02 A Joseph kairos – a decade to build foundations for the African century

This is a kairos moment for the continent. A critical moment of opportunity for action to bring change. We have to act now to pioneer an Abundant African economy that will be good for both people and the environment. If we miss this moment it will have serious consequences for generations to come.

For Africa, this kairos moment has strong parallels to the story of Joseph in the Bible.25 When God spoke to Joseph through Pharaoh’s dream, Joseph had seven good years to prepare before the seven years of famine. Today, Africa has around 10 years to build foundations that ensure that the growth of the youth demographic,26 and the expansion of its cities, have a positive impact on the continent, while mitigating the worst effects of climate change.27 The decisions we make now will impact Africa’s coming century, in the same way Joseph’s planning in the years of plenty created a pathway for survival during the famine. If we don’t take advantage of this timeframe we and our descendants could suffer in the long term. If we use this decade to prepare effectively we will, like Joseph, be able to feed our people even in the midst of a dark environmental crisis.

Global influence – Africa as a light to the nations
Like Joseph, timely action in response to an opportunity will allow us to feed the people of Africa and build the economies of our nations. There is also potential that, like with Joseph, our surplus will be able to feed and influence the rest of the world. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the fragility of traditional economic systems as it swiftly catalysed the largest global economic recession since the Great Depression. The financial systems that made many aid-offering nations wealthy have been driving the ecological crisis. Traditional economic systems have been shown to be vulnerable and are unlikely to survive the coming environmental emergencies without significant shocks.

A new type of Abundant African economy that simultaneously reduces poverty and inequality, honours human dignity, and nurtures the environment, could also be an economy that will lead the world. Africa has many advantages when it comes to innovating and pioneering new sustainable economic practices.

Africa has fewer large corporations, communities and governments with huge investments in dirty industries that would oppose climate-friendly changes than more developed nations. Old, expensive polluting technology can be leap-frogged, with investments going directly into clean and sustainable technology. The need for resource-hungry, centralised systems of control can be bypassed using technology and local governance networks.

At a time when many other nations are turning to nationalism and away from multilateral organisations, Africa is implementing cross-border, inclusive political ideas, such as the African Union (AU) establishing new institutions and an African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

Africa’s young people are open to new ideas and have the energy to implement them. Many of them are people of faith. The church in Africa is the new locus of world Christianity. We know from both scripture and history that God often uses the marginalised to bring change, or the weak things of the world to shame the strong. Joseph himself was a young man, a slave and a prisoner, yet God used him to save Egypt and the world around it. If young Africans, filled with God’s Spirit, are able to hear his voice, envision a different story for the future, and have the courage to make different choices, then an Abundant African economy becomes the logical option to develop Africa. Africa could lead the rest of the world by living out a practical model that solves both poverty and the environmental crisis.

The kairos choice
To make the kairos choice, we first need a new African story for the African century. Neither the Africa Rising story, connected to the present world economic system that is driving both inequality and environmental destruction; nor the Africa Failing story, which depends on outside charity to save Africa from itself, will help Africans build a movement that can fundamentally change the continent. To achieve that we need a new story.

COVID-19: Turning crisis into kairos
COVID-19 has affected every country on the continent since the first case in Africa was confirmed on 14 February, 2020.28 Churches have been quick to respond to the immediate threat with spiritual help and disaster relief. But the health, financial and governance impact on the continent will be huge and set back many of the victories of the past. We need to recognise this is a crisis moment on our journey towards kairos: like when Joseph
lost his status as head of Potiphar’s house, went to prison, and began an even deeper process of preparation for his coming kairos with Pharoah. It is in pain and lament that God prepares our character and resilience. It is in the dark that we turn to him to experience renewal and revival.

Pandemic preparation
Every crisis disrupts culture and institutions and creates liminal spaces where change becomes possible – for good or bad. How the church responds to this crisis will seed the type of recovery we get. But right now the church is like a championship-winning football team refusing to leave the changing rooms: well organised to pray, worship, disciple and care for its own team members, but not ready to run onto the pitch in front of the crowds!

Not ready to follow our dreams and take the risk to create the infrastructure and systems needed to build nations and shape godly economies. Joseph was able to hear the vision from God. With Potiphar, he showed himself able to manage a household. In prison, he learned to depend on God and use his gifts to administrate and build an institution. So when his kairos moment came, he was ready to steer Egypt through times of feast and famine. The COVID-19 crisis is a time to display God’s love in service, but its deeper significance could be as a season of preparation: a metaphorical prison moment to sow into growing our capacity to organise and build beyond our home bases. A moment to send our team out onto the pitch to actually play. We will need this greater organising capacity to deal with the crises and opportunities to come.