Colonial Christianity has made Africa(ns) stupid

Ah, let it be said:Colonial Christianity(CC) has made Africans stupid! Before any Christians and Christian fundamentalists get too upset, let me add myself to the group of Africans who have been stupefied by Christianity. I think anybody who has come into contact with Christianity has had their intellectual capacity interfered with. But let us look at some examples. How has CC stupefied Africans?

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Women in Nigeria in a church. Image source: Pulitzer 

1. CC is the greatest force in the weakening of African cultural infrastructure. When missionaries came to Africa, they told Africans that ALL their cultures are primitive, raw, and uncooked. That in order to get civilized, they had to abandon all their cultures completely, otherwise they would not be admitted to heaven. The result? Destruction of cultural systems, philosophies that guided African life, knowledge that helped them navigate their respective environments, and so on. A Christian believes that nothing else matters other than Jesus and the Bible. That book has destroyed Africans’ minds. In her book, ‘The Challenge for Africa’, Wangari Maathai argues that de-culturation is one of the most serious challenges in Africa, but it is not closely examined because it is overtaken by other challenges which take a political or economic angle. If you examine those closely, you will see that they are related to culture.

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                          When Ugandan’s hired a white man to play Jesus during Easter.                                          Image source:  Mediatakeout.com

2. Africans are quite happy to buy into the Biblical garden of Eden creation story of origin, and to rubbish all their various stories of origin as primitive. In the garden of Eden story, the woman allegedly fed a ‘forbidden fruit’ (depicted as an apple in CC literature) to a man, who had no self-control, which then set human downfall into motion. Of course, that has been used to entrench patriarchy and subjugation of women, but let me stick with how this has made Africans stupid. How many Africans have ever eaten an apple? How many Africans grow apples? This is just like teaching children the alphabet using A for Apple. This is alienating. Many African stories of origin are packed with teachings, with philosophies that grounded human beings in their respective environments, they featured trees, water bodies, mountains, valleys, etc. So, from a young age, an African child could understand environmental complexity and reverence through these stories. Now we have garden of Eden. Where is this garden? Nobody knows. Even people who live in very arid and semi-arid environments are forced into a paradigm of thinking of lush gardens. Stupefied! I mentioned the other day that Christians in Igboland, Nigeria were destroying trees, which are said to be shrines. The continent is ravaged by climate change. And Africans are cutting trees instead of planting? This is STOOOPPPIID!

Climate change
Image source: UN.org

3. African cultural forms of expression such as song, dance, performance, sayings, and other forms were an integral part of their lives – before the encounter with missionaries/colonisers. When missionaries came, they said all this is sinful and the dances were lascivious. There were songs about planting, harvesting, songs for new-born children, songs for transitioning from adolescence to adulthood, wedding songs, funeral songs, etc. A rich repertoire packed with knowledge and power. Now, Africans only sing about Jesus! When they want to celebrate something, they sing about Jesus. Jesus has captured and brainwashed Africans. He has been made to be the only person worth composing songs about;Jesus and politicians are the only ones who now get songs composed about them. In many African liberation struggles, the use of song was a critical ingredient in resisting oppression. Now the power of the African mind had been diminished by only creating songs about Jesus. I once asked an elder to sing for me some songs, that they would sing at various stages in life. Her response: Oh I forgot my child, our songs were wiped out by the church! Don’t you think CC has reduced the intellectual capacity of Africans? CC makes Africans think of African culture as sinful. Everything is a sin. Singing your songs is a sin, dancing is a sin. Even children are said to have sinned and have to constantly pray for forgiveness of their sins. What sins have children committed? Stupidity galore! Infact, they have to be baptized to remove something known as “the original sin”.

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I took this picture at the Museum in Livingstone, Zambia.  By chance, I met a rastafarian on the streets – we go talking and he told me that some Zambians will not go to the hospital or take medicine when they get sick  – they will go to church instead. Of course, they think he is evil, because he keeps dreadlocks. A few years ago, Zambia held national prayers because there were a lot of power cuts/no electricity.  Whichever way you look at it, that is the opposite of clever. 

4. Every religion is shaped by the environmental context from which it emerges. The Bible makes reference to cedars, palms, olives, and so on. Do olives grow in most of Africa? The first time I saw an Olive tree was in Morocco. So, why should somebody in Lesotho be forced to think about olives and to recite bible verses that make reference to them? That is stupefying!

Olive trees
Olive trees: Image source: Borges

5. Christianity is associated with so much injustice – the slave trade, colonialism, neo-colonial encirclement, extraction of resources, and so on and so forth, but Africans are the greatest defenders of Christianity. How come? Is it because it has made Africans stupid? The most intolerant people you will ever meet are Christians – especially, the ‘born again’ variety. Kenyan Christians massacred other Christians in a church during the post-election violence. During the Rwandese genocide Christians massacred other Christians in Churches. But today, churches in both contexts are packed with Africans. Why? Is it because Christianity hinders critical thought?

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Image source: Kenya News Alert TV/YouTube

6. According to Christianity, when you commit a sin, you are supposed to confess. If you are a Catholic, you whisper your sins to a priest, always a man (the Catholic church is the epicentre of patriarchy), and if you are a protestant you yell and make noise and ask for God’s forgiveness. So, a politician who has stolen public resources, impoverished the poor, made their lives a living nightmare, caused the death of some, can just ask for forgiveness, and will be forgiven – just like that. Then they will meet in heaven with the poor person he impoverished, and dance forever with the white angels in the streets of gold. I saw someone asking – where is the gold in heaven mined from? It must be from Africa. But, back to the point I wanted to make. I wanted to say that Christianity is a Zero sum game for Africans. Nobody has suffered more because of Christianity than the poor, who have to support the lavish lifestyle of the politician that I have mentioned above, and the lavish lifestyle of the clergy. Both of these two groups of people live off the sweat of the poor – one via taxes, and the other one via sadaka/offerings. It appears that the Christian God does not see the gross injustice meted to the poor and oppressed.

World Vision
Image source: World Vision

7. In Kenya, politicians are very happy to contribute to building more churches. We have more churches than schools and hospitals put together. I wonder if they would be as enthusiastic to contribute to building a library. Politicians are happy to contribute to churches, because the church will keep the flock so mystified and hypnotized and in utopia, that they will not have time to think about where or how their taxes are used. And the church is used as a platform to launder stolen funds. In that way, the church becomes a tool of oppression. But since you are so busy praising Jesus and God, you cannot see it. Our treasures are laid in heaven, this world is not our home, we are just passing by! Stooopid!

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8.Is the Christian God deaf?? I saw somebody ask this on facebook. Missionaries depicted the Christian God as a white old man, with a big long-white-beard. This man must be deaf. Why do Christians have to make so much noise? Rasna Warah, a Kenyan writer tweeted how she could not work because of noise from a church near her home. She is not alone! Churches are everywhere – in residential areas, in the city centre, in the markets, in public transport – everywhere! And because the Christian God is deaf, they have to yell – with loud speakers and loud music systems. They do not care if people are sleeping, if people are sick, if people are working, if people just want peace and quiet – they just do not care. Jesus must be praised-day and night. A person who does not care about others is a stupid person. Again, I ask, why is Christianity associated with so much injustice?

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This pastor from South Africa told his congregants that if he sprayed them with this substance, he would heal them of Hiv/Aids and Cancer.  Image source: The Standard

 

9. I think I mentioned that the Bible has destroyed Africans’ minds, right? There is a group of Africans who we should call ‘the Bible says Africans’. Every time they want to make a point, and by point, I mean to justify oppression or to justify timidity, they will invoke some Bible verses. Why can’t Africans read other books? The Bible for Africans should be Franz Fanon’s ‘The Wretched of the Earth‘ or any other book of that stature. I was speaking to an African the other day, and they were telling me that the reason why poor people are so exploited by the church is because, “they are not educated”. I do not think so. Aside: women are severely exploited and abused by the church- there are videos circulating around Facebook and other forums of pastors molesting women (touching their bodies, so that they can get children and other kinds of such-like garbage). I actually think it is the educated & elite that are the problem and not the poor. The educated and elite will walk around bragging how God has blessed them, they will attribute their financial or other success to “God and prayer”, and never mention anything about hard work, what opportunities they had, what networks they could leverage into, and many other factors outside religion. It is they that have stupefied the poor with this empty religiosity. Because, then, a poor person thinks that the only thing they have to do is pray, fast, and go to church every day and night, so that God can bless them like he has blessed the elite. This brings me to my last point.

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10. A poor woman will take eggs from her house and go and give them to the pastor, but will not feed them to her children. She needs blessings, and will be willing to give all she has. Then, her children get malnutrition because of lack of protein. She has no money to take them to hospital. And since the government has bungled the healthcare system, by under-investing in it, because they leave such work to NGO’s and missionaries, and churches, she has nowhere to turn to. She turns to prayer and fasting. She also gets sick and depressed.

Christianity has made Africans stupid.
Christianity has ‘dismembered’ Africa , to borrow Ngugi wa Thiong’os word. It has torn Africa apart into pieces, until Africans do not know who they are any more.

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As you can see from this sticker, the finger of God is white. 

Now, someone will say – why don’t you see all the good things the church has done like creating schools and hospitals? The short answer is this – it is not the job of the church to provide these social services. That is the responsibility of the government. The fact that NGO’s and Churches provide these services is a testament to failure of government, and as I pointed out above, the church gives the corrupt and incompetent politicians a soft landing and warm embrace. If the church was involved in helping citizens to push the government into delivering social services, I would support it. But the church cannot because it is a beneficiary of the poverty,  desperation, and oppression of African peoples. Secondly, thee church has thrived(since the colonial period), through cannibalizing other forms of social organization.

The aristocracy of mercy and the conservation industry in Africa: the similarities

 

I have just finished Graham Hanckock’s groundbreaking text ‘Lords of Poverty: The Power, Prestige, and Corruption of the International Aid Business‘. As I read the book, I could not help but find some fundamental similarities between the aid industry (which Hancock refers to as ‘the aristocracy of mercy’), and my beloved conservation industry in Africa. What are the similarities?

  1. White capture

These two industries are submerged in whiteness. What comes to your mind when you think of aid worker? A blond-haired, tanned white person who has been working in the Congo, trying to save Africans from themselves? What comes to your mind when you think of the term conservationist in Africa? A tanned Khaki-clad, white person who is trying to rescue African wildlife and landscapes from Africans. These are two industries where people (white people) can become experts without being necessarily trained in that area. White skin, or skin that is perceived as white even if it is not, is your passport to success in these two industries. The white people working in these two fields are paid salaries that Africans working in some of these organizations can only dream about.  Somebody will be quick to point to the UN and other large agencies, where salary structures are more standardized. But who occupies the top decision making positions? I do not think they are occupied by Africans or other Global Southerners. If these industries are about solving the problems of the  Global South, why don’t Southerners occupy those top positions?

Of the Aid Industry Hancock has this to say:

“At every level in the structure of almost of all of our most important aid-giving organisations, we have installed a tribe of highly paid men and women who are irredeemably out of touch with the day-to-day realities of the global state of poverty and underdevelopment which they are supposed to be working to alleviate. These over-compensated aid bureaucrats demand-and get-a standard of living often far better than that which they could aspire to if they were working, for example, in industry or commerce in their home countries. At the same time, however, their achievements and performance are in no way subjected to the same exacting and competitive process of evaluation that are considered normal in business. Precisely because their professional field is ‘humanitarianism’ rather than, say , ‘sales’ or ‘production’, or ‘engineering’, they are rarely required to demonstrate and validate their worth in quantitative, measurable ways. Surrounding themselves with the mystifying jargon of their trade these lords of poverty are the druids of the modern era wielding enormous power that is accountable to no one.”

Essentially, the Aid industry has entrenched a new class of rich and privileged people, using the misery of the poor and oppressed as a catalyst. Ditto conservation industry. There are no poor white conservationists in Africa. If you know of any, please let me know. Gado’s cow cartoon below is an excellent visual aid in understanding how both aid and conservation funding are used. In the ICT area, we should probably add security in the case of conservation.

  1. Big spenders, but to what end?

The two industries are big spenders. Huge sums of money are spent on activities that do not necessarily achieve the core goals of ending poverty or achieving conservation goals. Hancock writes:

The 10,000 men and women attending the conference looked extraordinarily unlike to achieve this noble objective[of ending poverty]; when not yawning or asleep at plenary sessions they were to be found enjoying a series of cocktail parties, lunches, afternoon teas, dinners, and midnight snacks lavish enough to surfeit the greediest gourmand. The total cost of the 700 social events laid on for delegates during that single week was estimated at USD 10 million.

When I read this passage I forgot that he was talking about a World Bank meeting. It sounds like a very good description of Kenyan members of parliament – but I digress. Now, the question is – Wouldn’t that 10 million USD be better invested in practical interventions that would save lives, or solve a particular poverty-related problem? In the conservation industry you see heavy spending on conservation infrastructure – drones, white people’s dogs, fences, collars, helicopters and so on, turning conservation areas into militarized war zones – spaces of surveillance. All these machinery and dogs have to be bought from the West, so the money raised for conservation circulates in and out of the same countries. To bring this point about the economic hitmanship of monies in the aid Industry home, Hancock presents us with a solid example:

In the 1950s the then President of the World Bank, Mr. Eugene Black, travelled around USA drumming up support for increased aid. His message was a simple one:

Our foreign aid programmes constitute a distinct benefit to American business. The three major benefits are 1. Foreign aid provides a substantial and immediate market for United States goods and services 2. Foreign aid stimulates the development of new overseas markets for United States’ companies 3. Foreign aid orients national economies towards a free enterprise system in which United States firms can prosper – Purchasing of goods and equipment.

Ditto conservation industry – as explained above. Eugene’s quote above reminded me of an aid-funded project I worked on. One of the things we were to purchase was a speed boat. The funding came with a condition that the boat and related supplies had to be bought from the same country from which the aid originated. It is not difficult to understand how  or why some countries are fabulously wealthy and while others are not.

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  1. Sniffing the money

Both industries are excellent are sniffing where the money is and adjusting their interventions/interests accordingly. Hancock writes:

The most important element ion this is that all the institutions of Development Incorporated, whether bilateral or multilateral, seem to have at least one thing in common: an uncanny ability to sense the prevailing mood in the donor countries to adapt themselves to it. This is a genuine family characteristic, a genetic trait that programmes each and every one of them for survival. If humanitarianism is in the air, then they will make humanitarian statements, if environmental movements seem to be gaining political support, then the agencies will inject some ecology into their rhetoric; they will also –as and when required- make the necessary noises to assuage national guilt complexes to pander to security neuroses and even to emphasize the profit motive if that seems expedient.

Alas!

Now, the two industries seem to be merging around the issue of climate change. That is where the money is after all. Traditional humanitarian organizations want in on the action, so coalitions and other kinds of working relationships are being forged.  The conservation industry is having to wade into poverty issues, because the fortress model of conservation has been collapsing around its own weight for some time. Now, those who only wanted to deal with gorillas and not Africans are finding themselves in unfamiliar territories. Interesting times lie ahead.

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Image source: Pintrest.
  1. Famous for producing documents

Reports! Reports! Papers! More reports! More papers! The two industries are famous for producing documents. Whether the poor or communities living around conservation areas read them is another discussion all together. Hancock  rightfully questions the logic of producing a plethora of documents.

What is all this in aid of? At one conference, on the Law of the Sea, the UN employed ninety mimeograph operators to work around the clock at twenty seven machines spewing forth 250,000 pages of documents a day. Each document was produced in three-and sometimes five – languages by teams of translators and typists…..Indeed, so great was the volume of paperwork generated that the list of documents itself ran to 160 pages. After seventy days of talk in the pleasant surroundings of Caracas, Venezuela, delegates made just one firm decision; a resolution to hold another conference on the same subject.

Ditto! It very much sounds like conservation research, where the recommendations are almost always a call for MORE research.

The white mans burden

  1. More aid=more poverty; more conservationists=more conservation problems

The more aid agencies you have, the more poverty you have. The more conservationists you have, the more protracted conservation challenges become. What is going on? Hancock argues that aid has done more harm than good because:

Aid is often profoundly dangerous to the poor and inimical to their interests; it has financed the creation of monstrous projects that, at vast expense, have devastated the environment and ruined lives; it has supported and legitimised brutal tyrannies; it has facilitated the emergence of fantastical and Byzantine bureaucracies staffed by legions of self-serving hypocrites; it has sapped the initiative, creativity and enterprises of ordinary people and substituted …[it with] superficial and irrelevant glitz of imported advice; it has sucked the potential of entrepreneurs and intellectuals in the developing countries into non-productive administrative ; it has created a ‘moral tone’ in international affairs that denies the hard task of wealth creation and that substitutes easy handouts for the rigours of self-help.

I once saw an exhibition at the Nairobi National Museum. The exhibition had some startling examples of failed development projects. Huge sums of money wasted on projects that collapsed after short periods of time, or projects that did not take off at all. One of the ones that I remember was a fish processing plant around Lake Turkana in northern Kenya. The project did not take off because there was no electricity, which was required to keep the fish refrigerated! But did the project developers not know that there was no electricity before they set up the project there?

 

Debt

 

I think the greatest problem with aid is that it makes the governments of the receiving countries irresponsible and uncaring of their citizens. Hancock discusses this in the book. He argues that a government that knows that it is going to receive aid would rather spend its money propping up dictators, buying weapons, stealing public resources, etc and not investing in education or health care. I have to agree with him in toto.  I think that when Africans see a white person in their community, they stop thinking for themselves. It is assumed that the white person will solve whatever problem there is, because white people know everything.

This syndrome also affects governments and government workers who increasingly become dependent on white thought and direction, and fail to tap into the knowledge and skills of the people they are supposed to be serving. Of course all of this applies to the field of conservation too. Who shapes conservation discourse in Africa? Is it Africans or white conservationists and white-led conservation agencies? Both the aid and conservation industries entrench white supremacy in Africa, and by extension, destroy or stifle African agency. These two industries have entrenched the idea that Africans do not know anything, and they need the hand of white person to guide them into navigating life. According to Kwame Nkrumah, colonial powers:

Were all rapacious; they all subserved the needs of the subject lands to their own demands; they all circumscribed human rights and liberties; they all repressed and despoiled, degraded and oppressed. They took our lands, our lives, our resources and our dignity. Without exception, they left us nothing but our resentment…

What is the difference between colonialism then and now?

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