04 A new story – Abundant Africa

An Abundant Africa narrative dares to dream of creating an economy and civilisation based on the values of relationship, freedom and social innovation.

This story moves away from the dominant global civilisation based on profit, control and technological progress. It moves beyond the extractive dream of Africa Rising and the doomed chaos of Africa Failing. It points to a cohort of dreamers who, like Joseph, are able to clearly hear the voice of God, believe in their own agency, and effectively execute a vision to build systems and institutions that can implement their dreams. This narrative will benefit the people and natural environment of Africa, and the rest of the world.

This narrative is built upon Jesus’ promise of shalom.

Shalom and abundant life
Jesus tells us in John 10:10 that “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

The abundant life that Jesus promises is in stark contrast to the death and chaos of the Africa Failing narrative or the unequal distribution of prosperity promised in the Africa Rising story. Instead, his promise is for an abundant life that brings a deep state of wellbeing and rest, or shalom, based on healthy relationships between God and people, between different people, between people and the rest of creation, and in our relationship with ourselves. We experience his shalom as God’s kingdom becomes a greater reality in Africa and communities start to reflect his justice and righteousness, as it is in heaven.

God’s original design for earth is Eden – a place of perpetual fellowship with God, but also of harmony and peace within families and between human beings and the environment. A state of abundance and of wellbeing. This state is promised again through the concept of shalom, which encapsulates peace, harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, welfare and tranquillity. True shalom exists in a wholesome integrated life across spiritual, social, cultural, economic, political and emotional spectrums.

In the story of Joseph we see the partial restoration of shalom beginning to overcome the curse from Genesis 3. Partnering in obedience with God, Joseph is able to remove hunger through wisdom; restore relationships with his family through forgiveness; and remove inequity through his righteous actions. However, as we outline further on, even Joseph fell far short of the abundant life we find in Christ.

The new story of Abundant Africa is based on the restoration of shalom that we find in obedience to Christ. It’s a story in which African Christians defeat the curses of the past through the death and resurrection of Christ on the cross. A story where all Africans, Christian or not, will benefit from an increasingly restored Africa, a continent characterised by God’s shalom where everyone is able to experience wholeness and peace. Even more than Joseph, when we share in the fullness of Christ and each person is able to operate with agency, we see tangible signs of shalom manifesting.

Mobile phones have revolutionised communication and business in Africa – the mobile phone industry contributes 8% of Africa’s GDP. African innovations such as mobile money have changed the way people save and spend. Credit: alamy.com

Economy of life
To create this, we need to build an economy of life. This is founded on an affirmation of the sufficiency of the abundant life God provides, enough for the needs of all, while also ensuring that life itself is not threatened by our economic activity.

This economy of life is in direct opposition to contemporary economics that start with an assumption of scarcity and, in many cases, deliberately create scarcity or encourage overconsumption to drive profit. Both the stories of Africa Failing and Africa Rising are founded on a foundation of scarcity.

Historically, African culture centred on an abundance mindset, a unitary holistic worldview that emphasised living in harmony with all creation, negating the need to accumulate individual wealth. This was not measured just by access to material abundance, but in an abundance of time, relationships and leisure. This was disrupted and replaced by scarcity thinking with the arrival of the colonial cash and labour economy. There are, however, many elements of abundance thinking in African cultures that can be reclaimed.

Our African values, nurtured across generations and stewarded by our elders, align closely with the underlying biblical foundations of a shalom economy of life. At the heart of the Abundant Africa narrative are innovation, freedom and relationship (ubuntu). An Abundant African economy of life does not rely on endless growth and consumption to overcome scarcity, but instead organises around these values to ensure multifaceted abundance for the greatest possible number of people and natural systems, without straining the foundational abundance of the natural world.

Innovation – co-creators of Africa
Africa is a place of innovation and creativity. “Africa always brings forth something new” is a phrase with origins dating back to Aristotle and Pliny the Elder. Early African civilisations introduced ground-breaking technologies to the world. Yet much of this innovation has been crushed during slavery and colonialism. Like Joseph, Africans need to dare to dream despite our circumstances, especially when the dreams are God-given. Innovation and creativity must be reclaimed in the cultural, theological and economic spheres for an Abundant Africa to be a reality.

An Abundant Africa will be created by the agency of all African citizens as we respond to the creation mandate of Genesis, and co-create Africa in obedience to the Spirit of God. Again, this is in stark contrast to the lack of space for African agency in the Africa Failing and Africa Rising narratives.

In Africa we have seen leaders, both African and foreign, who have come to oppose abundant life and instead steal, kill and destroy, like the thief Jesus speaks of in John 10. Even Joseph went beyond God’s call and fell into this trap. Joseph assigned the best land of Egypt to his family, raising the question of favouritism. He bought land from the destitute for the Pharoah at what was likely an extremely low price, and even enslaved people when they were at their most vulnerable. As the Israelites prospered, it laid the foundation for resentment from the Egyptians, ultimately leading to the Israelites’ future enslavement. Even if we begin with good intentions, we must be careful not to become thieves in our generation.

Jesus calls us to listen to his voice and follow him. He will give us life in abundance. We do not put our trust in markets, leaders, military might or control. Our salvation will not come from leaving Africa and escaping to other places of perceived hope. Instead, our loving God is at the centre of our story. We are not doomed to fail or driven to produce, but he calls us into the most empowering of all relationships – to be cocreators with Christ. Like Eve and Adam tending and caring for the garden, Jesus draws us into the centre of the story with him. His Spirit empowers us to hear his voice and make choices that are both ethical and creative. He empowers us as we implement our choices. Our God is our hope and we are the people he has chosen to work through. With Christ we are each the solution to Africa’s problems.

Taking hold of our agency and creativity doesn’t mean that we ignore our tragic history or the structural barriers that imprison many. It just means that we study our history and our context in order to find ways to learn and take innovative steps to gain freedom by countering the effects of personal trauma, institutional collapse or national crisis.

Africa’s recent history has been dominated by the struggle for freedom from colonialism and, to a lesser extent, the Cold War. This liberation struggle was a fight for self-determination and not for liberal democracy or another political system. Generations of Africans sacrificed and died for freedom and independence. Consequently, freedom is a strong theme in African political thought and culture. The great biblical freedom narrative of Exodus – the Israelites being delivered from the oppression of slavery in Egypt and journeying towards the Promised Land – was often referenced to inspire Africa’s “Moses-generation” freedom fighters.

Creating the Africa we want can only happen by increasing the freedoms experienced by Africans. Any system that offers wealth and security in exchange for the loss of human freedom would be a betrayal of the generations that came before. We need to trust Christ to set us free from both internal captivity and external structural barriers, such as:

1. Trauma and identity: The first freedom in Africa needs to be internal healing from the effects of generational trauma. The older generation of Israelites, although physically liberated from slavery still carried Egypt in their minds as they wandered in circles in the desert. Likewise, the young students of South Africa’s #FeesMustFall movement sought to express their desire and need to be decolonised. Internal freedom for the Israelites eventually came through turning away from the gods of Egypt. This was a generational transition and the new generation affirmed its identity through the circumcision of all male Israelites, a symbol of their historical foundational covenant between Abraham and God. The most important work in restoring the traumatised African soul is the rediscovery of African identity. Part of this will be through the power of the stories that we tell ourselves and one another. Our restored identity and our common generative stories play a foundational role in the restoration of relationships with ourselves and each other.

2. Structural barriers: Much of the poverty in Africa is caused by structural injustice – often a legacy of colonialism. Scarcity was deliberately created to drive Africans off their land and into the labour economy. No amount of individual effort could overcome these barriers. Africans are capable, resilient innovators who are actively engaged in improving the condition of the continent. However, their resilience is constantly challenged by a hostile environment. Amartya Sen talks about poverty being a series of unfreedoms, limitations in people’s capacity to make choices and act on those choices.39 For Africans to co-create we need to have our agency restored by removing these unfreedoms. The church’s prophetic tradition is essential to come up against these unfreedoms and to help liberate Africans from all that reduces, perverts or destroys life.

3. Central control: In South-East Asia (particularly South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore) highly centralised governments were able to exercise control in order to drive state-directed development plans, in partnership with the private sector, to beat poverty in a single generation. In Africa, while there is much talk of national development plans, many centralised elites use their power for self-enrichment through extractive, rather than inclusive, institutions. The Israelites in the wilderness considered returning to slavery in Egypt for the promise of food and security. At present in Africa, this trade-off is not even an option – increased elite control as impoverished people and not brought wealth (with the arguable exception of Rwanda). Africa cannot entrust its freedom to its leaders alone. There is a need for effective central government, but ultimately the people are the guardians of freedom and our governance institutions must reflect this.

We must avoid Joseph’s mistake of using the power he gained in Egypt to accumulate centrally-controlled land, livestock and wealth for Pharaoh at the expense of the people. He was called by God to hold food in reserve for the country so the country would not be ruined by the famine. He did feed Egypt and the nations, but he went beyond God’s call and also ended up building an empire for Pharaoh and reducing the people of Egypt into servitude. The people survived, but in many ways the country was ruined. This empire, and the power it gave Pharaoh, meant Joseph’s own people were enslaved a few generations after his death and had to be liberated by Moses in order to fulfil Abraham and Josephs’ dream of inheriting the Promised Land.

Ubuntu – restorative relationships
At the core of shalom is the restoration of relationships: our relationship with God, with others, with ourselves and within the ecosystem of creation. An Abundant Africa should be built around privileging relationship.

Africa’s deepest value is relational. Ubuntu means that “a person is a person through other people”. All humans are interdependent. We are human because we belong to, participate in and share our society. Maintaining social solidarity is a collective task. Ubuntu extends to caring for the natural ecosystems of which we are a fully dependent part. Its origins can be traced to the Bantu people of Southern, Central, East and West Africa, but the broader ubuntu philosophy is shared across the continent.

Ubuntu implies that a person can increase their fortunes by sharing with other members of society, thereby enhancing their status within a local community. The philosophy of ubuntu gives Africans a sense of pride, ownership, sharing and caring and motivates us to become better people. Everyone is considered to be important because they belong to our community. Ubuntu means that our abundance as Africans depends on the betterment of our communities and the environment, and promoting it is therefore vital for tackling poverty, political conflicts, injustice and environmental challenges. This can be done through showing empathy for others, sharing common resources and working cooperatively to resolve common problems.

Ubuntu, and its focus on communal obligations, can also form the moral foundation for accountability. As we cultivate an emphasis on agency, we also need to ensure that we are accountable to our communities for our actions. Those with the most agency owe their communities the greatest levels of accountability.

Ubuntu’s social solidarity expanded into political solidarity through the African liberation movements. This led to the development of Pan-African philosophy and the creation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in 1963. The OAU became the AU in 2002.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020/21 AU Chair, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, called for increased solidarity and a new social contract to be the foundation for economic activity as we recover from the effects of COVID-19.

The Spirit gives life
An Abundant African economy of life is not about rules, ideology, or presenting a blueprint for a Utopian state, but it is ultimately about relationship and obedience to the voice of God. We have identified guidelines from our reading of scripture and our context for making an Abundant Africa a reality. The Holy Spirit, the giver and sustainer of life, will have to help us use these guidelines as we struggle with the temptations of power and slipping into exploitative practices and deal with the complexities of human nature and ego. The Spirit of God will work through each of the people of
Africa to create an Abundant Africa.

In co-creating an Abundant Africa we understand that, like Joshua, we “have never been this way before” and so we need to focus on the presence of the Spirit of God among us to know the direction we need to travel. One of the ways we do that is by listening to one another’s stories and noting the green shoots of hope that emerge as signposts of new life and bring us closer to an Abundant Africa.