Why Colonial Christianity is the No. 1 problem in Africa: An illustration

I posted the blurb below on facebook a few days ago. I want to explain myself further by drawing from concrete examples.

Christianity is the no 1 problem in Africa. If it is not no 1, it is certainly in the top 3. Christianity is used to entrench oppression of African peoples. All our leaders are “God fearing”? The Christian God is a paradox. The most intolerant people you will ever encounter are Christians, especially the born again variety. Zambians are praying because they have a cholera outbreak. Zambians were praying a few years ago because they had no electricity. In Kenya, we have something called a national prayer breakfast which is led by politicians who are responsible for all the misery and suffering of the Kenyan population. They meet in posh hotels and stuff their mouths with sausages and sing hymns to the Christian God. And we say we are a Christian nation. What Christian values do we live by? We have more churches than schools, universities and hospitals combined in Kenya. Christianity has destroyed Africa because it hinders thinking completely. All the major political parties in Kenya in the last election were using Christian sloganeering. Never mind that there are many people in Kenya who are not Christians, but since the Christian God is the best, the rest should just fall in line. Poverty of ideas and high degrees of insensitivity. One of the few respectable Kenyan retired clergy, Rev. Timothy Njoya refers to this behaviour as “mocking God.” Christianity tells Africans that no weapon formed against them will prosper. Unfortunately, slavery prospered, Slavery is prospering in Libya and the Middle East, colonialism prospered, neocolonial encirclement is prospering, misgovernance is prospering, even the clergy are prospering at the expense of the people.

Example 1: The Kipande 

I once visited an elder who has a home museum. He has got a collection of impressive objects created by Africans before the encounter with colonialism.  It was at this Museum that I saw the Kipande for the first time. The Kipande was metallic container that those worked in settler farms in colonial Kenya wore around their necks.  His son explained to me how you would not get a job (from another white settler), without providing a reference letter from another settler. In other words, you would not be enslaved on your own land without approval from the person who stole your land. He opened the tin and pulled out a long document that contained approvals, permissions, and so on. This was his father’s Kipande. His father, whose hearing was deteriorating sat nearby and looked on. The son explained to me how the Kipande was a tool for humiliation, and why it was one of the main issues in the struggle against British imperialism in Kenya.  He then told me how the church wanted to ex-communicate his father. Reason? He was accused of having witchcraft because of the objects that he collected and kept in his home. The father did not want to be ex-communicated from the church. He was ready to burn all those objects. Then, the pastor asked him to bring all the objects to the church so that they could inspect them. So, he packed all his objects and went and set up a sort of exhibition in the church compound.  The pastor and the congregants looked at the objects and thought they were harmless. He survived the ex-communication.  When missionaries came to Africa at the beginning of the colonial period, they told Africans that all their creations are witchcraft and primitive.  They were to be destroyed.  The same missionaries collected some of  these objects and you will find them scattered in Museums around Europe and North America. Yes, of course, they make money from this African witchcraft and primitiveness.  In this elder’s collection, you will find evidence of very strong cultures and African creative genius. You will find evidence that Africans were forging objects out of iron, well before the encounter with colonialism. Assuming the church had not been reasonable, this elder would have destroyed this collection. That would have denied me an opportunity to touch a kipande and see it up-close. My encounter with that Kipande greatly shaped my research interest in anti-colonial struggles in relation to conservation, environmental justice, the protection of African heritage, etc.  The colonial version of Christianity remains the greatest threat to the protection of African heritage.  A lot of  African objects have been destroyed due to the influence of Christianity. Hence, an African will grow up thinking that Africans have never invented or created anything. How do you find out that they did if all the stuff you see around comes from Europe, N. America, or China?

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The Kipande

Example 2 : Nok Terracotta Sculptures 

I was attending the World Archaeological Congress last year where a delegate from Nigeria took the floor and started speaking about the threats to heritage conservation in that part of Africa.  He said that one of the major issues is the destruction of Nok Terracotta sculptures by both Christians and Muslims. When people find them in their gardens, they destroy them, because religious teachings of both faiths have convinced them that anything associated with African cultures is witchcraft. The culture of making these figures/sculptures was practiced for over 1,500 years.  Of course, if they are destroyed there is no chance for Africans to benefit from them in any way – e.g., research, education, or even cultural pride. In the meantime, antique hunters from Europe collect and make so much money from them.  Since Africans think it is witchcraft, they cannot benefit from this heritage in any way. Christianity is, therefore, in direct conflict with African prosperity in many dimensions – intellectually, economically, etc.

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Nok Teraccotta Sculpture. Image Source: Muzeion

Example no 3: Gucugia Mwana 

A friend invited me to a beautiful ceremony known as Gucugia Mwana. This is a cultural practice of the Agikuyu people in Kenya. The ceremony is an opportunity for one’s grandmother to celebrate their grandchild.  In this case, the daughter brought her child to the mother’s home. The mother invites friends over – there is singing, dancing, and lots of food.  The baby is given gifts by the grandmother and others. They sing for the baby and rock the baby back and forth.  Most of the attendees in this ceremony were Christians and you could see the clash and tension between this cultural practice and Christianity.  It felt like the people were feeling guilty for practicing this culture, which I think is a beautiful thing, in terms of keeping the family together, celebrating life, keeping the society together. But, you could feel and see the tension.  Christianity makes Africans feel guilty for practicing African culture, even when it is something as harmless as Gucugia Mwana! So, Africans end up not singing their songs any more. All the songs are about praising Jesus. The African culture is killed or is stunted.  Christianity makes Africans either hate themselves and everything about themselves, or  makes them feel guilty – all the time.

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Example 3:  Seed and food sovereignty

I was working with a certain community in Kenya last year. Over the course of this work, the community highlighted the pressure they were facing with regarding to abandoning their foods, seed preservation practices, pressure to use to pesticides to grow their crops and so on.  We agreed that it would be good to have a forum to discuss these issues and craft solutions. I spent a lot of time and energy looking for someone who understood the issues around global corporate capture of food production, imperialism, capitalism, neo-colonial encirclement,  and destruction of the community’s cultural infrastructure. I needed somebody who spoke the local language, and who could explain these issues in a clear manner and relate them to the community’s daily struggles.  When I found a person who could this, we organized a full-day community workshop to interrogate these issues.  The facilitator opened the discussion by saying that we should remember our ancestors. Fair enough, I thought. The rest of the discussion was very interesting. At some point, some young men in the group raised an issue with the elders – they said that they felt confused because they got conflicting messages from their church and from other cultural expectations. One man said that his pastor says that paying dowry is wrong, and yet he is also expected to pay dowry-culturally. There were two pastors in the group. They could not offer him a satisfactory explanation on how to address this conflict. But that is not what I wanted to highlight through this example.  The fact that Christianity is in direct clash with African culture has been established in the earlier examples.  Two days after the workshop, one community member called me and told me that some of those who attended the workshop were not happy, because I brought them a non-believer (a non-Christian). What was the problem?  The facilitator has said that “we should remember our ancestors”. So, I called the pastor, who told me that yes, there was quibbling because “we are saved and we do not believe in that”. Now, you tell me, here we are – Africans are under siege from all sorts of mutli-national corporations, who do not even want them to save the seeds they harvest and plant them in the next season, who want the farmers to buy seeds from them every season, who want to enslave them and shackle them to poverty forever – but what concerns Africans most is that another African said that we should remember our ancestors?  Is it possible to be African and Christian at the same time or are they completely incompatible?

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Example no 4: Governance 

I do not want to dwell on this one. I think the block quote at the beginning highlights how much of a problem this is.  The colonial governments used Christianity to entrench oppression in Africa. They said colonialism was the will of God.  Present day African leaders use exactly the same logic to bamboozle the people. It is not uncommon to hear Africans saying that leaders are “chosen by God”. So, all manner of despots use Christianity to entrench mass torture of the people they are supposed to be leading. When these despots and their sidekicks die, churches hold services for them – to pray so that they go to heaven.  Never mind that they made life a living hell for people right here on earth.  Christianity enables bad governance, which then entrenches poverty in Africa- both material poverty and the poverty of ideas. And the latter is worse than the former.

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