo. Make history! Bring change! Do something! Africans don’t need fish – they need to be taught how to fish. This will save Africa.

AE: If you were a Legislator in East Africa, what would you do?

RC: I would eliminate matatus and daladalas and bring larger buses to decongest the city. I would introduce regular bus schedules and designated bus stops. I would place more traffic policemen at the roundabouts to control traffic. I would ensure ownership of property and enforcement of rule of law.

AE: Anita, how did you find Africa?

AC: Africa is a lovely continent. My brief visit to East Africa has revealed that Africans are so welcoming and industrious. I was however perturbed to see huge chunks of idle land on my to Uganda from Kenya. Does is mean that the land cannot be put to use? This made me to reflect on the fact that a lot of African countries are importing things that they ought to be growing and manufacturing. I would advise Africa to ensure that it increases its middle class. When a country  has a few  wealthy people at the top, a minority at the middle level and a majority as poor, there will always be tension.

AE: Any last comment?

RC: I am so glad that Anita accepted to be my wife. We love each other. She is white and I am black but that didn’t hinder our compatibility. We need such interaction in the world, where somebody is not denied opportunity as a result of creed, color, country, physical disability and such things. As I said, we were all created in the image of God and we should coexist as a family, sharing our joys and sorrows.

AC: I love my husband and I love Africa. We shall work together by the grace of God to see that lives improve and the word of God is upheld.

AE: Do you look forward to being deployed in Iraq?

AC: Where duty calls, I will go. My duty is to save lives.

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