This Thursday I attended a networking event at the Houses of Parliament here in the UK organised by The All Africa Parliamentary Group and chaired by Kenyan born Kensington and Chelsea councillor Marianne Alapini
The event theme was
Communities of Faith, Agents of Change: How Diaspora faith networks can transform Africa’s Development
The meeting sought to show how Faith communities of all religions have worked tirelessly to combat poverty and improve the lives of millions of Africans and focused on the role of faith organisations in development –particularly how faith communities in the Diaspora can engage with job and wealth creation and support enterprise and entrepreneurship in Africa.
The meeting was part of a series of meetings under the AFRICA↔UK initiative which is part of the Common Ground Initiative funded by Comic Relief in association with the Royal African Society and AFFORD (African Foundation for Development).
The speakers were
Bishop Joe Aldred, Church of God of Prophecy
Imam Idris Ben Doku
Ms. Shallin Chikoto, International Programme Officer, World Vision UK
Mr. Attallah Fitzgibbon, Policy and Strategy Manager, Islamic Relief Worldwide
If I were to sum up the meeting I would say it presented more questions than answers and I will pose some of those questions here for us to discuss
- How can diaspora churches help African development
- Do African churches have a role to play in African development and if so what is it
- what is the meaning of African churches?
- how much do diaspora churches know in terms of what is right for the people back home
- Are African diaspora churches fixed on the right goals? or is it simply a case of a happy clappy congregation
- What about competition between West Indian and African churches? Are churches busy competing with each other and self serving instead being the salt and the light of the world
- Are churches over commercialised? What about transforming the communities in which we live?
- Jamaica has more churches per sq mile than any other country in the world but is overwhelmed by gangs who appear to be running the county- what are churches doing to promote peace and love for thy neighbour?
Bishop Aldred had some interesting and thought provoking words for us he said,
a challenge for us in the diaspora is this- do we know what is best for the people we left behind or are were merely caught up in a benevolence that stunts the growth of those we left behind? we give them a left money and expect too much from them- a little England perhaps? Are we secretly longing for things to stand still. We need to respect people back home and stop orchestrating how they should behave or lead their lives
Hmmm, You could hear a pin drop with those words!
The Imam had this to say
before you do anything ensure that you have cleaned your house. they are enough mosques to pray but not enough business to help each other out of poverty. Why is that? Education is important and this means taking what is good out of the UK culture/way of life and applying that for the benefit of our people.
On the other hand Zimbabwean Ms. Shallin Chikoto felt that churches are not taking up their rightful role in lobbying government for the right kind of policies because in her mind
churches as too small and fragmented, are not talking to each
She called on churches to influence policy and change the view of Africa in the West’s mind through coordinated activity, capacity building of African communities. For the diaspora in general- she told us that we are creating dependency through our $45 billion that we remit each year with only 6% of that being towards investment- “Stop and think about the impact of that on Africa” Ouch!
Mr. Attallah Fitzgibbon, didn’t make the meeting but his representative had something to say that I am still mulling over in my mind as it had never occurred to me as a fact at least as far as I am concerned- that is as an African. I am minded to agree with Prof Ali Mazrui who argued in his Reith Lectures on Africa that Africa is divided/united along ethnic lines and not religious ones
As Africans we define ourselves through our faith and religion
and in view of the above
those who seek to work/develop Africa should not bring development programmes to Africa that contradict our faith/religion. They should instead seek to work with faith based organisations but not parallel to them. Religious organisations for their part should seek to end conflict and promote good neighbour relations
An interesting evening indeed!
One of the audience questions that interested me the most was
In answer to that question a panelist called on African mothers to cut back on the cleaning jobs and spend some of that time with their children! Make of that what you will but it sends out a message of stereo typing at its worst.
My worry about “diaspora churches” is their impact on the ground. Church is big business in Africa on ym recent trip I saw some very expensive cars on the Streets of Kampala , 4×4 Porsche, SUVs etc with private number plates of biblical origin and when I asked who drives such vehicles each every one of them was a Pastor. These cars aren’t cheap and you probably would not get much change out of £80,000. How do these Pastors justify such extravagances in a country where 68% of the people do not “touch” money in any given year and 2.5million children are malnourished. If you wondering where the connection is, these churches are new in Africa and have been exported by the diaspora!
If you are really interested in know more about how rich these pastors can be head to Nigeria. I am not implying that the pastors should walk around in rags but merely calling on to them to invest some of this income into the communities they work in after all the money is actually coming from these communities.
So there you have it folk- What does God to do with African Development?