World Council of Churches Office of Communication
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31 August 1999


Africa stands on the threshhold of a re-birth, provided the continent can break free from the problems plaguing its nations since they gained their freedom from colonial rule, according to a paper prepared for the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches (WCC) meeting in Geneva August 26 - September 3.

The paper, coming from the WCC cluster "Issues and Themes", says that though the political burden of colonialism was overcome, the bright "African dream" quickly faded as national economies collapsed and new forms of tyranny exercised by corrupt governments enslaved the peoples. The "nation-states" established when the former colonies became independent actually continued colonial practices which were "incompatible with the interests and aspirations of the people of Africa".

Today, according to the paper, Africa may be compared to Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries: ready to begin a renaissance after a long period of cultural stagnation and oppression by outsiders. Included in this re-birth, it contends, are "renewed efforts and interest in the study of the nature and tenets of ‘African religion’". In the century to come, it predicts, "dialogue between African Religion and Christianity will certainly gather greater currency".

Liberation from colonialism left African nations weak, governed by leaders "too unpopular to face free elections". Soon many Africans found themselves under one-party rule, and "military coups d’etat or assassinations became the only alternative methods of change in ruling". The paper suggests that the intelligentsia of the new African nations "began to be ambiguous" and succumbed to the "patronage of political leadership", leaving virtually no one to "advocate for the poor and the oppressed".

Addressing a press briefing here August 31, Sam Kobia, director of the WCC’s Cluster on "Issues and Themes" said that during the Cold War, Africa and its nations became pawns, and that superpower manipulation of African states during that period "robbed the African people of the freedom and opportunity to establish their own systems and ways of government". A series of coups in the 1960s and 1970s was engineered by the superpowers because, according to Kobia, "it was not in the interests of the west or east to see democratic governments in Africa".

The WCC paper argues that the nation-state may not have been the proper political structure for the African nations. It cites historical analysts who contend that "the first generation of African leaders failed to re-establish vital inner links with the poor and dispossessed". With the continent a "battlefield of superpower rivalry... that led to the privatization of the state, which... became a formidable force, not to serve the interests of the people, a threat to their interests." The whole of African politics, shaped by the "nation-state" concept, then became a struggle for access to power - a struggle the paper describes as "brutal, intense and ruthless". The result has been bloody internal wars, marked by gruesome slaughters - in Rwanda, in Angola, and in Sierra Leone; the latter war being "sheer madness" characterized by "the most diabolical atrocities ever".

If the process is not stopped, the paper contends, further horrors lie ahead. "Already there is talk of mercenaries in the Democratic Republic of Congo, whose main interests are to benefit from the natural resources of the country," Kobia reports, citing "new forms of intervention" in the lives of African nations by outsiders or by Africans not accountable to any government or people.

He notes that churches around the world have long been involved in building democracy in Africa and finding ways to show solidarity with African Christians. Further reconstruction on the continent must, he says, "be informed by a communitarian ethic". This is a "precious virtue" in African life that must be "guarded carefully". It involves a person giving to the community and in return receiving from the community. It should generate a sense of interdependency in which "all members of the community have the task of mutually increasing the life force for the benefit of all".

Such a communitarian ethic should also inform social and political reconstruction, the paper says. It should be understood that with the end of apartheid in southern Africa, "the noble project of decolonization was achieved". Thus continuing "so-called struggles for liberation" should be questioned, and there must be a search for peace-making initiatives appropriate for the African context.

Africa is now ready for a re-birth, Kobia concludes. "The African people themselves have very rich ideas and experiences that they want to put into use for their own interests and aspirations." Moreover, freedom of expression is now widespread, which was not the case in the past. "There is talk of a new society where we see for the first time an interaction between the intelligentsia and the masses. This interaction allows for the sharing of knowledge and this augers well for the future."

For more information contact:
Karin Achtelstetter, Media Relations Officer
tel.: (+41 22) 791 6153 (office);
e-mail: media
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The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 336, in more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the assembly, which meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general secretary Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.