worldcouncil of churches

Eighth Assembly
Plenary: Ubuntu and the African Kairos
Document No. AF 1


Click to any of the following:

1. Annotated Agenda

2. Africa: The Footprint of God,
by N. Barney Pityana

3. A Letter to My Ancestors,
by Mercy Amba Oduyoye

4. Commitment to a Journey of Hope

Annotated Agenda

Welcome and introduction
The Plenary opens with a brief slide show against the backdrop of a rising sun over a giant map of Africa. African drumbeats provide the background music. As the slide show ends and drumbeats quieten, the Plenary Moderator, Dr. Aaron Tolen makes a five minute introduction.

Conversation on Ubuntu and the African Kairos 
On the stage are three presenters to engage in a dialogue meant to portray the conflict between two legacies - that of oppression and domination on the one hand, and that of resistance and struggle on the other. That should lead to the present situation where, in a very long time, Africa has the freedom to be free, the right not to be oppressed, and is therefore striving to define and determine her own future.

The stories are told through a skit by a Zimbabwean popular theater group (ZACT):

The stories cover economic, social and political issues as they affect life in Africa.

Brief Drumming and Singing

Analysis and Interpretation
Rev. Dr. Barney Pityana and Dr. Mercy Oduyoye to do the interpretation and analysis of the presentations (15 minutes each). The linkage between the lived experience and analysis should help to show the inter-relatedness of African and the global context. It also helps to balance methodology and content which include contemporary issues in Africa and the way Africa is dealing with them.

Plenary Discussion
The Moderator invites interventions from the floor. This could provide the delegates with opportunity for more sharing of personal testimonies. Questions and comments are also welcome.

Act of Commitment
Fifty-three African children, led by Miss Nyoni, enter the stage singing Nkosi Zikilela Africa. Each carries the flag of an African country to signify unity in diversity.

The plenary ends with an act of commitment - all Africans from the Continent and Diaspora to stand wherever they will be in the Plenary Hall, and commit themselves to work for a better Africa, and above all to say never again will Africa suffer the humiliation. In the act of commitment the Africans call on the Assembly to accompany them in their journey of hope. The rest of the delegates to respond by standing to join in singing Nkosi Zikilela Africa as a symbol of mutual solidarity.

End with sounds of drums from different parts of Africa from all corners of the plenary hall. Eventually the sounds blend as delegates leave the hall. The cultural evening follows the Africa Plenary and the two should be seen as two phases of the same process.

Africa: The Footprint of God
N. Barney Pityana

A set of fossil footprints was recently discovered at Langebaan in the West Coast of South Africa. Paleontologists estimate the footprints to be about 117,000 years old. And are considered to belong to some one who must have been an ancestor of modern humanity. These are among the oldest discovery of anatomically modern humans. This is part of the evidence that is being discovered by archeologists and pre-historians that Africa is the cradle of humanity and the birthplace of modern people.

Set against that recent dramatic discovery of ancient or even pre-ancient humanity is the encounter of the modern European visitors, later settlers, with Africa. In the 15th century European seamen stepped ashore, set foot on African soil and met the people of Africa. Their most dramatic discovery was that these people have no religion. They had no religion because there were no signs of religiosity: no temples or architecture of sacred places, no visible places set aside as holy, no moments devoted to worship, no postures that showed recognition of the divine. These people sang and danced and beat their drums with sensuous exhibitionism.

It is not surprising, therefore, that what was discovered in Africa is not evidence of worshiping ancient humanity but the very quintessence of being human, footprints. They left their imprint on their environment. They walked to gather food, to dominate their environment and to build relationships. Humanity walks. The culture and way of life of the ancient people is not discovered through religious artifacts but through the activity of being human. Fossils of ancient animals, plant and sea life, stone tools at least one million years old with which humanity fashioned life have been found in the gravels of the western Cape. Peer's Cave at Fish Hoek testifies to human life that goes back to about 500,000 years. The Fish Hoek Man discovered in 1927 among nine human skeletons were discovered, was aged about 12,000 years old. What all this says to me is that the people of Africa walked with God and God with them. The shape of the footprint resembles the geographical features of Africa. There can be no other footprints, no other evidence of God except by being at one with the activity of the people. The God of Africa is coterminous and coexistent with the people of Africa. God has no existence other than with the people. This God is weak and vulnerable because we have known no other God. This is the God who shares our human condition because God has no other existence but ours. We have only known God in the people of our everyday experience. There are no temples, no stone architecture, no holy places, no holy dress or holy moments. The entire activity of the people, their very being was a devotion to the deity who is the creator. To understand the people of Africa, therefore, requires a paradigm shift about God and religious life. Africa IS the footprint of God.

Discourse about Africa has to avoid the temptation of two extremes: the gloom and doom about a continent in perpetual crisis, a people who have been throughout modern history the targets of exploitation, where corruption and wars are rife and where the people suffer from every imaginable malady. A world without science or knowledge. Zephania Kameeta gives us the most dramatic example of this view of Africa from Keith Richburg, an African American journalist who has done service in the troubled spots of Africa:

Talk to me about Africa and my black roots and my kinship with my African brothers and I'll throw it back in your face, and then I'll rub your nose in the images of the rotting flesh But most of all I think: Thank God my ancestor got out, because now I am not one of them.
The other extreme is one associated with the famous African American scholar, Manning Marable. Marable has studies ancient civilization of Africa. He is focused on what Africa has given to modern civilization. Africa as the cradle of humanity, the fountain of ancient scholarship and science and culture, the great Africans who have shaped the history of knowledge and civilization. Its an amazing uncovering of history from an African perspective where Africa is the subject and not the object of history and where the tools of interpretation are in the hands of the African as interpreter of his own history, the teller of his own story. The problem with this is that it fails to take account of the fact that Africa is no longer visible, it has been drowned out in the misery and suffering and exploitation that has become the lot of many in Africa today. Colonization has robbed Africa of its soul. The other problem is that one is inclined to blame everyone else for the fate of Africa except Africans themselves. Africa need not take responsibility for their condition, their politics, their economy and their culture. There are forces at work, the deus ex machina reeking its devilish power on a hapless continent and its people. This is the theory of victimology and we must avoid it.

What I am offering is a mean between the two extremes: not falling for the gloom and cynicism of her detractors or the glorification of her past by her admirers. I use faith as an interpretative tool of the heart and soul of Africa. The image of the footprints is the one that tells me that the people of Africa have journeyed and labored with God over centuries. They are the people of faith. It is the faith that has sustained them. The faith that is part of their daily and ordinary lives. It is their faith that says that God dwells in the midst of them. God walks with them and suffers with them. God is not the ultimate explanation for the people are the explanation of their environment and their circumstances. It is always interesting that African people never blame God for their suffering. Theodicy is not the philosophy of our religion. Every effect has a cause and the search for meaning and explanation means that diviners are kept in business because they can see beyond the elemental world. Evil does not just happen, it is caused; often by human evil and ultimately by evil forces beyond human understanding. Humanity has the power of good and evil.

Africans journeyed with God and God tabernacled in their midst. God was incarnate They were sustained by faith and they lived in faith. Their cosmology linked the past and the present and the future through the ancestors. The spirits of the ancestors were forever present mediating and intervening in life's fortunes. This view of life meant that African people were a tolerant people. Yes, they fought wars, had heroes and heroines. Yes, the dominant groups oppressed the less powerful. That was the law of nature. But those who lived under their protection were accepted and the stranger was assured hospitality. That explains why the people of Africa were colonized. They were accepting and welcoming of strangers. They were vulnerable to forces that failed to understand their ways of life. The religions of the world found a home in Africa. No culture was totally alien. It became part of the whole and found expression in the culture of the Continent. That is why we have a mix of cultures and religions in Africa today. The people of Africa journey with God in faith.

But this faith is in crisis and may even be the cause of the crisis of the Continent. African people are not anymore good or bad that any other people the world over. They seek better systems of life for themselves and their children. They dream of freedom, of better opportunities of life and the means to extend their life choices. They have witnessed governments and systems come and go. Powerful men have lorded it over them and when their time came they bit the dust. There is a cycle of life that is as predictable as it is inevitable. And so the faith of Africa has always been tied up with humanity. People have always shaped her fortunes. Faith is in crisis because confidence in people has been shaken, betrayed. God seems to have deserted the people of Africa. The God who instilled hope in tragedy and sustained the future is no longer in the midst of them. The people have been left to merciless ravenous forces. We have sought like the Israelites to be like the other nations forgetting that in our midst dwells the God who journeys with us. We have built walls of division and hostility one from the other; we have built armies and frittered away resources on instruments of destruction. We have turned our weapons on our own people and destroyed one another in fratricidal wars. The wealth of our nations has been bargained in the global markets with scant regard for the needs of our own people. Our leaders have stolen from us only to bank our money in Europe. We are burdened with debt. In such circumstances, the faith of the ancestors needs a re-incarnation. But we have been there before.

I said that I was merely devising an interpretative tool and not indulging in apologetics. It seems to me that that tool will take us back to the people of Africa and their faith in God. The challenges we face are threefold: eradicating poverty, establishing democracy, human rights and good systems of governance and, finally, setting standards for a moral universe.

I start with poverty not because I wish to indulge in the politics of gloom about Africa. Although I accept that Africa must take responsibility for her management of her affairs, one cannot lose sight of the fact that poverty is not a natural condition of humanity. It is man-made. It is man-made because poverty is the result of policy options that have been taken which impoverish some and enrich others. Inasmuch as poverty is man-made, so also do I believe that poverty can be eradicated. The Human Development Report 1997 puts it succinctly:

Eradicating poverty everywhere is more than a moral imperative and a commitment to human solidarity. It is a practical possibility and, in the long run, an economic imperative for global prosperity. And because poverty is no longer inevitable, it should no longer be tolerated. The time has come to eradicate the worst aspects of human poverty in a decade or two to create a world that is more humane, more stable, more just. (106)
This confident assertion is a very hopeful sign. With goodwill and the political will poverty can be eradicated. Some 220m people in sub-Saharan Africa earn less than $1 per day, 122m with functional illiteracy, 205m have no access to safe drinking water and 205m have no access to health facilities. This trend should and can be reversed within our lifetime. It can be done if corruption in the management of public resources is eliminated. Corruption is theft from the poor. It can be done if national priorities in the distribution of available resources are restructured so that there is evident bias for the poor in public policy. In other words, it can be done if there is the political will. It can be done if globalization and the curse of the markets are controlled and managed to benefit the most needy and genuine interdependence and burden sharing in trade policies is adopted. It can be done in a less selfish world. It can be done if the poor do not have to carry a crippling debt burden. It can be done. Poverty is a curse to humanity. The 1998 Human Development Report has identified trends in consumption as one of the patterns of modern life that will need to be altered if humanity can address the challenge of eradicating poverty.

The second challenge I have pointed to is democracy, human rights and good governance. Of course, poverty cannot be eradicated, corruption will not be eliminated except on the basis of truly democratic policies, and sensitivity and responsiveness to human need, in short, good governance. These aspirations express the vision of African states who in the preamble to the Charter of the OAU founded in 1963, determined that "freedom, equality, justice and dignity are essential objectives for the achievement of the legitimate aspirations of African peoples " The African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, adopted in 1981, sets out a uniform and minimum standard of achievement for African peoples based on the "virtues of their historical tradition and the values of African civilization which should inspire and characterize their reflection on the concept of human and peoples' rights." In his report to the General Assembly, Kofi Annan refers to the resurgent spirit of Africa that seeks to address meaningfully and honestly the patterns of the past. Among these he mentions human rights and the rule of law as the cornerstones of good governance. An Africa committed to good governance, free participation of the people in the government of their country, an interaction between the governed and those who govern by consent, a commitment to root out corruption and to ensure accountability at all times will ensure long-term stability, prosperity and people for all its peoples. This is how Kofi Annan puts it:

Africa must summon the will to take good governance seriously, ensuring respect for human rights and the rule of law, strengthening democratization, promoting transparency and capability in public administration. Unless good governance is prized, Africa will not break free of the threat and reality of conflict that are so evident today.
Questions continue to linger about the most appropriate forms of democracy for Africa today. Since the heyday of multiparty elections, the dismantling of one-party states and Presidents-for Life since the end of the Cold War, questions abound not only about "the vitality, quality' and relevance of the kind of democratic transition that is taking place but also about its sustainability and the prospects for consolidation/ institutionalization of the reforms that have been put in place." (Olukoshi: 10) These are all legitimate questions, answers to which could help ensure a more durable political and social dispensation and one which the peoples of Africa could own and therefore defend.

My third challenge is a call to moral regeneration of the Continent and its peoples. In a sense this is an over-arching concern because it is fundamental to all our concerns. An ethical orientation of life is a necessary condition for a society based on good governance and that protects the human rights of citizens. Such a society will respond positively to the moral imperative to address the incidence of poverty and inequality. A moral society will also be the one that seeks to approximate as much as possible the will of God in human dealings and in then organization of society. The cause of Africa is never going to be served by prevailing moral relativism and selectivity. There must be some common, shared and abiding values that bind us together for all time. The mark of a great people is their capacity to wrestle with the moral challenges of their time and lay the foundations for the good society for this and future generations. We are at our most human when we display moral sensitivity. That is the mark of ubuntu, the creed that has held many Africans to an ideal that affirms one's humanity as being tied up with the humanity of others. The greatest gift we can bequeath to future generations to a world that is more not less human, more caring and more loving.

That is what the parable of the fossilized footprints tells me. It says to me that God is great not because God is powerful but because God has chosen to dwell among us ordinary sinful people. That is the hope that Africa is ready to share with the world. As the ecumenical movement returns to the great Continent since Nairobi, 1975, it will find Africa yearning for peace and more confident about the future. The Africa full of faith and hope.


Human Development Report 1997 and 1998; UNDP
Echoes: Justice, Peace and Creation 14/98; Geneva: WCC
Adebayo O Olokushi (Ed): The Politics of Opposition; Uppsala: Nordiska Afrikainstitutet; 1998
Kofi Annan: The Causes of Conflict and the Promotion of Durable Peace and Sustainable Development in Africa; United Nations General Assembly; Doc A/52/871-S/1998/318.

From Cover to Core: A Letter to My Ancestors
Mercy Amba Oduyoye

Dear Ancestors,

Once again the World Council of Churches is in Africa, and we the children of this soil are trying to show them round our home, the heritage from God which you preserved for us. Last time this council was here we dramatized our history and our humanness in the play "Muntu", indeed some of you were then in the flesh. Today, as I pour these words to you like a libation, my heart and soul are full of grief and hope, quite conflicting, but that is the truth. You see, I have just heard the hurt of your children. I am re-living in my bones and hearing in my ears the voices of the pain of the "family-ghosts of the Middle Passage".(1) No wonder that Ali Mazrui says that you are angry with us.(2) True, often we find that we are angry at ourselves and continue to vow "Never Again". But even as we say "never again" and defeat apartheid, we find ourselves reaping the whirlwind of racism at every turn. We yearn to be authentic, we yearn to discover the strength with which you resisted total obliteration of what you had received from your forebears and indeed of the total annihilation of our kind from this soil. We yearn to rediscover your wisdom, for who knows but that we may glean insights and inspiration for our contemporary struggles and dilemmas for we too resist total absorption into an euro-centered global culture we have not helped to shape. We know you have something to say to us.

I remember you Anowa, you had taught us how to live in harmony with ourselves and with the rest of creation.

I remember you Creator, that moving away from the smoke and fire created by man, you charged woman to teach her sons to honor God and to apologize when they have wronged others.

I remember you, God of Many Names, you taught us to seek reconciliation when we fall into strife, you gave us padare where we can have our palavers.

Honorable ancestors, our land knows a lot of strife and I have just seen and heard more. We grieve for you as we grieve for ourselves. But it seems in the very turmoil and decay, that is Africa, is the seed of the New Africa determined to sprout so that Africa might make her own unique contribution to the global community.

Dear ancestors, you had a religion, you were led by the Creator. Some of you like Nehanda, held on to it even with your dying breath. Some of you enhanced it with tenets from Islam, others of you enriched it with Christianity and many of you struggled to abandon it totally and taught that we too should abandon that African Religion outright. But you preserved the essentials of the religion ingrained in the culture you passed those on to us. I am not complaining. We too are creative beings, so we have taken the challenge to craft a Christianity that does not obliterate our Africanness, but rather contributes to its enrichment globally. We make bold to seek the new, for if we are afraid of positive change we shall be over taken by decay and simply perish from the face of the earth as a distinct people.

Did you not say that the one who is blazing a trail does not know that the path behind is crooked? We too have to take the responsibility for the choices we make. Nevertheless I have an urgent need to tell those of you who opted for Christ that, we who followed your foot steps continue to grieve the Holy Spirit. You remember how Jesus , our spiritual ancestor prayed that we may have peace, and how he wished us fullness of life. This was nearly 2,000 years ago. The world has known very little peace. For us in Africa, the only peace we have known in the past 500 years is that which comes from acquiescing in our own dehumanization. I am not unmindful that some of you resisted the imposition and paid with your earthly lives.

I can hear Anowa say "enough is enough". I see Jesus weep to see our inability to identify and adhere to that which makes for our peace. Our refusal to stay under his motherly wings gives him grave sorrow for the hawkers hovering around us are ready to sell us any and all ideologies and world views as long as they line their pockets and feed their racism. It was not too long ago the Western media was telling us that Africa has been "abandoned". We did our own analysis and steeled ourselves up, for we came to know the reality of the siphoning of Africa's resources by Trans-national corporations and the newly named fad "globalization". We know the economic exploitation which promotes the misery of Africa, as Africans enrich the West and increasingly the East too. We seek a way out and a way forward and we count on you our ancestors to accompany us through out. Today, we are reminded that:

" It is not the material poverty that constitutes the biggest problem of Africa in the bid for social transformation. It is the lack of a vital inner force, a moral will and a capacity for sustained initiatives in the struggle for positive change" (3)
We have been through liberation struggles that you know so well. Today we continue where you left off...retrieving our lost humanity. Today, it is our very humanity that is being belittled and overlooked by the powerful ones, both internal and external. Today we aspire to a cultural liberation by distilling and incorporating the valuable norms you tried to preserve.

This is why I make bold to pour these words to you, my ancestors. I am convinced that both our African and our Christian heritages as well as the Islamic, have something to say to us. Even the Western heritage may be gleaned for a positive contribution. Was it not you who said "Tete wo bi ka, tete wo bi kyere? [the past has something to say: the past has something to teach"]. But the past has nothing to impose.

Do hear me out a little my ancestors in Jesus. What has the Christian past to teach us as we struggle with our contemporary realities? Can we find a healthy and healthy-giving Christianity in Africa? Well, say something. OK! You too have questions to ask. You ask: What are we doing in our community based organizations? Are we carefully examining the concepts of structural adjustment, of liberalization, of privatization, or do we contain our efforts within "rescuing the perishing and caring for the dying"? I hear you urging us on "Go beyond changing, transforming, reconstructing so you might continuously nurture, enhance, build and sustain beautiful lives in beautiful environments. That is the way to claim our descent.

You call us to the need to face the impunity with which we violate the humanity of others. How right you are. We are promising ourselves a new day. We have begun with gender-sensitivity and gender equity. If only the churches will develop awareness of women's perspectives, involvements and contribution we would not lose so much potential. Whatever the context and agenda, you call us to pay particular attention to those whom the world consider "marginal". New voices will help shape the new Africa. We have vowed to help bring an end to social exclusions in our communities; so why not begin in the Church? Jesus you specifically prayed that we be one , just see what we have made of unity on this continent. We have promised ourselves to develop ecumenically-minded leadership, to replace our confessional fundamentalism with the zeal for joint-work in mission. We shall not be partners only, but companions, a people walking the Emmaus road with you.

My esteemed forebears, in 1970 David Barrett made a statement that till today fills me with fear and trembling. He wrote under a title "AD 2,000, 350 Million Christians in Africa" I can see you smile because you told us that "If might were right, the elephant would be king of the forest".(4) What does this numerical strength represent? What sort of Christianity? I thought of the onion that once disappointed me to the core of my being; it held a theological message. This big perfectly shaped glossy-skinned fruit of the earth, had a hollow center. The life sustaining growth point had dried up. So I ask , What is the theology and spirituality at the core of African Christianity, dried, rotten or alive? Our claim to relevance depends on the answer.

Today what fills me with fear and trembling is that Africa is perceived and treated as marginal in all spheres of world concerns except as a source of wealth for others and in matters of faith. Both Islam and Christianity run high on the crest of visibility as people grope for shalom. So the concerned observer is bound to ask: What faith? What practice? What theology ? What Church? Now ancestor Blyden, I do not know if you remember, but you once prophesied concerning Africa that will become the spring of spirituality for the whole world.(5) I do not know whether we are entering into the heritage of this prophesy. What I do know is my own question on which you may perhaps enlighten me. "How can Christianity in spite of its 19th century legacy of Western impact become a frame of reference for the expression of African ideals of life?"

Living with our history we declare the 20th century as Africa's Christian century. You will bear us out that even though the churches of the first Christian centuries were concentrated on the shores of this continent, this century that is closing, has seen more dramatic presence of Christianity. The Church has grown, yes, but it seems little has changed from 1951 when it was said that

"the Church has grown evangelically without corresponding theological, liturgical and economic maturity." This "lamentable" situation needs to be addressed with all intentionality." There is an understandable concern that under the stress of political and social change, organized Christianity may start to disintegrate at the center while it is still expanding at the circumference.(6)
Well, honorable forebears, you know that we are expanding, there are many more churches, many more expatriate missionaries, many more charismatic movements and many more people who confess Christ as their personal savior. There are many who leave it to The Christ to deal with their enemy, The Devil, and to dispel the fear of some of you whom they had demonized or are beginning to do so. We too want to leave behind a path of faith and on that we shall faithfully work.

We do not deceive ourselves. When we protest the dismal image of Africa projected in the Western media, we do so fully aware of our own complicity and domestic exploitation. Bessie Head has observed that " the roots of cheating and stealing" is that of "despising the people". People at the helm of affairs in Africa or related to Africa say the people "know nothing simply because they do not read and write".(7) We despise ourselves as others despise us, while we proclaim that wisdom does not come from reading and writing many books. We are aware of our "social defects". We experience or inflict

"a form of cruelty, really spite, that seems to have its origins in witchcraft practices. It is a sustained pressure of mental torture that reduces its victims to a state of permanent terror. And once they start on you they don't know where to stop, until you become stark, raving mad. Then they grin."(8)
In the second half of this century, as in the first, we have seen politicians, colonial, civilian and military do this to those who challenge them. In another context this is a picture of the economic strangulation of Africa by global monetary powers which makes Mazrui ask "Is there life after debt?"(9)

If we cannot live through victorious, then we are not your children. It is in the midst of all this monetary witchcraft that Mazrui assures us that Africa does have a leverage for we possess what he calls "counter power". Counter power is defined as "power exercised by those who in absolute terms, are weaker, upon those who are by absolute measurements are stronger" For he says there is power even in being a debtor; for "the threat of default makes the creditor vulnerable."(10) There is a mutual indebtedness which the Christian lobby says can only be resolved by forgiveness of debts. What else does the Church of Africa say or do with regard to this economic situation which seems to be at the core of the denigration of our humanity.(11) In 1995, the AACC called a consultation on "Democracy and Development in Africa: The Role of the Churches". The proceedings were subsequently edited and published by J.N.K. Mugabi. In this volume we find some hints for our quest.

Nananom, you are around us and so you are witness to the fact that political sagesse on the part of religious bodies is at a very low ebb in Africa. The dramatic discontinuation of the structures that served you has not served us well and where they continue, they are often in conflict with the imposed Westernization. We still have the Churches and the mosques. They have the opportunity to touch the lives of people at the least on a weekly basis not to talk of the daily and the one on one encounters with these living roots of our nations. But one still asks " How is this availability of the people utilized?"

Political parties use their opportunities to cultivate people to rally around the interests of the party said also to be the best interest of the nation. But the results are ambiguous, for while mouthing the needs of the people, our political leaders are forced to implement "externally induced projects of democratization and population control"; economic structural adjustments that pass on the responsibility to stay alive on the people themselves and their community efforts named "Civil Society" are the demands of globalization. My ancestors, I am puzzled. "To what purposes are our taxes beyond the maintenance of armies and an ill-equipped police force?" The complex political and economic challenges overwhelmed us and have resulted in social decay that send people scrambling for the spiritual support. "What is the Churches response?"

The consultation just mentioned, warns clearly that "It is deceptive and dangerous to preach a Gospel of Prosperity in the midst of massive poverty." It is deceptive because we do not bring the people to an analysis of the "socio-structural constraints that prevent many African communities from enjoying descent living by any standards".(12) It is dangerous because we claim that religion is "an agent of welfare" but do not empower the people to seek this welfare. And above all it is deceptive to continue to teach that religion and politics do not mix, when both claim to cater for the welfare of the people. It is deceptive because while on this side of the grave, we dare not separate body and soul hence we have to see to it that religion serves our humanity.

Beloved ancestors, you gave up your people for labor, then you gave up the land to be colonized. You were the first to experience the globalization of our economy. You moved from maize to coffee to satisfy the trade terms. You were forced out of traditional statecraft and made your way into modern statehood and "the blackening" of the UNO in the 1960s.(13) In the process, we, your children have been incorporated into an Euro-centered world culture. I am not saying all is unambiguously bad. By the imperial languages some of us your children can communicate beyond our mother tongue. But whether we speak these tongues or not we find ourselves bound by Euro-centric "international" laws we did not help to craft. I knew you would say, "But you can change some of these". We have to shed the carefully groomed inferiority we experience when faced with Western science and technology. I know you will point out that technology has no race and that several have entered its ambit who are not of European descent and who knew no colonization. Yes I agree and would even add, "so have some erstwhile colonial peoples". Nothing prevents us from joining the latter.

You, our ancestors have asserted your continued presence to make us work, so you too can feel at home in global Christianity. No longer shall we join in demonizing you in translations and in theologising. We realize today, that cultural and religious pluralism is a global reality. We affirm therefore that taking this factor seriously demands that we take African Religion seriously. Those of us who are Christians shall learn to be both authentically African and authentically Christian. The challenge is to strife to contribute to World Christianity and a Christian Ecumenism.

We crave dissent so while we take a critical distance from local cultures, which find dehumanizing, we shall remain true to our African heritage. This means all externally stimulated change has to be minutely examined, for we too have a responsibility to contribute to the changing and the shaping of world history and culture.

You heard the life stories that I heard today. We are faced with how to reduce the West's stranglehold over Africa. The marked Euro-centrism of the past five hundred years has meant that world-culture too bears its marks. We need to strive more intentionally to build on the values you crafted from your experience. We need a totally new vision of ourselves and a positive outlook that will generate innovative perspectives. Both Idowu and Mazrui describe Africa as a woman. I forgive their sexism. Mazrui describes Africa as a woman with the expression "the female continent" - passive, patient and penetrable".(14) In his African Traditional Religion: a Definition, Idowu compares what the powerful nations expect of Africa with what most societies expect of women:

"Where she behaves herself according to prescription and accepts an inferior position, benevolence which her poverty' demands is assured, and for this she shows herself deeply and humbly grateful. If for some reason she takes it into her head to be assertive and claim a footing of equality, then she brings upon herself a frown; she is called names; she is persecuted openly or by indirect means; she is helped to be divided against herself..."(15)
As women resent these stereotypes so Africa must refuse this female typology. We have participated in changing the world. We took part in evangelizing Africa, right from the inception of Christianity as well as during later centuries. It is our duty to identify our contribution to help posterity build up their self-esteem.

At the moment we continue bound under the western sphere of influence and seem unable to highlight our interdependence so as to build up the self-esteem of our children. The West continues involvement in how we run our economies and prosecute our politics because they need us for a market and for investment space. Our resources helped to develop their world so we can make them strengthen our regional structures. We can and must think Pan-African. We can and must think and work for change. We've done it in South Africa where we rescued our humanness from the jaws of racism. How will South Africa use this new-born dignity in Africa and globally?

The world extracts minerals from Africa and we have a numerical power in the UNO. Should we not use this to make the Trans-National Corporations more responsible? It seems to me that through the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, the world community has sacralized money and put it even higher than the political state. Could we in Africa keep our diamonds, gold and oil in the bowels of the earth, if we cannot make them speak for the good of Africa? We have become heavily Christianized, could we engage in influencing the shape of global Christianity or at least develop our own distinctive African practice and articulation of the faith? Who knows but that others may find our's speaking to them or at least we shall enhance and enrich the diversity and the variety of ways of living out the faith. We would be contributing to shaping the history of Christianity and demonstrate the universal import of the coming of Jesus the Christ. Western Christianity has in the main been a de-Africanising power, but that does not need to continue. You our ancestors expect us to do better than that. So with you among the great cloud of witnesses I call upon my sisters and brothers of African descent to conversion and commitment we cannot afford to do less.

A call to conversion and commitment

Return to ourselves as we Turn to God so we can move forward with integrity.
Never again shall we walk on tiptoe.
Never again shall we suffer humiliation.
Re-assert indigenous African ways that have seeds of humanization for all humanity.
Refuse laws that serve the interest of lawmakers to the woe of the people
Never again shall we be plagued with coups and religious strife.
Never again shall we condone the cultural de-Africanization from outside.
Refuse westernization that comes in the guise of Christianization.
Never again shall we be silent in the face of opportunistic foreign policies as in open markets and liberalization that sell our heritage to all bidders for a pot of porridge.
Never again shall we buy into the transplantation of foreign life styles without the appropriate soil in which they can make us prosper.
Recoil from inefficiency, mismanagement corruption and our narrow definitions of who belongs and who is our community.
Never again shall we be satisfied with living as hunters and gatherers with no maintenance and creative culture and a resignation to death and decay of infra-structure.
We vow to you and to ourselves before this great cloud of global witnesses seen and unseen.
Never again shall we walk on tip-toe around the globe which is God's world and our common heritage.


1. From Howardena Pindell Auto-biography Water/Ancestors/Middle Passage/Family Ghosts 1988 a painting used in The Black Aesthetics African American Arts at the Wadsworths Atheneum. 1998 Calendar, for the month of October.
2. I have had the probes of Ali A Mazrui into African culture in mind as I do this analysis of the meaning of our contemporary experiences in Africa believing, like him, that Africa is at a critical phase in which culture must take the center stage. See his book and video The Africans: a triple heritage, Little, Brown and Company, Boston & Toronto, 1986.
3. From the WCC staff paper on the "Africa Plenary" for the 8th Assembly of the WCC, Harare 1998.
4. David Barrett, IRM, vol.159, No. 233, London, 1970, pp. 39-54.
5. Blyden, Edward Wilmot, "Ethiopia Stretching Out Her Hands to God or Africa's Service to the World" in Christianity, Islam and the Negro Race, Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 1967, p. 124; see Kwame Bediako, Christianity in Africa, Edinburgh University Press, & Orbis Books, 1995, p. 6-14.
6. The Missionary Factor in East Africa, 2nd edition, Longmans, 1951.
7. Bessie Head, A Question of Power, Heinemann, Oxford, 1974, p. 133.
8. Bessie Head, op. cit., p. 137.
9. Mazrui, p. 314.
10. Mazrui p. 314-5
11. I understand a denigration as de-nigration, an attempt to "whiten" our humanity, obliterate our Africanness, to make us the shadow of others.
12. Mugambi, p. 33.
13. Ruth Engo speaking on "The UNO and Africa" at a conference on Africa held at Stony Point, USA in 1998.
14. Mazrui, p.303.
15. E. B. Idowu, African Traditional Religion : A Definition, p. 77.

Commitment to a Journey of Hope


Before you O God, the Creator of the universe, the pain bearer and the life giver, in the presence of our ancestors, and the people from all corners of the world,

We affirm, on this very soil which you bestowed upon us as a gift to keep from generation to generation,
Our faith is renewed in your name, for in you all our sadness and pain shall be turned into joy and hope!

We know that by turning to God our foreparents were able to survive, to resist slavery and depopulation, colonial occupation and cultural decadence, religious and ideological invasion, and to praise God in joy and hope even in the midst of their suffering.

These are stories of life and dignity, courage and sacrifice, which inspired the founding fathers and mothers of Pan-Africanism and the pioneers of African independence.

We recover this reality today and offer it to the next generation.

We listen with our hearts to what the Spirit is seeking from the churches and to the response of God's people in Africa today.

Out of the freedom of the Spirit we have become sons and daughters of God, for we did not receive a spirit that leads us back to slavery and fear.

So we shall refuse to be ruled by decree nor be held hostage by the powers and principalities of this world.

We shall not be enslaved by anyone or anything anymore. Nothing will take us back to the days of oppression and exploitation.

By turning to you O God we shall be drawn towards each other. We shall rebuild from the ruins of the past a new vision of life and equity to give hope to our people.

In our own right and on behalf of all the sons and daughters of this great continent, witnessed by this ecumenical assembly, we reclaim our dignity as people of Africa in the continent and in diaspora.

We share the same identity with the rest of humanity and affirm our special place in the history of humankind.


Let those who say that Africa is hopeless be made aware that we are God's people called to rejoice in hope.

This very fertile land into which we have been placed is rich in gold and silver, and in the oil which nurtures and provides energy to humankind. It is a sacred ground full of the heritage and origins of life.

But our people remain poor and are weighed down with the great burden of debt. And we watch with dismay the overwhelming laws of global trade raiding and dumping our precious goods.

Before God the Creator and in the presence of God's people, we proclaim the year of the Lord!

We call for the cancellation of debt

So that our land is freed to produce enough for our children.

And that any future borrowing shall be done with the consent of our people. Only then shall we be responsible to receive and to repay.

Let the Spirit of God come upon us and change our hearts and condition that we too may not become a living burden to ourselves and the people we serve.

May the God of life guide our feet and our minds for we do not want to travel this road of hope in vain.

We, the African people, together with the church in this Assembly, acknowledge that corruption is a global reality and that it is rife in many of our institutions and governments.

Corruption is a sin with immoral and criminal consequences. We repent this sin in our midst and, as we seek God's forgiveness, we resolve to weed it out and to restore integrity in all our institutions. We also recognize, and abhor, the trends in globalization that promote corruption and breed poverty among our people.



We, the people and churches in Africa, give thanks for the manifold blessings bequeathed upon us by God.

We acknowledge that African leaders have committed crimes against their own kith and kin in the past and at present times.

We repent now of our sins against each other and beseech you O God to heal our land and deliver us from all evil.

Our hearts are yearning to be freed from despair so that we may endure in faith, because of God's promise to restore our dignity and fulfil all our dreams.

May God grant us the wisdom and knowledge to harness the growing public goodwill towards a new vision of life for our people in Africa and for the rest of the world.

Let us renew our faith in the God of love in whom our future is safe and our grief is turned into great joy.

We, African people on the continent and in the diaspora,
Having been reminded afresh of our difficult past.
But, inspired by the stories of resistance with courage and sacrifice of our foreparents,
And empowered by the signs of hope such as increasing acceptance of democratic governance, the end of the apartheid regime, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa,
We hereby renew our commitment to reconstruct and rebuild our communities and work tirelessly for a future of Africa full of life in abundance. We commit ourselves to

continue the unfinished task of transforming our social, political and economic systems and institutions for an inclusive and just society

seek and pursue peace and reconciliation for our people and communities;

establish appropriate ethical values in work, governance and management, and good stewardship;
do everything in our means to overcome the scourge of HIV/AIDS;

affirm the right of African children to hope for a bright future which we shall help to work out with all our strength and all our ability;

We therefore renew our covenant with God in fulfilling these promises and invite men and women of goodwill, and especially this Assembly, to accompany us in this journey of hope.

Even though some have put us last, as the cradle of humanity, we know God loved us first. Even though some reject us, we shall nevertheless welcome the rest of humanity in the household of God.

For we shall turn to God again, and rejoice in hope.


Deliberative plenaries
8th Assembly and 50th Anniversary
copy right 1998 WorldCouncil of Churches. Remarks to: webeditor