Search this site powered by FreeFind

Quick Link

for your convenience!


Human Rights, Youth Voices etc.

click here


For Information Concerning the Crisis in Darfur

click here


Northern Uganda Crisis

click here


 Whistleblowers Need Protection


Politics and Faith in Africa

Excerpts of a talk to members of the Congregation of St. Bartholomew's Anglican Church

New Edinburgh, Ottawa
February 25, 2001

We live in fascinating times. Only last week, we had Tony Blair, the Labour Prime Minister of the United Kingdom-who with his wife incidentally are suspected of being practising Christians-telling Canadian parliamentarians that we should embrace free trade vigorously because it is good for both so-called" developing" countries and industrialized ones. You might be interested to know here that at the unanimous request of their governments Canada is currently negotiating free trade agreements with all Central American and most Caribbean countries (some in groups and some separately). We are working hard as well to negotiate the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA) by 2005.
Thomas Friedman, the author of The Lexus and The Olive Tree, a ground-shaking work, refutes much of what a lot of us learned in economics textbooks. 'Among the heresies in his book:

1) World poverty has in fact fallen more in the past fifty years than in the previous 500 (No-one in this audience, to be sure, needs to be reminded that the conditions of the 1.3 billion of our fellow human beings across the planet who live on the equivalent of $1.00 a day shriek for anything they and/or we can do to improve their lives.).

2) Developing nations have progressed as much in the past 30 years as in the entire previous century( To be certain again, in some ofthem-Sierra Leone and Congo-Kinshasa come rapidly to mind-there has been very little, if any, improvement in the measurable standard of living.).

3) Contrary to popular belief, Friedman asserts that foreign-owned businesses worldwide tend to pay more to employees, create jobs faster, and export more than domestically-owned ones (You will know that with few exceptions governments throughout the world are seeking foreign investment because they now know that jobs, hopes and more fulfilled lives come fastest with it).


In the 17 years since I've been visiting the continent, mostly the Sub-Saharan countries and principally since 1997, I've been struck by the force of religion in the daily lives of many many Africans. In 1995, for example, I recall approximately 20 parliamentarians from a umber of South African political parties coming after their first genuinely democratic election to see how our model of democracy functions. One of them told me that 80% of South Africans are Christians and I've not had much cause to doubt it since. As Anglican Archbishop Tutu has noted, God showed a real sense of humour in selecting his country, given its history, to demonstrate truth and reconciliation to the world. One small anecdote here. On visiting a school for the children of farm workers a few years ago near Johannesberg, I noticed that juice and cookies were to be served. The director of the school, a highly-renowned teacher, asked the blessing before anyone could put cup to lip. It would be unthinkable not to do so, I inferred. Not long before he died a few years ago, the late President Julius Nyerere of Tanzania visited Ottawa and was naturally hosted for a dinner by the government of Canada. When the guests sat down to eat, our very honoured guest made it clear that he would not start until grace was said. It was. Mr. Nyerere who was a devout man all his life, even if he did things like abolishing church-run schools, from one of which he was a brilliant graduate.


On the other side of the continent lies Congo-Kinshasa, about which at least two important books have been published in recent years: King Leopold's Ghost and the novel, The Poisonwood Bible. The first outlines the truly horrific works of the Belgian King and his agents in the Belgian Congo; the author asserts that an estimated 10 million men, women and children - about half of the country's then population - perished because of the barbaric methods used by the Belgians to extract natural rubber from their jungle. It was men and women of faith in Europe and North America who helped finally halt these vile practices. Poisonwood is very hard on the missionary father - a friend who was a missionary for 40 years in seven countries say he never met anyone like the father - but it is superb on its interaction of the African and North American

It is interesting that the successor to the late President LaurentKabila, his son
Joseph, 29, neither smokes nor drinks and appears to be a polar opposite to his father. When I met him recently in New York City, he was en route back to Kinshasa from the National Prayer breakfast in Washington. Can he will bring Christian peace and reconciliation to the Congolese people generally? Thus far, there is a basis for real hope that he will stop the killing; the cease-fire is holding.

Not far north of Congo-Kinshasa (DRC) lies mighty Nigeria, whose population by
one estimate will exceed that of all of Western Europe by 2025. You will be aware about the very difficult passage that the Nigerians have had since independence. Many of their present hopes for a better future lie in the person of the new elected President Obasanjo, who is attempting to turn many things around in Abuja. You might be interested to know that he has publically given credit to Canada for helping to return Nigeria to the democratic column because we took such a vigorous stand in the Commonwealth against the Abacha regime. It is interesting to note that President Obasanjo is a strong Christian, whose faith was deepened during three years in prison.

In the time remaining, I would like to refer to just two other countries. Benin
contains an interesting faith story which evidently goes like this. President Mathieu Kerekou was a Marxist-Leninist military dictator for almost 20 years, but a financially honest one even though the national economy did not perform at optimum levels. While in that position, he became a convert to Christianity, which in turn convinced him in 1991 that he must call an election for his office. He did and lost. Because he had not looted the treasury, he and his wife worked and lived simply while out of office.

When the next election was held in 1996, he was returned to the Presidency by the people. A new election is approaching and it will be interesting to follow the outcome.


Finally, a word on Sudan, perhaps the most painful of all in Africa at this time for believers of any faith. To the best of my knowledge, the following are accurate observations about the present situation in Africa's largest country in terms of land mass:

1) More than 2 million Sudanese, mostly civilians in the south, have perished
in the eighteen year conflict and an additional more than 4 million have
been internally displaced.

2) In the words of the John Marker Report, released a year ago: " it is difficult
to avoid (the UN rapporteur) Leonardo Franco's conclusion that a 'swath
of scorched earth/cleared territory' is being created around the oil fields".

3) The oil development in question is taking place in southern Sudan among
Dinka and Nuer people, many of whom are Christians. Here is what an
Amnesty International Report said about a year or so ago about the
Khartourn government's conduct in the oil region:

" In addition to the air attacks on civilians, government troops on
the ground reportedly drove people out of their homes by
committing gross human rights violations; male villagers were killed
in mass executions: women and children were nailed to trees with
iron spikes. There are reports from some villages, north and south
of Bentiu (centre of the oil regions) that soldiers slit the throats of
children and killed male prisoners who were being interrogated by
hammering nails into their foreheads."

4) Since Amnesty International made its report, I understand that the
government has in fact escalated its bombing of civilian targets in the
south, including hospitals, schools, emergency feeding centres and
churches - even relief locations operated by Medecins Sans Frontiers and
the International Committee of the Red Cross.

In the face of this, a Canadian oil company, whose management was made
familiar with the nature of the conflict before it decided to go ahead with its buy out of the interest of another Canadian company in the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company, carries on. It's CEO has even been quoted as saying: "Increasingly, Sudan is becoming a source of relative regional stability."

The question for all of us as Canadians, and as believers of any faith or
denomination, or as non-believers, is should the company be allowed to continue with business as usual in Sudan? Should any denomination or Canadian of any faith own shares in the company directly or indirectly? Is it consistent with our values as Canadians to turn a blind eye to what is going on in Sudan?

Home Books Photo Gallery About David Survey Results Useful Links Submit Feedback