The Lord used the gospel of Christ to bring many of the good things associated with our modern continent— health, sanitation and strong basic educational infrastructure. This laid the foundation for higher levels of infrastructure and manpower, though few, excelled in terms of their qualitative impact in the public and private sectors across the continent.
Unfortunately, these past achievements have decayed over time. While some secular and faith-based organizations have made efforts to restore and restrain the damage, the ravaging bad governance at all levels and in most countries of the continent, continues to set the hands of the clock back. Africa has people –old and young, men and women– with great ideas with which they have impacted the world. But our track record of bad governance at home has set us apart as a class by ourselves.
Other nations that started the race of political independence as ourselves have moved forward but we remain stuck in a quagmire of poor performance in the critical sectors that determine life expectancy (Oyeyinka 2014). All of these are due to the continuing degradation of our systems of governance which determine the quantity and quality of infrastructure and human resource development that are core to socio-economic development and democracy in all nations (Adamolekun 2015).
Most African Christians feel helpless, even though their numbers have increased phenomenally (Haynes 2009). Majority have basically resigned the governance of their nations to the worst elements partly because they chose not to be involved due to the corrupt nature of politics in these countries which is further aggravated by resource curse logic (Karl 1997). The latter undermines not only the economic and financial institutions but also ensures that the worst elements in a society capture the governance of their society for their exclusive and corrupt enrichment (Olowu and Chanie 2015).
A surprising number of Christians believe rather that all we need to do is to pray and evangelize and soon enough everyone would become believers, thus effectively eliminating the governance crisis. But the systemic nature of the problem has stunted the impact of the church on society as corruption permeates the rank and file of the church hierarchy. Some close observers have already noted that unlike in other parts of the world, the increase in the number of Christians in Africa has not led to qualitative improvements in these societies—and this is because the governance crises have deepened rather than lessen in intensity and impact (Haynes 2009).
The Lord of the church definitely expects His church to do more than to pray and evangelize. He calls us to be kings and priests in this world (Rev. 5.9-10, Mt.5.13-16). This means that He has given us responsibility for exercising influence and authority in the secular and spiritual realms. Furthermore, the examples of the older nations before us that used the light of the gospel to bring light to other parts of their own societies outside the church is in contradiction to our own experiences.
It is not a coincidence that most European countries have a Christian Democratic Party or some other name along that construction. No one is suggesting the creation of sectarian parties across the continent but to make the point that Christians have historically been associated with direct societal improvement. Christians in Britain improved the educational, health, prison systems etc and this is the pattern across Western Europe (Babatunde 2013). Other nations took the cue from these countries as the widely read author, Max Weber reminds us in the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905).
Prayers and evangelism would be necessary alright but the Lord of the Church expects much more from us:
Firstly, Christians are called to be good citizens, active in their respective economies and societies….’plant gardens and build houses etc –engage in economic activities…marry and give your sons and daughters in marriage’ to increase, thus ensuring economic growth.
Secondly, we are to pay our taxes and other dues. If indeed, he had lived in a democracy, it is obvious that the Apostle Paul would have demanded from his readers as Christians to take part in the electoral processes because this would be our way of subscribing and supporting and sustaining the prevailing social system. He comes close to this when he says ‘render to all their dues…and honour to whom honor is due’ (Rom 13.7).
Thirdly, Christians are to seek the peace of the city or nation into which the Lord has placed them. In a democracy, this would mean being politically involved in an intelligent way that would ensure that the resulting governments would govern in the fear of the Lord and in a way that ensures peace and prosperity. (1 Tim. 2. 1-4).
Prayer is the fourth recommended action not because it is the least but it is the glue that holds the rest and ensures that the other actions would result in good or better governance. Even the Lord Jesus emphasized the importance of prayer for leaders when He prayed for His disciples before going to the cross. (Adeboye 2007).
These four dimensions of engagement –socio-economic, financial, political and spiritual-are essential for Christians to impact the governance of their societies.
B. Why this is Important for all Christians and non-Christians alike?
1. In a democracy, whoever wins elections makes and implements the laws for everyone, (good or bad, Christian or none Christian) in any society or polity?
2. The use of public resources is determined by whoever wins democratic elections. The unfortunate trend in Africa is that the leaders waste and steal public funds, kill economic opportunities and even resort to killing some of their own people who they think stand in their way of perpetual governance.
3. Basic infrastructures are bad and declining in many African countries. Few new ones are being created but these are also poorly maintained and it is due to the culture of malfeasance and waste. Ditto for human resource development.
United Nations Human Development Reports and World Bank Development reports have regularly documented Africa’s worsening infrastructure deficit and very poor rankings for majority of African countries since the 1990s.
4. It is understandable then why Africa remains largely a producer of primary products—whether it is agricultural or mineral resources—to-date. We have not become smart enough to engage collectively at the higher levels of the production value chain.
5. The worst spectacle is the hordes of Africans that are rushing to perish in the Mediterranean spelling change Sea in their bid to escape to better life in Europe. This is because an increasing number of European countries rightly made up their minds that they cannot continue to endlessly accept large numbers of economic migrants from poverty stricken African countries just as they also resist those seeking political asylum from the Middle East due to the growing threat of Islamic terrorism being exported from those countries to Europe.
C. How to bring about change?
1. Christians should recommit to becoming light and salt to their respective societies.
2. They should be a part of any political party of their choice but they should work towards ensuring that the problems highlighted above are prioritized for attention by their respective political parties even before they secure political power.
3. They should support candidates that have clear economic and social programmes and hold them to, delivering on their promises through civic groups that focus on improved governance.
4. They should create platforms for prayers and teachings on God’s principles for answering prayers in the legislative and executive branches for the wielders of political power.
5. In specific cases, we should seek for genuinely African solutions that work. .e.g. a genuinely federal system as operated in Nigeria in the 1950s and early 1960s until the military incursion into power whose legacy has been a highly centralized federal state. Christians in that country should rather campaign for a referendum on the issue of the old or new constitutional structure rather than elections between political parties that only plunder the national economy. The same goes for other countries. The Truth and Justice Reconciliation experiment in the Republic of South Africa has become a beckon of hope for other countries and has to some extent been practiced in Rwanda. This mutual learning across Africa should be pursued even as we also learn from other developed and developing countries.
In conclusion, the essence of this note is to challenge Christians everywhere in the continent to rethink the appropriate strategy for containing the governance challenges confronting the countries in our beloved continent.
By Dele Olowu, October 2018