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Worldview

How does a society’s worldview and/or religious beliefs affect development?

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Understanding African Problems from the Roots to the Fruits

WCIU Journal: Worldview Topic

February 07, 2018

by Chris Ampadu,

Africa, the pleasant continent of promise, has been perceived as a dark and cursed continent. But is Africa cursed? Most of the world is acquainted with only the bad news of Africa: wars, sicknesses, pain, poverty, hunger, famine, and deprivation. On the continent, many have given up hope. With the massive assistance and support that Africa has received, coupled with the enormous natural resources at her disposal, why has the continent not emerged from her predicaments? Though external factors such as colonialism, the slave trade, and global trade balances have taken their toll on Africa, the biggest obstacle to the continent’s development and progress is internal.

Obviously, there is a need to probe further to find the reason why, after so much has been given to the continent in various forms of assistance, progress has been very slow. There is a need to go to the roots of African problems. Some writers locate the root of Africa’s problems in such issues as incompetent leadership, infrastructural inadequacies, widespread illiteracy, or unjust economic systems. These are indeed serious problems in Africa, but most of these problems have far deeper roots.

Africa’s numerous problems can be likened to a tree with spoiled fruits. Agencies and governments are trying to fix the “fruit” while ignoring the roots. The key to cultural transformation lies in the transformation of the mindset or the worldview of a people. As a person thinks within themselves, that is what they really are. (See Proverbs 23:7.) “Ideas have consequences” said Darrow Miller in his book, Discipling the Nations: The Power of Truth to Transform Cultures (Miller 2001, 93).

What is within the mindset of the cultures of West Africa, and Ghana in particular, that is holding them back from using their resources well? What relationships exist between African religious beliefs and the social life of the people? This is important to know because understanding religious beliefs can lead to understanding a people’s way of life and general behavior. In his book, The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, sociologist Emile Durkheim defined religion as, “a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, … which unite into one single moral community … all those who adhere to them” (Durkheim 1915, 47). Religious beliefs and practices are connected to other social institutions like education, health, marriage, and politics and hold these together like a social glue. Kenyan religious philosopher, John Mbiti, states; “We cannot understand the African heritage without understanding its religious impact. Religion is found in all African peoples. Their different cultures have been influenced very strongly by religion as it is found in each people” (Mbiti 1975, 14). Mbiti concluded that traditional religion “is seen in all aspects of life. Therefore, it influences all areas of life” (Mbiti 1975, 29).

Having been born in a rural African setting, with parents who were traditional animists, I believe that the roots of Africa’s problems lie in the worldview and social glue of the African Traditional Religions (ATR). From my experiences, living and working with people across Africa and Ghana, in particular, I have come to realize how wonderful, industrious, and hard working the people of Ghana and Africa are. And yet the people live with serious deprivations and poverty. I believe worldview plays a significant role in African attitudes, behavior, creativity, and general well-being.

It seems to be the case that the more intensely the ATR belief system has a hold on an individual, the more his/her worldview is dominated by the beliefs in spirits, ancestors, the gods, witches, and evils in society. There are questions about the intense fear that exists within the Ghanaian, even a Christian Ghanaian: the fear of being afflicted with death, attrition, misfortune, diseases, or harassed by gods, spirits, ancestors, and especially witches and demons.

Consequently among certain Ghanaians, fatalistic tendencies and an air of hopelessness prevail. Instead of people taking their destiny into their own hands and working hard toward progress and development, many rely on the direction of spirits, gods, and ancestors (and for some Christians, directions of prophets and “men of God”). In rural communities, such fatalistic thinking can lead to the superstitious belief that being successful is actually dangerous, because a prosperous person may be attacked and sometimes killed through voodoo, because of jealousy or envy.

If these root problems are not identified, checked, and worked on, the aid being given to Africa will not solve the problems with the “fruits.” Instead the problems will persist and even increase. This is also true for third world countries in the Caribbean like Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Jamaica—countries that have high African populations with a high incidence of Voodoo worship with worldviews and problems that are similar or the same as those in Africa.

Darrow Miller, discussing a heart-breaking paradox, said,

Africa has been mightily blessed. Her natural resources make her the wealthiest of the world’s seven continents. She possesses a rich heritage as the womb of the Judeo Christian faith. Her people comprise her greatest wealth… they possess vast internal capital. … Yet, despite these countless blessings and riches, Africa remains undeniably the most poverty-stricken and broken continent on the planet (Miller 2005, 23).

Why should Africa be poor amidst abundance of gold, silver, crude oil, diamonds, manganese, the good land, with forest and timber? Social amenities such as schools, hospitals, and roads are nothing to write home about. Very distinguished professionals who could contribute immensely to the development of the continent, prefer to work elsewhere. But should we blame them? Do we expect them to remain and work in their countries, where there are always wars, insecurity, blackmailing, and pull-him-down attitudes?

Most aid organizations seek to mitigate the suffering caused by institutional, moral, and natural evil rather than attack the cultural framework that creates the poverty in the first place. Mission organizations seek to deal with the “spiritual condition” of the people without realizing that the soul is firmly attached to the body and the gospel needs to have a wholistic reach – all of each person – heart, soul, mind, and strength – and all of their relationships.

I believe as African churches recognize the role of the church in society and help people, communities and other leaders to link their religiosity to the development of individuals and society, and adopt biblical ethics and worldviews, Ghana and other African countries can emerge from the hunger, poverty, and the hopelessness in which the people find themselves

Development has to do with having enough provisions to take care of basic human needs such as food and water, health care, clothing, shelter or accommodation, and education. How can it be that Africa continues to languish in poverty with the majority of the people living on less than a dollar a day, often unable to meet these basic needs? From my experiences, living and working with people across Africa I have come to realize how wonderful, industrious, and hard working the people of Africa are, but I have often wondered about the deprivations and poverty.

Darrow Miller, author of Against All Hope: Hope for Africa, says,

Africa has been mightily blessed. Her natural resources make her the wealthiest of the world’s seven continents. She possesses a rich heritage as the womb of the Judeo Christian faith. Her people comprise her greatest wealth, … they possess vast internal capital. Corporately, they represent one of the richest tapestries of cultures seen anywhere in the world. On top of all this, there is the incredible potential that exists through the dramatic recent growth of the church. Yet despite these countless blessings and riches, Africa remains undeniable the most poverty-stricken and broken continent on the planet. This is the heart breaking paradox. … When one examines global poverty indices and measurements, it becomes apparent that things are improving everywhere in the world with one glaring exception – Africa. (Miller and Allen 2005, 23)

The way one defines a problem is critical since it determines how one will go about solving that problem. Those who see the problem primarily as lack of material resources seek to transfer resources from the West to solve the problem of Africa’s poverty. But neither outside money nor technical know-how will solve the problems of the continent since the continent already has an abundance of natural and human resources. So it is very important that we get to the root of Africa’s problems. Is Africa under a curse? Why should Africa be poor amidst an abundance of gold, silver, crude oil, diamonds, manganese, and good land with forest and timber? Social amenities such as schools, hospitals, and roads are nothing to write home about. Very distinguished professionals, who could contribute immensely to the development of the continent, prefer to work elsewhere. But should we blame them? Do we expect professionally trained people to remain and work in their countries where there are always wars, insecurity, blackmailing, and “pull-him-down” attitudes?

So what is at the root of poverty in Africa? In his book, Truth and Transformation: A Manifesto for Ailing Nations, social reformer Vishal Mangalwadi says, “a society cannot be reformed unless it is first informed of what is wrong with it, what is right, and how to get the wrong put right” (Mangalwadi 2009, 157). If the root problems of Africa are not identified, checked, and worked on, the problems will persist and even increase in spite of the outside aid being given. The same is true for third world countries in the Caribbean like Haiti, Dominican Republic and Jamaica. These are countries that have high African populations with a high incidence of voodoo worship. Because the peoples’ worldviews are almost the same as those in African countries, the problems are similar or the same.

I believe worldviews and belief systems play a significant role in African attitudes, behavior, creativity, and general well-being. My conclusions come from both academic reflection and the experience of being born in a rural African setting, having parents who were very traditional animistic, growing up in an environment overwhelmed with sicknesses and diseases, and having real contacts with various gods in an attempt to get healing. Over the years, I have had ample opportunities of grappling with these issues. Through dialogues, discussions, interactions, and learning experiences I have come to a deeper understanding and appreciation of African Traditional Religion (ATR) and African problems. John Mbiti states,

We cannot understand the African heritage without understanding its religious impact. Religion is found in all African peoples. Their different cultures have been influenced very strongly by religion as it is found in each people (Mbiti 1971, 14).

It seems to be the case that the more deeply an individual is involved with the ATR belief system, the more his/her worldviews are dominated by the beliefs in spirits, ancestors, the gods, witches, and evils in society. There are questions about the intense fear that exists within the African, even a Christian African: the fear of being afflicted with death, attrition, misfortune, diseases, or being harassed by gods, spirits, ancestors, and, especially, witches and demons.

Consequently among certain Africans fatalistic tendencies and an air of hopelessness prevail. Instead of people taking their destiny into their own hands and working hard toward progress and development, many rely on the direction of spirits, gods, and ancestors (and for some Christians, direction from prophets and “men of God”). In rural communities, such fatalistic thinking can lead to the superstitious belief that being successful is actually dangerous. There is the fear that a prosperous person could be attacked and sometimes killed through voodoo, because of jealousy or envy.

Passive reliance on external forces can also take the shape of dependence on massive assistance from abroad. Such over-dependence on foreign aid may contribute to the practice and expectation of African political heads who travel to the West, looking for support in the form of grants and loans simply to finance their budgets for the year. This is a mentality that turns people from being achievers to “beggars.”

Byang Kato, discussing human crisis in his book Biblical Christianity in Africa (Kato 1985), says that exploitation, disease, abject poverty, and deprivation of the basic necessities of life have been the lot of the majority of African people. But we ask again, what is the root cause of these human tragedies? Would man’s problems be solved by putting clothes on man’s back and food in his stomach? Is political liberation the final answer? History counters any positive answers to these questions. Man’s root problem is beyond these issues. All human tragedies, be they sickness, poverty, or exploitation, are mere symptoms of the root cause, which the Bible calls sin.

REFERENCES

Durkheim, E.1915. The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life. London: G. Allen & Unwin.

Kato, Byang H. 1985. Biblical Christianity in Africa. Achimota, Ghana: Africa Christian Press.

Mangalwadi, Vishal. 2009. Truth and Transformation: A Manifesto for Ailing Nations. Seattle: YWAM.

Mbiti, John. 1971. African Religions and Philosophy. London: Heinemann.

______. 1975. Introduction to African Religion. London: Heinemann.

Miller, Darrow L. with Scott Allen. 2005. Against All Hope: Hope for Africa. Phoenix: Disciple Nations Alliance. http://www.disciplenations.org/media/Against-All-Hope-Hope-for-Africa_ENGLISH.pdf (accessed February 7, 2018).

Miller, Darrow L., with Stan Guthrie. 2001. Discipling the Nations: The Power of Truth to Transform Cultures. 2nd ed. Seattle: YWAM Publishing.

Chris Ampadu holds the PhD in International Development from WCIU. He serves as Network Leader for Disciple Nations Alliance, West Africa and is the West African Director for Samaritan Strategy.

Chris Ampadu holds the PhD in International Development from WCIU. He serves as Network Leader for Disciple Nations Alliance, West Africa and is the West African Director for Samaritan Strategy.