Understanding African Problems from the Roots to the Fruits
Chris Ampadu received the PhD in International Development from William Carey International University. He serves as Network Leader for Disciple Nations Alliance, West Africa and is the West African Director for Samaritan Strategy. This article was first published online in the Worldview Issue of the William Carey International Development Journal, February 26, 2018.
Development has to do with having enough provisions to take care of basic human needs such as food and water, health care, clothing, shelter or accommodation, and education. Why should Africa be poor amidst abundance of gold, silver, crude oil, diamonds, manganese, the good land, with forest and timber? How can it be that Africa continues to languish in poverty with the majority of the people living on less than a dollar a day, often unable to meet these basic needs?
I believe worldviews and belief systems play a significant role in African attitudes, behavior, creativity, and general well-being. My conclusions come from both academic reflection and the experience of being born in a rural African setting, having parents who were very traditional animistic, growing up in an environment overwhelmed with sicknesses and diseases, and having real contacts with various gods in an attempt to get healing. Over the years, I have had ample opportunities of grappling with these issues. Through dialogues, discussions, interactions, and learning experiences I have come to a deeper understanding and appreciation of African Traditional Religion (ATR) and African problems. I have come to believe that the roots of Africa’s problems lie in the worldview and social glue of the African Traditional Religions (ATR).
It seems to be the case that the more intensely the ATR belief system has a hold on an individual, the more his/her worldview is dominated by the beliefs in spirits, ancestors, the gods, witches, and evils in society. There are questions about the intense fear that exists within the Ghanaian, even a Christian Ghanaian: the fear of being afflicted with death, attrition, misfortune, diseases, or harassed by gods, spirits, ancestors, and especially witches and demons. Consequently among certain Ghanaians, fatalistic tendencies and an air of hopelessness prevail. Instead of people taking their destiny into their own hands and working hard toward progress and development, many attempt to rely on guidance from spirits, gods, and ancestors. In rural communities, such fatalistic thinking can lead to the superstitious belief that being successful is actually dangerous, because a prosperous person may be attacked and sometimes killed through voodoo, because of jealousy or envy.
This is also true for third world countries in the Caribbean like Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Jamaica—countries that have high African populations with a high incidence of voodoo worship with worldviews and problems that are similar or the same as those in Africa. Passive reliance on external forces can also take the shape of dependence on massive assistance from abroad. Such overdependence on foreign aid may contribute to the practice and expectation of African political heads who travel to the West, looking for support in the form of grants and loans simply to finance their budgets for the year. This is a mentality that turns people from being achievers to “beggars.”
Most aid organizations seek to mitigate the suffering caused by institutional, moral, and natural evil rather than attack the cultural framework that creates the poverty in the first place. Mission organizations seek to deal with the “spiritual condition” of the people without realizing that the soul is firmly attached to the body and the gospel needs to have a wholistic reach – all of each person – heart, soul, mind, and strength – and all of their relationships.
Byang Kato, discussing human crisis in his book Biblical Christianity in Africa (Kato 1985), says that exploitation, disease, abject poverty, and deprivation of the basic necessities of life have been the lot of the majority of African people. But we ask again, what is the root cause of these human tragedies? Would man’s problems be solved by putting clothes on man’s back and food in his stomach? Is political liberation the final answer? History counters any positive answers to these questions. Man’s root problem is beyond these issues. All human tragedies, be they sickness, poverty, or exploitation, are mere symptoms, or “fruits” of the root cause, which the Bible calls sin—separation from the true God.
I believe as African spiritual leaders begin to recognize the role of the church in society in helping people and communities, they will see the importance of following Jesus’ example of demonstrating God’s love and compassion. As they link their religious faith and practices to the development of individuals and society, as they openly demonstrate biblical ethics and worldviews, churches can help African societies live by a life-giving worldview and begin to emerge from the hunger, disease, poverty, and hopelessness in which the people find themselves.
References and Further Reading
Kato, Byang H. 1985. Biblical Christianity in Africa. Achimota, Ghana: Africa Christian Press.
Mangalwadi, Vishal. 2009. Truth and Transformation: A Manifesto for Ailing Nations. Seattle: YWAM.
Mbiti, John. 1971. African Religions and Philosophy. London: Heinemann.
______. 1975. Introduction to African Religion. London: Heinemann.
Miller, Darrow L. with Scott Allen. 2005. Against All Hope: Hope for Africa. Phoenix: Disciple Nations Alliance. http://www.disciplenations.org/media/Against-All-Hope-Hope-for-Africa_ENGLISH.pdf (accessed February 7, 2018).
Miller, Darrow L. with Stan Guthrie. 2001. Discipling the Nations: The Power of Truth to Transform Cultures. 2nd ed. Seattle: YWAM Publishing.