Not too long ago, I was privileged to attend a conference organized by a group of Africans and African Americans in Washington D.C. The theme of the conference was about reviving the spirit of pan-Africanism in the continent and among the Diaspora.
First to speak was the Gambian Ambassador to the United States. After him, the most eloquent and brilliant Professor Gregory Carr of Howard University made a succinct presentation on the role of the Diaspora in fostering development in the Motherland. As the lecture progressed, it became the turn of a renowned African American Bishop to present his paper titled, “God as the Panacea to the African Crises.” The Bishop viewed Africa’s economic, social and political crisis from a purely spiritual perspective. He berated the Black man for being the cause of his current predicament. The African brought curses upon himself, the Bishop said, by daring to build a tower of Babel that would grant him unparalleled access to God.
By that singular act of attempting to reach the heavens and assume equality with God, the descendants of Nimrod – the mastermind of the plot – who today are found in black Africa, are forever destined to live a life of mediocrity. “No form of blue print, development agenda or efforts will succeed in moving the race forward” the Bishop declared to the depressed audience. The Bishop called for intense, genuine and widespread repentance by Africans if they hope to ever access the blessings of God, as bestowed on other races.
What resulted from the Bishop’s submission was a heated and much divisive argument. Participants began to take sides on whether every effort geared towards Africa’s development, short of going to the smote the altar with tears would be worth the while. As tempers flared, and reason became secondary to emotion, the major theme of the conference – Africa’s economic advancement – became submerged in a flood of religious bigotry. A curious bystander would have done well to describe the gathering as a conference organized solely for the purpose of ironing out religious differences by aggrieved parties.
Karl Marx described religion as the opium of the masses, an illusion of happiness, the soul of a soulless nation and the heart of a heartless people. Nothing captures this statement more succinctly than the events which played out at the conference. For the purpose of clarification, I, like most Africans I know, believe in God and worship Him in a way I hold true. However, I believe that God has given us the wisdom to think, act and deliberate, to brainstorm and come up with practical ways to address the issues facing Africa today. To convert a forum designed for the generation of creative ideas that would move the continent forward, into one of debating elementary spiritual persuasions bespeaks of cowardice, fear of the enormity of the task ahead, and a subsequent resignation to the illusion of an African paradise, possible only by some direct supernatural intervention.
Like several people who are concerned about the state of Africa, I prayed earnestly for the continent that morning before leaving my house for the venue of the conference. I went to the conference, clutching my pen, paper, and the hope of gaining further insight into the challenges of the continent from the panel of experts drawn from various fields. Had I the slightest inkling of what would become of the conference, I would have gone to my place of worship to spend the day on my knees, soaked in tears and in deep groaning for the continent.
Any prayer that leaves 100% responsibility for its fulfillment to God is an irresponsible prayer. Africans are won’t to resort to the supernatural, “leaving everything in the hands of God” while refusing to think and believe that they are to be used to correct the anomalies around them.
Prayer is an unparalleled spiritual exercise; we draw strength and guidance from God to set us on course to be the best of who and what we can ever be. In this instance then, Africans are at an advantage because we still recognize the existence of the spiritual realm, and have not rationalized it away. But why then are we not using this belief to our advantage? Why are we not drawing strength from God to say no to bribing a police officer or custom official? Why are we not leaning on God’s patience to queue up at service centers? Why are we not putting our faith in the Most High not to inflate invoice figures or cheat during exams? Why do we not tap into the Wise One’s store of knowledge to develop indigenous systems and processes that will outwit Western imported models? Why do we call on God day and night to restore the pride of the Black race, while we search desperately for avenues to short change ourselves at the slightest inclination? How long are we going to call upon God, while He is calling upon us to arise and build, to stand and think and act, to start investing in our continent and people and quit developing other people’s economies, to make peace instead of war, to quit bribing the authorities, stealing, cheating and to fight for the cause of the oppressed?
I believe in religion, especially when it spurs you into positive action. I also believe in giving everything its due place. Prayer sessions and spiritual campaigns for the continent ought to be a constant thing in the life of Africans. But when it is time to think, to act, to stand up and say no, then let us realize that we are in the battle front. The soldier prays before going to war, he is not on his knees while surrounded by enemies; he draws his sword and fights for his life. Africans are highly spiritual and that should translate to a life of creativity, innovation and discipline, not otherwise.
Trust in God by Africans ought to negate fear of man, and the fear of Europe and America that leads to the current complete dependence on them. Trust in God means a belief to be fruitful and multiply, to think for ways to create wealth from the environment in which God has placed us. God will use Africans who are disciplined, diligent, and innovative in the area of life in which they are thrust, such as psychology, farming, carpentry, sociology, medicine, economics and politics, to bring advancement to the continent, and not otherwise.