Posts tagged with: africa

Blog author: kschmiesing
Thursday, December 27, 2007
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For my money, some of the most interesting titles in recent years in the field of Christian scholarship have come from IVP Academic (an imprint of InterVarsity Press). The latest catalog features an announcement of Thomas Oden’s How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind, as well as an interview with the author, which prompted a couple reflections. (The interview is available for pdf download here, Fall 2007)

I remember my first teaching assignment, a survey course in American history. We were covering slavery and related issues and the topic of Christianity and race came up. I made what I thought was a fairly obvious historical point about Christianity: identifying it with white Europeans is shortsighted considering that for several centuries Christianity was dominated by Africans, Palestinians, and Middle Easterners. The students, Ivy Leaguers all, looked at me in amazement, as though they were unaware of the fact. That memory returned as I read about Oden’s book, whose thesis is, in the author’s words,

Christianity has a much longer history than its Western European expressions. Africa has played a decisive role in the formation of Christian culture from its infancy, a role that has never been adequately studied or acknowledged, either in the Global North or South.

Oden also makes a point that lay behind my reaction to a trio of books that I reviewed for the forthcoming Journal of Markets & Morality (issue 10:2, to print any day): “…Euro-American intellectuals have transmitted [modern Western theological ideas] to Africa where they have been camouflaged as if to assume that these prejudices were themselves genuinely African.” The thought of Nietzsche, Marx, Freud, and Marcuse, he observes, has influenced writing in and about Africa far more than the thought of Tertullian, Cyprian, Athanasius, and Augustine, though it is self-evident which set of ideas is more genuinely “African” in any historical/geographical sense of the term. In my review, I display some unease about the appropriation of heterodox theology by African priests studying in Europe and the United States.

In the same IVP catalog:

The Legacy of John Paul II: An Evangelical Assessment

The Decline of African American Theology by Thabiti M. Anyabwile

Just Business: Christian Ethics for the Marketplace by Alexander Hill

I’ve heard it said from a number of leaders in the Reformed community that there is a great opportunity for Reformed churches to be a positive influence on the growth of Christianity abroad, particularly in places like Africa where Pentecostalism has made such large inroads.

The thesis is that as time passes and institutions need to be built, the traditionally other-worldly Pentecostal faith will by necessity need to embrace a more fully comprehensive world-and-life view. Reformed institutions ought to be prepared to step into the breach and provide that worldview education.

On that note, I pass along two items of interest. The first is a newly released book from Fortress Press, Christian Education as Evangelism, an edited collection of essays that argues that if congregations “are to be active in their evangelical outreach, solid teaching is necessary. Likewise learning ministries that are well grounded and alive will spring forth into vital sharing of the good news of Jesus Christ. Christian education leads to evangelism and evangelism leads to Christian education.”

And as a counter-point to the potential for arrogance that might accompany a Reformed educational mission to the Pentecostal world, see this item, “Dutch Protestant leader apologises to Pentecostals,”

Utrecht (ENI). The Protestant Church in the Netherlands has apologised to Pentecostals for negative attitudes held in the past by Reformed and Lutheran Christians towards members of Pentecostal churches. “Even now, one still can often sense an attitude of negativity and condescension,” the church’s general secretary Bas Plaisier said at celebrations in Amsterdam’s Olympic stadium to mark the centenary of the Dutch Pentecostal movement. Such attitudes were also widely held among Protestants in the past, Plaisier said. “I hope that with this centenary celebration we can put an end to this [negative] way of speaking and thinking about one another,” he said. [355 words, ENI-07-0726]

Given the rather distinct lack of commitment to distinctively and confessionally Reformed education among the Christian Reformed Church at the moment (check out this synodical report), I wonder if this sort of educational impetus is something that Westerners find are good for other people, but not themselves.

Here’s a great story by Jennifer Brea touching on a lot of favorite Acton topics. Brea observes that many Africans are getting wise to the fact that Western direct aid may be hurting more than helping their continent. We’ve long decried government-to-government aid and advocated expanded trade instead. More pointed is the article’s indictment of private charitable aid as well. Brea concedes the positive dimensions of such charity, but argues convincingly that Africans’ welfare really lies in the hands of Africans themselves—and in the creativity and entrepreneurship that can only be fully realized when full responsibility is also theirs.

Another interesting piece of the story: Treating Africans as “partners” in the global economy rather than as beneficiaries of global charity is what has helped China take a leading role in the region. That’s a theme that Anthony Bradley broached in his commentary last month.

You’ve heard it from us before: Good intentions are not enough.

Now hear it from a piece in the Columbia Journalism Review, “The Obscured Continent,” which takes a look at the special issue of Vanity Fair devoted to Africa (HT: Poynter Online). The piece begins by depicting the two major approaches to international development (compare to my “Henderson” model).

“In the end, it’s hard to avoid the feeling that the only thing it actually achieves is to convince us of those good intentions. Nothing more,” concludes CJR reporter Gal Beckerman. “And that, for Africans, both those who desire help and those trying to help themselves, is not even close to enough.”

Or as Etienne Gilson wrote, “Piety is no substitute for technique.”

In today’s NYT: “Oxfam Suggests Benefit in Africa if U.S. Cuts Cotton Subsidies.”

“Eliminating billions of dollars in federal subsidies to American cotton growers each year would reduce American cotton production and exports, raise world prices by about 10 percent and modestly improve the incomes of millions of poor cotton farmers in Africa, according to a new study by Oxfam, the aid group.”

About how many other industries could a similar thing be said? It’s also good to see that some of these multinational aid groups sometimes focus on liberalizing trade, rather than simply on direct government-to-government compensatory aid packages. Apparently Oxfam “has long campaigned for reductions in rich country agricultural subsides as a means to fight rural poverty in the developing world.”

One reason Oxfam is critical of bilateral free trade agreements is that they “do not address the adverse impacts of rich-country subsidies on poor countries through dumping, or the plethora of non-tariff barriers that continue to impede access to rich-country markets.” Their claim is that the bargaining power of individual developing nations is reduced under such agreements, so that the developing nation ends up giving up concessions to the wealthier nation, while the latter does no such thing. Reducing tariffs without addressing subsidies and other “non-tariff barriers” works to undermine the interests of developing nations.

The NYT piece ends on a bit of a pessimistic note, and no doubt the elimination of subsidies alone will not be enough to combat the grinding poverty that is so prevalent in the developing world. But it would do a lot to level the playing field and give resources and products from the developing world a fighting chance in the global market.

“Subsidy reform alone will not resolve all the challenges facing the cotton sector,” Oxfam said. “But it could significantly ease the burden on poor cotton farmers struggling to support their families.”

Kris Mauren (far right) and African guests get ready to visit GFS.

Acton University is now well underway, and on Wednesday a group of seven African attendees joined Kris Mauren on a visit to Gordon Food Service’s Grand Rapids headquarters for an up-close look at ethical capitalism. Mauren called it a great opportunity for people from countries with barren and corrupt markets to see an efficient, principled business for themselves. “The management of GFS also has a strong concern for philanthropy and international missions,” he said. “So it’s a great model of the capitalist ideal to hold up for these folks, who are used to a much more hostile economic climate.”

The group met with Gordon Food Service management for a luncheon, then toured the company’s office and factory area. Harry Ayile, formerly from Ghana and now residing in Norway, was completely blown away by what he observed. “It was like … wow,” Ayile commented with a smile. He was struck by the dedication shown by the company’s workers. “At every level, the workers are extremely well-organized, focused, and committed to doing their jobs excellently,” he said.

Ayile was astonished at how the “energetic” GFS employees took pains to avoid mistakes in the orders they were filling. “The business has a good system of checks and balances, and most of the employees have been there for fifteen years or more,” he said. “They take true satisfaction in their work.”

Comparing Gordon Food Service’s methods to the way business is done in Africa and even in Europe, Ayile said his visit couldn’t have been more of an eye-opener. “Before I came to Acton, I thought all people who did business were evil,” he said.

Ayile recalled one food-production company in Ghana that deliberately had been selling expired grain infested with maggots. “They would just sift out the maggots, package the grain, and sell it at full price,” he said. “Finally one employee caught on to what was happening and was able to produce evidence and pictures, but it went on for awhile.” Ayile called the incident typical of business practices in much of Africa, which lacks the institutional support necessary for free enterprise to flourish. When the rule of law is unreliable, incentives for greedy and corrupt behavior often outweigh the benefits of integrity. He added that many businesses “show very little respect for the consumer, as opposed to the way American businesses like Gordon Food Service care about their customers.”

Ayile and others from the group — which included visitors from the Congo, Kenya, and other African countries — all said they were very impressed with the way GFS invested in its employees and how these employees, in turn, were invested in the success of the company. Although Africa has a long way to go, Ayile said his visit was inspiring and gave him hope for the future of Ghana and other developing countries in Africa.

Oprah isn’t the only one opening a school in Africa. Fraser Valley Christian High School and Surrey Christian School in Canada have partnered together with Christian Extension Services in Sierra Leone, Africa to build a Christian Primary School in Kabala. This partnership is one of the initiatives I highlighted in a previous Acton Commentary.

The partnership has released its first newsletter (PDF here), which chronicles recent news and events, including prayer requests and special opportunities for donation.

Also be sure to keep up with the project at the blog administered on location in Sierra Leone, “A New School for Kabala.”

The Super MoneyMaker Pressure Pump

No, we’re not talking about Elmore James’ Blues hit covered by the likes of George Thorogood, Fleetwood Mac and The Black Crowes nor its racy subject matter.

Rather, it’s how members of the other oldest profession in Kenya and Tanzania power the irrigation pumps that extend both their growing season and range of crops. This foot-powered move beyond subsistence farming to much more profitable harvests, such as vegetables, is facilitated by the aptly named MoneyMaker series of pumps. 

KickStart (previously Approtec) 10 years ago produced the Original MoneyMaker Pump; the over 4,000 in operation still generating $3.9 million in profits annually. Since then the Super MoneyMaker Pressure Pump, resembling and operated much like a Stairmaster, can push water uphill 7 M (23 ft.) to irrigate 2 acres. The newest – and most affordable – version, The MoneyMaker Plus Pump relies on swinging one’s hips side to side on a skateboard-like platform, a motion that, unlike arm-powered pumps in particular, can be performed all day. Costing $34, KickStart officals claim it generates $1000 in profits the first year.

Though even this amount can be out of the reach of the world’s poorest, KickStart co-founder Martin Fisher, insists on a business model. Along with enriching “farmerpreneurs”, Kickstar has created a private supply chain though hundred of farming supply shops that sell the pumps and spare parts. Undercutting these local merchants and removing their incentive to stock parts would be one of the serious disadvantages of giving away the pumps.

Beyond the pragmatic concerns, their ultimate goal is to “create dignity,” Fisher said on NPR’s Weekend Edition. He concluded, “When you give things away, you are really just creating dependency and people hanging out waiting for more handouts.”

Acton Impact ad raising awareness of the malaria epidemic.

An article in today’s New York Times, “Push for New Tactics as War on Malaria Falters,” coincides nicely with Acton’s newest ad campaign (see the back cover of the July 1 issue of World). The article attacks government mismanagement of allocated funds in the global fight against malaria. Celia Dugger, the author, writes:

Only 1 percent of the [United States Agency for International Development’s] 2004 malaria budget went for medicines, 1 percent for insecticides and 6 percent for mosquito nets. The rest was spent on research, education, evaluation, administration and other costs.

The game is now changing, however. The White House has initaited new campaigns, boosting allocation for medicines, insecticides, and mosquito nets to over 40% of the agency’s total malaria budget. The new government push is also raising awareness among private donors, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Acton has begun a media campaign to raise awareness of available and economically sound solutions to the malaria epidemic. Among possible solutions is the indoor residual spraying of insecticides, including DDT (proven to be highly effective and safe in South Africa), distribution of treated mosquito nets, distribution of medication, and educational programs that explain where malaria comes from and how to avoid it.

Visit our Impact Malaria page for more reading and for links to get involved in the global fight against malaria.

Ecumenical News International (ENI) relates the launch last month of a new initiative in Africa, designed to “to mobilise a strong African voice in development.” The effort is called African Monitor and is led by the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, Njongonkulu Ndungane.


Anyone who spends much time at all looking at the economic development situation in Africa quickly realizes the lack of independent, nongovernmental, native voices. As African Monitor states, “This African civil society voice can thus be seen as the too often missing ‘fourth piece of the jigsaw’ alongside existing stakeholders of donor governments and institutions; their African counterparts; and donor-based NGOs and civil society.”

African Monitor’s mission is to begin to fill this need: “African Monitor is an independent body, acting as a catalyst within Africa’s civil society, to bring a strong African voice to the development debate, and to raise key questions from an African perspective.” The initiative represents a truly unique and much needed enterprise, since before the creation of African Monitor “there was no existing pan-African network that can provide such a catalyst across the sub-Saharan region, and taking a perspective across aid, trade, development and financial flows.”

In his address before the opening of the group, titled, “Let African Voices speak out for effective action on Africa’s development,” Archbishop Ndungane emphasized the need for accountability and true follow-through on the part of donors and developed nations: “We saw that Africa’s grassroots voices, currently marginalised and fragmented, could be harnessed to pursue these ends, and that faith communities, the most extensive civil society bodies on the continent, could provide the backbone of networks to bring these voices into the public arena.”

The Acton Institute has long supported the claim that African civil society needs to take a leading role in the development of the African continent. See, for example, the conversation with Rev. Bernard Njoroge, bishop of the diocese of Nairobi in the Episcopal Church of Africa, and Chanshi Chanda, chairman of the Institute of Freedom for the Study of Human Dignity in Kitwe, Zambia, about the issues of debt cancellation the moral nature of business (video clips, .wmv format, available for Rev. Njoroge and Mr. Chanda).