– Pope Benedict XVI – The encyclical
On first blush, Pope Benedict’s quote from his recent encyclical may seem unrelated to the subject of wealth-creation in Africa. However, the universal message of this, his third Encyclical, or letter to the bishops and the world, speaks volumes to ATTITUDE, a requirement for wealth-creation, integral to behavior that also impedes our African progress. The Pope talks about the ongoing global economic upheavals and the human attitudes that caused them, and he speaks to “all people of good will” — on the subject of “integral human development in charity and truth” which interprets into an economy of human values.
Africa is not a victim of circumstance and we must replace complacency with confidence. All Africans of good will are needed to integrate the development of the continent and take responsibility for our collective destiny. If we cannot change our attitude at this critical time, then we might just as well stop feeling sorry for ourselves and prepare to die at our own hands. We stand on the precipice of our own salvation, no need to rehash our old sad, colonial stories or feeling sorry for ourselves.
James Shikwati, a Kenyan Economist writes that “our economies have not prepared our populations to be producers to give the treasury the muscle to have and then give. In fact, history reminds us that Western capitalists plundered Africa “so we must celebrate when we see capitalism on its knees.” And yet, it seems that in spite of the increasing number of Africans who have had the benefit of western education and excelled at some of the world‚s most competitive institutions, nothing changes except the people themselves.
The love-hate conundrum must be resolved especially since we still rely on foreign aid. Harping our swan song about Africa’s exploitation scratches like a broken record, a dirge that lifts no spirit and begs for an hallelujah! Are we ready to admit that Africans have been own worst enemies, complicit with corrupt regimes that plunder in plain sight while the rest of us moan and groan to thin air? In the throes of our complacency, we forever yearn for foreign everything, and then complain about the help that appears from other countries. After more than fifty years since independence, can we really show what we have accomplished by our own bootstraps, without foreign aid? Where was Africa when China came along? Everyone seems instantly surprised to find China as the new sheriff in town so does that mean we going to blame “them” now for the next 50 years or are we going to face the man in the mirror ˆ ourselves? In spite of our colonial past, we are really endangered unless we come clean with ourselves about all our strengths and weakness and determine to change, really change, for our own salvation.
Walter Rodney argues in How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, that “The Western World engaged in atrocities and looting of the African continent making people desperately poor. Fifty years after most African countries gained independence from Europe, the Africans are still queuing for donor funding, investing less in homegrown solutions and African talent. The biggest question is why this is happening in Africa, where people are endowed with the human mind that is creative and innovative?”
The protracted pain and psychological legacy of our colonial past is not being underestimated here. However, we need to be vigilant about healing our pain and converting our scars into something beautiful. Nothing changes if we keep stirring the sloth of our victimization and only we bear the responsibility for removing our psychological yoke. I overstate the obvious in saying that our work requires enormous sacrifices. Once and for all, it is not too late to harness the teachable moments — endowments of our colonial past, and reinvent ourselves toward greatness. We can start the process by accepting that so much of the poverty and degradation is self-inflicted, and trace our culpability from as early as when we chose to sell our brothers and sisters into slavery for greed and profit.
Hundreds of years after slavery
tribal conflicts, anarchy, and atrocities large and small.
Let’s stop blaming all our wounds exclusively on the West or the East, Jupiter or Mars. If we do not suffer from inferiority complexes, then by all means, let‚s hunker down and get dirt in our nails and build the road to Africa‚s future, and stop waiting for external validation of our worth — it will never come — not now, not ever, which is good because we owe our validation to ourselves. Perhaps we can take a lesson or two from the solidarity of the post-Holocaust Jews whose single-minded zeal was to educate and empower future generations toward economic and spiritual wealth, fueled by the memory of the Holocaust to never let it happen again!
Dennis T. Avery, author of Saving the Planet with Pesticides and Plastic, expresses so well, that “long before the colonialist came to Africa, the African people had started ventures in medicine, iron smelting, arts, music, house building, and bead making and curving. The power of innovation was also exhibited in the way they preserved fire for later use, stored foodstuffs and the very fact that they could light a fire by rubbing two sticks together.”
It is clear from our pre-colonial past, that Africa, the cradle of civilization and many human innovations, has much to be proud of. Africa is still a “continent-interrupted,” but the road ahead can lead us back to a glorified future but we need an ATTITUDE OF SERVICE, transcending the individual wants.
Pope Benedict reflects that “Profit is useful if it serves as a means toward an end. Once profit becomes the exclusive goal, if it is produced by improper means and without the common good as its ultimate end, it risks destroying wealth and creating poverty.”
The challenge of African leaders today requires more than the traditional economic numbers game. They are challenged to reconcile the material and non-material dimensions of our human existence, as Alfredo Sfeir-Younis refers to as “the reconciliation between economics and spirituality.” Economics cannot ignore the fundamental fact that we humans do not exist for material welfare alone, but also for our human welfare. To be spiritually wealthy is to enjoy a fully-realized life with material, physical and spiritual balance. Money alone is not enough.
According to Sfeir-Younis, a major revolution in value systems is taking place today, with its foundation being led by civil society, like NGOs, spiritual and religious movements. The key to this revolution is the move towards the humanization of welfare economics. “Too much attention has been paid to the ‘human doing’, the ‘human having’ and the ‘human knowing’ and much less to the ‘human being’. While ‘having’, ‘doing’ and ‘knowing’ are extremely important, the intrinsic value, direction and identity of human life are given by, and are in the nature of, the ‘being’.”
The concept of spiritual wealth explains total wealth as a function under the universal laws of nature and much higher on the rung than just money. Natural laws of the universe govern the behavior of matter and social activities inasmuch as they do also, supply and demand, or cause and effect. Dr. Jason Lisle, Ph.D., a popular author and researcher for Answer in Genesis reflects that all the laws of nature, from physics and chemistry to the law of biogenesis, depend on the laws of logic.
Like mathematics, the laws of logic are transcendent truths and the laws of nature are uniform and do not arbitrarily change and they apply throughout the whole cosmos. One of the most basic assumptions in all of science is that the laws of nature apply in the future just as they have applied in the past. Without this assumption, science would be impossible and we expect the universe to be organized in a logical, orderly fashion and to obey uniform laws because the universe was created by the power of God.
Conversely, spiritual wealth can be created when African governments gain the trust of civil society through transparency, self-disclosure, and commitment to eradicating corruption. Why not begin with the rule of law? We have entered a new Decade since the new Millennium and most African countries remain lawless and chaotic. Perhaps 2010 is the year to set the benchmark for creating the rule of law with a new environment that nurtures fertile minds to proliferate in all manner of self-actualization. The assurance of Africans by their governments to establish and implement intellectual property and consumer protections laws would go far in nation-building. An investment in universal education for all children and youth would strengthen families as human capital and future leaders-in-training are prepared in knowledge and confidence.
One of the greatest challenges facing African leaders is to achieve the most efficient use ˜ not abuse ˜ of natural resources, based on a realization that the notion of ‘efficiency’ is not value-free. Natural resources must be defined extensively to include women and children.
In their book, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, Pulitzer prize-winning husband and wife team, Nicholas Kristof, a New York Times Op-Ed columnist, and Sheryl WuDunn, also a Times journalist, argue that the key to economic progress in the world lies in unleashing women’s potential. According to Kristof’s research, “top-down efforts basically don‚t work, and grassroots, bottom-up movements will make a difference.” There are so many people around the world, including these authors, who continue to “root for Africa” with great sincerity and humanity. We should learn to do the same for ourselves.
There is such phenomenal potential for Africa to empower women through grassroots enterprise. An investment in women‚s cooperative ventures would be a goldmine with a domino effect that would impact every aspect of life and create widespread social change for all.
Although the poorest people work harder
and stoop lower than most
emanate from secret places of their soul
It is these poorest of the poor who rather want to share their meager possessions with you, me, whoever comes to visit. This example is unlike the new trend of the wealthy African lifestyle of the rich and westernized and living in gated communities that glaringly widens the gulf between the rich minority and the poor majority. The rich has so much to learn from the poor then.
From the outside looking in, it appears that life behind the gates is rosy, idyllic, and enchanted. Yet, a light scratch below that delicate surface reveals that many rich people in Africa worry constantly for their safety, and their wealth becomes a burden especially since many of the services that provide for their comfort are performed by poor people – a cabal of cooks, house-boys, maids, gardeners, day and night watchmen, all of who are under suspicion for stealing, and sometimes imagined to have connections with armed robbers. In the parable of the Rich Fool, Luke 12: chapters 13-21 Jesus teaches that when we operate against the spiritual laws, we become shortsighted and fall prey to greed and selfishness and our ego becomes all that matters.
Needless to say, there is a growing problem of violence and armed robbery in many African countries that did not exist before. The irony, however, is that the walls do not prevent their inmates from the open sewers, waste dumps, exhaust fumes and dusty roads in congested traffic. Poverty then, is everyman’s problem rich or poor, and being rich is looking more like a burden than an asset. When someone in the crowd asked Jesus, “Tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me,” Jesus responded, “Beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.”
The social element of our human specie relies on interactions with our families, fellow man, employees and the community. No man is an island unto himself, and our mammalian brain craves relationships with each other.
African leaders today must establish institutional frameworks that build relationships for managing diverse resources and developing a skilled labor force, institutions that foster the power of ideas, free market systems, and ability to negotiate favorable terms of trade and investments for the welfare of their people. It’s time to sit at the table of global negotiations, bringing value to the process and commanding respect.
If there was a rulebook for success in total wealth creation, then Sir John Templeton who pursued both spiritual and material wealth, would be the authority for inspiring African leaders to consider a new approach in solving their problems. Templeton created one of the largest investments funds around the world, becoming one of America‚s most successful financial investors. In his nineties today, Sir John sold his Franklin Group for $440 million and the Templeton Foundation bearing his name disburses $40 million each year toward the advancement of scientific knowledge about the spiritual aspect of life. This is proof that a very happy life that is focused on spiritual wealth is achievable.
The continent is teeming with new ideas in technology, science, education, and in development and we can unite as a continent to convert all our potential into spiritual currency. We have been great once and can be great again. Whether we rain or shine, that is up to us. Our ancestors invented the fire that still smolders. The drum still beats for us to rub our sticks and build a fire to light our path to our place in the sun. We remain the rightful heirs to the cradle of civilization.