Una vita in Africa – A life in Africa Rotating Header Image

March 31st, 2008:

I Lineamenta e la Società Africana: un’Analisi Zoppa

The Lineamenta and the African Society: a Limping Analysis

The analysis of today’s African society cannot be disregarded if we want an incisive theology. This Synod – which bears in its title the words reconciliation, justice and peace could gift us with a shared vision of what is happening in Africa and how we might be able to react as Christians.

After the Preface and Introduction, the Lineamenta for the 2009 African Synod proposes a chapter entitled: “Africa at the Dawn of the 21st Century.” Chapters on Jesus Christ, the Church as sacrament of reconciliation, justice and peace in Africa, the witness of the Church through its members, and spiritual resources follow before getting to the conclusions.

The reflection unravels in simple and accessible language, even with the limits of the content mentioned elsewhere. (Vedi F. Pierli and F. Moretti, Nigrizia, September 2006, pp 10-14: The approach chosen, the methodology suggested, the texts cited, and the language used are old and “non-African.”) The first chapter is very feeble. The analysis of the contemporary situation of Africa lays out a list of positive and negative developments since the publication of the final document from the preceding African Synod and identifies some priorities, sorted into three groups: social-political, social-economic, and social-cultural. Then the role of religions is examined (traditional religions, Islam, and other Christian Churches) in terms of their service of reconciliation, peace and justice. The chapter concludes with some engaging questions and a first draft of a response offered by the Church. In this chapter there are 20 footnotes of which six are taken from various papal discourses and documents, 11 originate from the Lineamenta, Instrumentum Laboris, and the final document of the preceding African Synod and relative discourses from that synod, and finally one footnote with Web site of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), one footnote citing the statistics of the Annuario Pontificio, and one footnote referring to the Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, a French nun and mystic, who died at the beginning of the last century.

The entire chapter is a rational catalogue of facts and trends, but without any proper attempt at interpretation. It is only a catalogue, and not even an exhaustive one, which could have been done without any great difficulty by a journalist of intermediate competence regarding African facts. Even the citations are surprising because of the complete lack of authorities who are not strictly ecclesiastical, which we have become accustomed to find in the documents of Pope Benedict XVI.

And yet the theological prospective for the subsequent chapters rests on and develops out of this list of facts and footnotes.

The analysis of today’s African society cannot be disregarded if we want an incisive theology, if we want to propose advocacy, if we want to develop effective pastoral programs. At least this seems to be the reason for the synod: a moment of self- comprehension, and taking stock of the moment in history we are living in order to rededicate ourselves for the future. Otherwise there is the risk, as happened with the first African Synod, to propose for consideration a document which provokes no true changes.

But a careful and even concise evaluation of the impact on the Church that the first African Synod had, and even more, a serious analysis of the present situation does not appear to be a priority for those writing this text. Perhaps they want to leave this work for the synod itself, even if the experience of the preceding synods leaves behind many doubts that a work like this could be done in the synod hall.

From generic analysis only ineffective and generic visions and proposals are able to spring forth.

The success of liberation theology in Latin America was in part due to the fact that it began and flourished in an analysis of society widely accepted in the Christian communities, religious communities and among the bishops. The phenomenon had deep roots among Christian people, even if it was taken up, re-expressed and elaborated by professional theologians. It is, or was a shared vision of the present world interiorized in the light of Christian faith.

An analysis of African society and of the problems which afflict this continent has yet to be proposed, much less shared. One of the striking issues when speaking with the southern Sudanese Christians, who just emerged from a civil war which risks rekindling, is that their social-political analysis replicates fully the position of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) or other parties, but rarely is anyone able to articulate a vision of their society which is influenced by their Christian faith other than a mere veneer with no historic efficacy. The same observation comes to mind during the crisis in Kenya these past weeks. We have heard on the radio astounding interviews of Christians who admitted participating in the killing and burning of their neighbors’ homes. After affirming their repentance, they said that nevertheless they would have done it all over again, if their neighbors were to return. We saw the vast majority of Christians fall victims of a spiraling, exasperating and tribalistic interpretation of the facts. They were unable to understand that this interpretation concealed an underlying struggle for economic power by the two principal parts of the conflict; nor did they see the presence of foreign forces driven by particular interests. The connection between real life and faith came unglued, that is, a faith as guide for personal moral choice.

Perhaps the nexus is precisely the lack of a social analysis and a shared Christian “judgment” on present history. The same religious leaders often seem unable to see beyond their own little nook. They remain too involved in their small tribal reality, in the fact that their nephew married a relative of a certain politician; they are too attentive to an opportunity of finding a shortcut through the bureaucratic protocol; they are involved in corruption done without the exchange of money, but with the exchange of favors and with culpable silence.

Yet, if we think that a Christian intervention in the social arena is important, then it is crucial for developing an awareness of the problems, of injustices, of the powers that use Africa as a battlefield.

In the final pages of a wise and most recent book that has the merit of attempting to understand the reasons for African wars, the author writes:

“If we do not want to stop at the apparent and superficial aspects, African wars can be interpreted on three levels. The first level deals with the struggle for power within the political class of the continent. On this level the wide diffusion of conflicts and of corruption among the managerial class are two characteristics of the same processes.

“The second level deals with control of resources and their exploitation, which often are illegal even if carried on by governments: this economic system involves war as a constitutive element…moreover, this system modifies the entire productive structures of the interested areas for its advantage and creates new social equilibriums, which tend to perpetuate the conflicts.

“The third level deals with strategic interests of powers within the dimension of the globalized economy, beginning with the conflict over energy resources.”*

This is only an example—a debatable one—of an attempt to understand. It would be important for this synod which bears in its title the words reconciliation, justice and peace to gift us with a shared vision of what is happening in Africa and how we might be able to react as Christians. Perhaps this is too much to ask. It would be enough to begin to move us in that direction and to arrive at a process which renders African Christians as actors who are more informed and aware of the history we are living.

The quote is my translation from:

Sciortino, Alberto. L’Africa in Guerra: I Conflitti Africani e la Globalizzazione. Milano: Baldini Castoldi Dalai Editore, 2008.

Italiano English
This blog is multi language by p.osting.it's Babel