A Journal of Catholic Reflection for Southern Africa
Volume 33 No 3
New Horizons in Theology and Challenges to Leadership in Africa
Editors Chris Grzelak SCJ and Quinbert Kinunda M.Afr
The situation of oppression and exploitation in Africa as a whole did not end on
the eve of independence. In some corners of the continent this has, by and large,
meant a change of oppressors and exploiters, but business continues as usual.
In the early 60s, when the process of decolonisation was reaching its zenith in
most colonised African territories, Fanon (1963:61) sarcastically remarked that
‘morns of independence do not dawn on all Africans today’ because millions
of them are becoming ‘the victims of a veritable “colonization of brother by
brother (sic).” Many are tempted to think that “nothing has really changed”
for them.’ Fourteen years later (1977) in an interview, Léopold Senghor (in
Ela 1986:57) re-echoed almost the same words noting that ‘[t]he real Africa
is living in a colonial situation, and its train of misery and injustice wears a
thousand faces.’ Paul VI, having become aware of the deplorable economic
conditions in third world countries, called for ‘the rekindling of hope’ in the
countries where humanity is subjected to absolute poverty: ‘We must make
haste. Too many people are suffering. While some make progress, others stand
still or move backwards; and the gap between them is widening’ (PP 29).
Despite decades of independence, social analysts are more likely to produce
a longer list of suffering today than they have done in the past. Dehumanising
conditions are a self-evident phenomenon in our midst, but concrete actions
to overcome them are not yet a reality (Ilunga 1984:7).
An increase in the number of migrants, tyrannical regimes, threats of
coups d’état, worsening socio-economic conditions and human trafficking,
inter alia, are some of the worrying realities on which Africa is hinged today.
Many individuals, day-by-by, are reduced to a state of what Mveng calls
‘anthropological poverty’ that manifests itself when the masses of people
‘sink into a kind of poverty which no longer concerns only exterior or interior
goods or possessions but strikes at the very being, essence, and dignity of the
human person’ (1994:156). It causes a loss of people’s dignity and identity and
makes many remain rootless and nameless with no right to self-determination.
Christianity cannot hide its head in the sand pretending not to see oppression
and exploitation. Instead of hiding or bemoaning the situation, it must begin to
ask critical questions such as: Why is Africa ‘quite a late-comer in the world
of development?’ (Lymo 1976:138). ‘Why is Africa still trailing behind other
nations of the world technologically, intellectually and economically, despite
its being endowed with natural and human resources?’ (Speckman 2007:282).
In a similar vein, Moody Awori, the former vice president of the Republic of
Kenya, (in Stenger 2005:7) writes:
Paradoxically, in spite of the abundant resources the continent has, Africa
remains a poor continent faced with immense multifaceted development
challenges. Challenges that demand leaders in Africa to carefully rethink and
reflect back to trace at what point did the rain start beating them. It is important
that we ask ourselves this question: How can Africa in the next decades, reverse
those years of social and economic marginalization in the now increasingly
dynamic and competitive world?
Questions such as these must arise as the result of critical reflection done in a
particular context, and not just as a set of fixed theological truths that descend
‘from above’ to which people are coerced into adhering. The real theological
concerns should be taped ‘from below’ where the poor provide us with a true
locus of theological reflection.
For the sake of the credibility of the gospel, we must renounce religious discourse
pronounced from high, where it wafts above the byroads of misery and indignity.
We must enable our people to find their way of speaking of God precisely where
they must face the forces of death in everyday life. Otherwise we shall not be
able to give them the gospel’s entire wealth of protest, its demands to transform
the world (Ela 1994:145).
However, ‘Africa’, says Awori (in Stenger 2005:7), ‘is not a dark continent,
as many would want us to believe, neither is it doomed to remain poor and
underdeveloped.’ It has the potential to stand and walk as long as it discovers
its identity and is determined to overcome the root causes that have crippled
its processes of economic development. This demands a serious mind-shift,
and that people must stop behaving as if they were created with leftovers of
the dust that God used to create the first human beings. It is up to us to analyse
and ‘examine all areas of our life: religion, education, economics and politics
and see whether they help or hinder man (sic) to become the best that he (sic)
can become’ (Magesa 1976:19).
The theme proposed for this edition of Grace & Truth ‘New Horizons in
Theology and Challenges to Leadership in Africa’, in one way or another,
reaches out to invite people to begin to develop critical thinking on issues
that deeply affect their lives. It is a noble service that an academic institution
like ours, is daring to offer to the Church and society. As part of those who
are eye-witnesses to what is happening in Africa, we have the responsibility
of playing an active role to motivate critical thinking and reflection on issues
that concern us all. In so doing, people will begin to avoid elements such as
superstition, fatalism, passivity and timidity. The illustrious axiom of St Anselm
of Canterbury fides quaerens intellectum ‘faith seeking understanding’ which,
in a nutshell, describes what theology means, still stands as an important
dictum for us today. As rational beings, we are constantly moving, searching
and trying to make sense of our faith in God while at the same time, staying
attuned to our human reality.
Our faith in the God of revelation cannot be lived and understood abstractly, in
some atemporal fashion. It can only be lived through the warp and woof of the
events that make a history. Faith will grapple with the tensions and conflicts
of global society. It runs into the crucial questions and urgent aspirations of all
women and men (Ela 1986:28).
Thus five articles are included in this edition as an attempt to attend to some
issues and situations that concern the validity and reliability of faith in the
African context today. With a bird’s eye, we highlight below a few relevant
elements from each article.
The edition begins with an article by Rodney Moss entitled ‘Early
Theological Thought from Africa: Origen of Alexandria and an Assessment
of His Orthodoxy’, which recognises the role played by Origen in laying the
foundations of Christian theology. The author argues that despite the fact that
Origen had an instinct for orthodoxy (for the rule of faith was important for
him) he was ‘a speculative theologian and at times pushed the boundaries of
what would later be a more defined orthodoxy.’ Thus, Origen’s thought remains
an important indicator of the evolution (‘new horizon’) of theology of his time.
His allegorical approach to interpreting scripture provided some solid ground
that continues to influence biblical hermeneutics up to the present. His treatment
of ‘the central Christian doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation then at
an early stage of their expression became a clear advance on earlier times and
an early move towards yet emerging Trinitarian theology and Christology.’
Origen is an important source and authority for the tradition of the Church yet,
at the same time, where that tradition is silent or undeveloped he proposes a
way forward. In this sense Origen can be seen as an encouragement for many
contemporary African theologians to remain cautiously innovative and push
the boundaries of African theological thought.
Nontando Hadebe in her article ‘Listening to the Elders of African
Theology: Ubuntu and Trinitarian Theology as a Response to the Call for the
Integration of Inculturation and Liberation Theologies’ proposes a theology
that springs from the rich concepts of ubuntu as perceived in the diversity of
African cultures and from the Social Models of the Trinity as a resource for
a culturally embedded liberation theology. Relationality is the key word that
marks the fulcrum of ubuntu because umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu – ‘a person
is a person through others.’ The Ubuntu theology can easily merge with that
of the Trinity because ‘relationality, interdependence, equality, oneness and
communion’ are seen as essential elements that characterise the Trinity. As
she retrieves wisdom from elders like Nyamiti, Bujo, Oduyoye, Ela and Phiri,
inter alia, Hadebe believes that the integration of inculturation with liberation
‘provides direction for African theology.’ In other words, a critical dialogue
between ubuntu and Trinitarian theology is ‘an example of new horizons in
African theologies that are in continuity with the spirit of the founding elders
by being culturally embedded, contextual and liberating.’
Rose Mukansengimana-Nyirimana’s article ‘Women Doing Theology in
Africa: When Will Men Listen?’ raises interesting questions as a challenge to
the existing ecclesiological ideologies that tend to promote the segregation and
marginalization of others and to favour men to the detriment of women as far
as ministerial services in the church are concerned. She sees the monolithic
patriarchal system in the church as an irresponsible means that the church has
erected to perpetrate the exclusion of women. Nyirimana also observes how
Christianity, tied to colonialism, played a role in enhancing patriarchal cultures
through the male-centred interpretation of some biblical texts. Consequently, a
number of African men, already at ease with some patriarchal ideologies, found
fertile soil in Scriptures to sustain their superiority. God, who is neither male nor
female, cannot be locked in a pigeonhole to function as a male figure. Hence, the
aim of the article goes beyond identifying the problem, to creating awareness
regarding the negative side of the male-centered system on the growth of the
Church in Africa. It invites men to free themselves from unchristian attitudes,
and together with women, seek to invite all to be at the service of the church
including serving the Lord at the altar as ordained ministers.
The remaining two papers explore the existing challenges to power and
leadership in Africa. Gideon Sibanda in ‘Servant Leadership in the Context of
Power, Poverty and Underdevelopment’ examines the concept of leadership
from a theological perspective. First, the article analyses ‘secondary sources on
power and leadership, and endeavours to show how power and leadership bear
on the human condition in general. Situations of poverty and underdevelopment,
or development basically reflect how power has been understood and exercised
by those who have been trusted to lead.’ Second, the author takes the Jesus
servant model as a paradigm of leadership that can overcome poverty and
misuse of natural and human resources in Africa – a continent that is littered with
tyrants and undemocratic leaders. For this to happen, formation is imperative
and a must in order to inculcate in leaders an ‘emotional intelligence’ which
is a combination of components like self-knowledge, self-control, empathy,
motivation and social skills.
Emmanuel Chinedu Anagwo’s important article ‘Liturgical Leadership
as Christ’s Brand: A Challenge to Leadership in Africa’ proposes a model
of leadership that ‘might be conducted both in the Church and in the secular
society.’ The author uses the liturgical imagery to point out the qualities of
leadership that could rescue Africa from ‘erstwhile ruthless’ dictators who use
‘[a] lot of energies, resources and manpower’ ‘to maintain the office of a leader.’
He proposes ‘Christ’s brand of leadership which is hinged on service delivery
for the people.’ While learning from what takes place during community
worship, Anagwo calls for a kind of leadership that exalts the participation
of all – each according to his/her position – in view of contributing to the
wellbeing of all. Anagwo disqualifies ‘visionless leaders’ and ‘demagogues’
who hold people captive in Egypt and stop them from advancing to the Promised
Land. African leaders are therefore ‘challenged to rise up to the Christ’s brand
of leadership concretized in the liturgy in order to be effective and efficient
servants of the people.’
These articles serve as eye-openers, hence requiring further research in the
ever-changing context of Africa. A call is made to read the signs of the times
and use them as viable indicators for a necessary theological aggiornamento.
Awori, M. 2005. African renaissance: A challenge for governments and religions, in
Africa is not a dark continent, edited by F. Stenger. Nairobi: Pauline Publications
Africa, 7-10. (Tangaza Occasional Papers no. 17).
Ela, J-M. 1986. African cry. Maryknoll: Orbis Books.
______ 1994. Christianity and liberation in Africa, in Paths of African theology,
edited by R. Gibellini. New York: Orbis Books, 136-153.
Fanon, F. 1963. The wretched of the Earth. New York: Ballantine.
Ilunga, B. 1984. Paths of liberation: A Third World spirituality. New York: Orbis
Lymo, C. 1976. Quest for relevant African theology: Towards an Ujamaa theology.
Magesa, L. 1976. The church and liberation in Africa. Eldoret: Gaba Publications.
Mveng, E. 1994. Impoverishment and liberation: Theological approach for Africa
and the Third World, in Paths of African theology, edited by R. Gibellini. New
York: Orbis Books, 154-165.
PP. Populorum Progressio. Encyclical Letter on the Development of Peoples of
Pope Paul VI, 26 March 1967. London: Catholic Truth Society.
Speckman, M.T. 2007. A biblical vision for Africa’s development? Pietermaritzburg:
Stenger, F. 2005. Africa is not a dark continent. Nairobi: Pauline Publications Africa.
(Tangaza Occasional Papers No. 17).