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African view: Catholic mission

African bishops at the Vatican, 25/10
Cynics might suggest the Church is playing to its increasingly Africa audience

In our series of viewpoints from African journalists, Zimbabwean filmmaker and journalist Farai Sevenzo wonders what lies behind the Catholic Church's latest pronouncements on Africa.

In this age of global warming and unpredictable tsunamis and all manner of uncertainties financial and spiritual, it makes sense that we should all worry a little about the fate of our souls.

As our spiritual guides are fond of reminding us, there is death at the end of this long and winding road and we should all remember to repent and be saved from a fate far worse than any tsunami.

And so it was as if Africa's Catholic bishops had read my mind when they declared the other day: "Many Catholics in high office have fallen woefully short in their performance. The synod calls on such people to repent, or quit the public arena and stop causing havoc to the people and giving the Catholic Church a bad name."

Robert Mugabe, file image
Educated by Jesuits, is Robert Mugabe an outside bet for canonisation?

Strong stuff from the holy men. The bishops were meeting in the Vatican to talk about the topics facing the Catholic Church on our great and God-fearing continent.

It is true we are a God-fearing continent - our churches and mosques stretch across the lands, and then there are our fetishes and ancestral spirits, and for those seeking to mine souls Africa is as rich and unexplored in souls as it is in minerals, oil and human resources.

But just who did the bishops mean when they talked of "Catholics in high office... causing havoc to the people"?

Rumour has it that they were talking directly to a Catholic president or two and bemoaning the suffering of the people under their rule.

Now we must not be cynical and suppose that the bishops are shining their holy torches on Africa because that is where their priests are coming from - because in a world increasingly uninterested in repenting there are a 158 million Catholics still genuflecting in Africa, and that is an important number for the Catholic Church's survival.

Earthly woes

Then the bishops also said that our continent was in need of saints - men and women who are more interested in the wellbeing of the people than their swollen foreign bank accounts.

Who could these saints be? What African president would make a good saint? Could we one day have St Robert of Zimbabwe, patron saint of farmers? Or St Eduardo of Luanda, patron saint of oil-drillers?

Julius Nyerere (C) with late US Presidetn John F Kennedy (Right)
Julius Nyerere (C) rubbed shoulders with Catholics and communists

Or even St Julius of Tanzania who, despite a war with a neighbouring despot in Uganda and a cosy relationship with the godless communists of the east still commands such nostalgic respect? The bishops meeting in the Vatican acknowledged the great Mwalimu (Nyerere) as a fine example of leadership.

Are these the saints we need to get our continent back on the straight and narrow?

Every now and then we get these announcements from spiritual guardians that are really aimed at our political guardians on the African continent, and they will bemoan our wars and our poverty and our disease and the corruption of the rich and the exploitation of the poor and remind us all that while we wait for heaven, our earthly lives are blighted by those who rule us.

Children wave Pope flags in Cameroon, 20/03/09
The Pope proved a smash-hit when he visited Africa this year

So if the message is for the rulers, why does it make us mere mortals feel so miserable? Can we expect that if a president or his ministers enter the confession box some time today, our lives will improve?

I'm too small a person to question the motives of holy men, but whenever I hear these announcements I think of how indebted we are that besides the newspapers and the radio and all manner of media spotlights on all our issues, we can add the periodic announcements of our bishops to the things that remind us of our constant struggle against tyranny.

But while the business of governance can sometimes give Africa a bad name, the business of religion is not so easy to judge.

The bishops will tell us to fight "politicians who betray and sell out their nations, dirty businesspeople who collude with rapacious multinationals, African arms dealers and traffickers who thrive on small arms that cause great havoc on human lives".

And the holy men will also tell us to abandon our condoms and abstain from sins of the flesh so we can conquer the demon of Aids.

Between the holy men and the politicians is surely that position called a rock and a hard place.


Thanks for your comments. Please read a selection below:

African leaders of various states are often described by the state media as "God fearing". I wonder what they might have done that they need to fear God!!
Nirmal Sandhu, London, UK

Politics and Religion in Africa. The former is gradually falling to landing on its feet and the latter is a complete nadir of despair.
Kwadwo Kete, Chiusure, Italy

Religion is not godliness, neither does it portends holiness, and as such may not be a reason for good governance, man in all simplicity can only be called 'holy' when GOD pronounces it, there are no yardsticks for holiness not even good works.
Awolope segun, Ondo, Nigeria

Very incisive analysis! The content of the Catholic Church's announcement sound very positive, but columnist Farai Sevenzo's cynical account equates the Catholics with neo-colonialists, mining Africa for souls. This gives me pause - there is a sometimes fine line between serving God and serving self-interest. In a sense, the author is right that the Catholic Church asks Africans to make costly commitments such as sexual purity even as they denounce economic exploitation, but at least that shows they are consistent in their faith. Indeed, there is no easy way forward for Africa - nor indeed for the rest of the world, in spite of Obama's Peace Prize.
Brendan, United States

TO: Nwoye Igweagu, Lome, Togo
My brother, I'm from Zimbabwe and apparently you bought Mugabe's propaganda, hook, line and sinker. Let me ask you this.
1. If the land redistribution was done to benefit the people, how come between Mugabe and his wife (Dis)Grace, they have 12 farms?
2. Nobody ever argued the need to take land back, Zimbabweans are much smarter than that. We oppose the manner in which it was done, which not only many people dead and injured, but it made the country a basket case. We can no longer feed ourselves.
3. The whole exercise was done for the self-preservation of Mugabe and political expediency since he was about to face a very tough election.
4. Now that Mugabe and his people have taken more than 4,000 farms why do they continue to burn homes of less than 400 remaining farmers and beat their workers? You ask yourself, what exactly do they want.

Human decency and fear of God was long lost among Mugabe and his people. If you have kill and maim your own people just because they voted you out of power, then God is not on your side. Africans have to stop painting every issue in black and white. Say things as they are, not as we wish.
Mugabe is eating his own children under the perfect cover of fighting imperialism. WAKE UP!
Zuze, Mutare, Zimbabwe

We must be careful before we judge and condemn St Robert Mugabe; Zimbabwe was not destroyed by one man and that goes for the rest of Africa where once vibrant economies are now down on their knees. Just go around Harare and ask those who have never paid a bribe to get ahead on the queue for whatever goodie they wanted to raise their hands. Look for former University students and have those that re-paid their University loans to raise their hands - You might want ask MDC MPs that graduated from Zimbabwe's Universities to answer the same question. It wasn't St Bob alone that destroyed that country. The more appropriate question would probably be what role did St Bob play and the same question for the NGOs, the guy on the street, the private sector etc.
Josh Mazvita, Kwekwe, Zimbabwe

l am a black Zimbabwean and non-Zimbabwean-black people do not understand how evil Mugabe is. All what you think is that he is doing good by giving us land but what you do not know is that we the Zimbabweans do not want to be led by a dictator who is only seeking sympathy from outsiders like you at our expense. Every Zimbabwean knows that he is not the right person to facilitate equitable distribution of land. We wanted land to be distributed in a legal manor; without any effect on production. All he is capable of doing is fanning corruption. The land allocated for distribution is only given to his close allies. If you think this is a lie l challenge anyone to go to Zimbabwe and do a research on this.
tim boyzz, Liverpool, Uk

I agree with your recent article. Religion is used to convince people to believe in then and stay in their condition (which is often bad). And rely on the Bishops and Minister to solve the problems of society but they never do. So we pray!
Evelyn Brown, Los Angeles, California

I think the bishops are right on what they are saying but they should point straight to the people they are talking about. I believe that if they do that, those particular people will change for the better
Innocent, Francistown, Botswana, Africa

These holy men of Africa are as strange as our politicians. President Mugabe stole another man's wife. And a whole Archbishop presided over the marriage ceremony. The current Mrs Grace Mugabe was the wife of a junior air force officer and was forcibly taken away from him, with the Catholic church's blessing. Instead of ex-communicating him, they blessed him. That is hypocrisy at its worst.
chenjerai hove, stavanger, norway

Mugabe is the best soul God have given to Zimbabweans . He wanted his people to repossess their possessions and turn from answering "yes master" to foreigners in their own country to become "masters" themselves. It is unfortunate that a lot of Zimbabweans are afraid of putting in small endeavour to establish themselves instead they prefer to keep answering "yes master" to foreigners in their own country. THEY CAN WORK FOR THE WHITE AND BE GIVEN LITTLE PART OF THE YIELD BUT THEY CAN WORK FOR THEMSELVES AND OWN THE WHOLE PRODUCTS OF THEIR LABOUR. Just like some Israelite who can't stand the walking they are needed to do before they will enter THE PROMISED LAND and they started asking God why he did not leave them to be working as slaves for Pharaoh of Egypt. If African and Zimbabweans in particular did not realise it today then tomorrow we will realise that Mugabe is presently the only ruler in Africa who has the future of his people as his only pursuit. A SAINT IN EVERY REASONABLE CONFIRMATION. Not those doing the wish of the Western World to maintain their hold to power irrespective of what sufferings their people are facing.
Nwoye Igweagu, Lome, Togo

Please, leave African governments and politics in peace. Religion is the most corrupted institution on the continent.
Yaw SEFAH, Siena, Italy

Hypocrisy from 'holy' men who eat and live just as well as the corrupt politicians they berate. These bishops who eat three meals a day are surrounded by the trappings of wealth they take readily from the poor. Maybe they should set an example to African politicians and lead lives of poverty instead of ones of comfort.
DR, United Kingdom

The Bishops are right, but they should name such leaders instead of talking in parables. Maybe this will bring a sense of guilt and possible lead to their resignation.
Joseph Gona, Kilifi, Kenya

I think its high time we Africans take ownership of our situation and destiny. The very fact that the meeting was held in Europe tells you something. We need home grown religions and ideas. Farai's report seems to insinuate that there are no good men or women in Africa worthy of being made saints. Really? Or is it that when it comes to Africa we take a negative approach to everything. As for Robert Mugabe... we give this guy more publicity than he deserves - is it because his name sells papers and reports. I seriously doubt he even imagines himself as a saint one day. Mr Sevenzo - I look forward to the day you write a positive article on some things that are happening in your country, Zimbabwe, and Africa at large. It's not all doom and gloom
Felicity Chirume, Harare, Zimbabwe

You can not give what you don't have. How can you remove a speck from another person eye when they have a beam in your eye? Most of the catholic priests have failed us; they are priests not because God called them but they are looking for a job or they call themselves into it. Hitler was a catholic and so is Mugabe; two nuns were found guilty of taking part in the genocide; former Rwandan priest sentenced 25 years for committing genocide, sexual assault and kidnapping in Rwanda. The same priests are pushing for the same sex marriage, abortions, even gay bishops, etc this is all ungodly and attracts the wrath of God. Be doers of the Word and not hearers only and wash the inside of the cup not outside!
James Nyirenda, Mhlume, Swaziland

Do you even think these despots care? Church or no church they do as they please! Church is just for canvassing for votes!
Dusty, Johannesburg, South Africa

Ahh, St. Robert of Zimbabwe, Patron Saint of Farmers. I cannot wait for his canonisation or my I add St. Mswati III of the Swazis, the Patron Saint of Polygamy. Additionally you forgot the Islamic equivalent for these Saints adored by the Arab world, St. Hosni Mubarak of Cairo, the Patron Saint of Minorities (Copts) and Brotherhood. St. Omer Bashir of Darfur, the Patron Saint of War, Widows and Orphans of Sudan and St. Gaddafi of Benghazi, the Patron Saint of the psychologically disturbed. Must I say that they pray five times a day to God for great efficiency and competence in their work.
Deng Dekuek, Perth, Western Australia

Separation of church and state has proven to be immensely successful in the most influential society the world has probably ever seen. It doesn't hurt having individuals with a sense of moral obligation at the helm of anything. Been held accountable by any religious institution stifles the minority, and breeds various forms of radicalism as apparent in some parts of the world. People should adhere to simple principles a la perform your duty within your elected term, and when done, give the next person a shot. When is enough, enough? why can't Robert Mugabe quit been and ideological idiot and do the right thing for the rest of his people. This to me has little or nothing to do with faith rather common sense and moral principles. This guy have resided over the worse economy decade in modern times and is walking around calling himself president. How worthy is a Dad to be called Dad after raising wayward kids. A leader looks out for the best of his people like a Dad looks out for the best of his family. The time is coming in Africa when dignity and common understanding of our brothers well been will prevail. This should not be done through violence as it has proven to solve no discontent.
Elton Nyema, United States

Too much accumulation of power, self enrichment and unnecessary opposition provocation sometimes forces leaders to lose the "righteous" track. We have seen leaders who were branded as God "sent" saviours and God fearing, turning into untouchable dictators seeking third terms of office or even more. These people shamelessly have been taking the supposed to be, Holly Communion or observing the month of "Ramahdan". Leaders do not forget God, Allah when you are in power but pray hard for wisdom and guidance and your terms of office will be remembered by many not for bad things but good leadership.
Ken Katuma, Lilongwe, Malawi

The Catholic Bishops are just being hypocritical. Most of them accept the stolen money from the sticky hands of the leaders they now deride in their churches. Even the Pope had to travel to Yamassoukro to inaugurate a Basilica built for billions of FCFA in an African country like the Ivory Coast where less than 5% of the people live on less than a dollar a day. He did not ask where Houphouet Boigny got the billions used in building the Basilica from or whether the money could not have been used in putting up social structures that could improve on the living standards of the Ivorians.

The Pope has thrice been to my country, blessing the president and his family in the process, without asking what happened that the president took power when the country was relatively prosperous but now is a heavily-indebted poor country. Most of the front-benchers in our churches are senior government officials like ministers, general managers, taxation, treasury, customs and police officials who are known for their very corrupt practices. Yet because they give their stolen money to churches, they are given front seats.

Some years back, a treasury official on a salary of less than $500 a month built a church and the pastor's house in his village alongside his own house which he boasted cost him 300 million FCFA. He invited a church leader to inaugurate the structures and during the ceremony, the church leader challenged other civil servants from the same area to emulate the example of the treasury official. He did not question where a civil servant on less than $500 a month got the money from to put up buildings worth over $600,000.

Bishops and pastors talk only when their mouths are empty. When they are full, they don't talk. Let them stop bending our ears.
Chief Bisong Etahoben, Yaounde, CAMEROON

It makes me feel ashamed at times when i see some church leaders who want to attack their counterparts, African leaders especially when it comes to the issue of governance, corruption, etc. The catholic church yes they are at least now smelling the coffee. If we take the case for Zimbabwe some respected church leaders were actually siding with the current leadership saying the west has done bad for Zimbabwe. I think we should all look in the mirror ourselves, maybe we can see the truth. Why do we always have these same church leaders officiating at some of these political parties' functions. I do not want to sound 'holier than thee' but church leaders should be apolitical but in countries like Zimbabwe some of these leaders are perpetuating the stay of these so called dictators. Also we have a case in Zimbabwe where some church leaders were involved in in-house fighting. I remember some of the members had to pray under the protection of the local riot police because the leadership would fight for who should lead the diocese. our lord Jesus and Paul preach that we should lead the world by example as Christians, they should see our good deeds and follow them. What message do we send to these world leaders when pastors, bishops, etc fight over who should lead the congregation. Everyday we hear corruption, embezzlement, no democracy in church, things that we are supposed to hear from the world. God should come and help us. The church should also lead by example if at all they want to touch the lives of the so called 'dictators'. If Jesus died for the truth why not church leaders dying for the truth. Church leaders are afraid of dictators as if that would be the end of everything. The church is supposed to be the place of hope for the hopeless especially in these mismanaged states in Africa but is the church playing that role any more. The church should play an active role in making sure people are enjoying their rights without fear or favour, like what the old crop of missionaries did during the armed struggles in most african states during colonialism.
austin, Harare, Zimbabwe

Religious people are behind some of the worst atrocities that have been and are being committed in Africa today. The sooner these religious people leave Africa alone the sooner we can actually get to grips with our problems without being distracted. As an expat living in Africa, I can see these problems first hand and I know people who have been infected with HIV because their partners refused to wear a condom. Thanks Mr pope...thanks a lot.
Andrew, Nairobi, Kenya

Tony Blair, Robert Mugabe and Paul Biya should be canonised by their church.
Dessuka, Seattle

A week after the Catholic bishops' statement to African leaders, we have this massive strike by teachers and support staff in the Catholic schools in Liberia. The employees are demanding pay increases which the say the Catholic Education Secretariat is unwilling to address. The background to this crisis is that the Catholic schools had raised tuition by a whopping 37% at the start of the school year with the justification that they needed to increase staff salaries. Two months later, teachers are on strike and pupils are out of class. What should be the next AU summit's communiqué on church leaders who betray their trust a in the Liberian case or priests in the Rwanda genocide who compromised their parishioners?
Anthony G. Myers, Monrovia, Liberia

Whilst there might be 158m Catholic in Africa and other various Godly religions, I doubt very much if there is anything Godly about Africa. In my country we have a staunch and proud Catholic leader - you do meet him for mass at the Harare Central Cathedral every Sunday if he is in the mood. However, the deeds are far removed from God. In as much as the Bishops can shout at the topmost of their voices, I think their reproaches are irrelevant. In Africa we don't do God, instead we eat out own children, renege on promises and binding agreements, ruin economies, jail and murder anyone that disagrees with our views, reap where we did not sow and move on to the next farm to reap again when we did not sow, abuse high office, take bribes and bemoan all our ills on some fantastical external enemies.
Jo Shumba, Harare, Zimbabwe

Land is sacred to Africans and therefore should not be stolen away as their sons and daughters were stolen into slavery. Mugabe is a saint for African landowners. This will not taste well in the mouths of those who haven't got the same attachment to land as Africans do. The colonisers partitioned Africa into their fiefdoms as if Africans were their properties. If the likes of Mugabe were plentiful in Africa, it would have been a different story. Leave comrade Mugabe alone please. sainthood is for the likes of Mugabe who stand up for the rights of their fellow human beings and he is.
Henry Williams, Clovis

I believe our leaders should repent and embrace a practical religion like Islam, Protestant or Catholic. Let's not forget that a big number of our leaders strongly believe in muti (witchcraft) and rely on it to stay in power. Witchcraft is satanic and whatever that is satanic is there to destroy and not to develop.
Jean-Paul Benda, London, UK

Thanks, bishops! I thank you for your concern about our leaders behaviours. Unfortunately, Catholicism is certainly not their favourite religion. Who told you they were true Christians?
Mongouo, Congo, Brazzaville

I think this analysis is so wonderful. what the Bishops have said is very much true and should be taken seriously. The advice and guidance given by these men of God should be welcomed with both arms by our politicians and put in practice. however, the challenge is that the African continent is full of selfish leaders whose main purpose is to enrich themselves by stealing from the poor people, depriving children and women and stealing the minerals. so this is a big challenge to African leaders and they should repent...!
Dimas Beene, Lusaka, Zambia

Does the identification of religious belief have anything to do with the "righteousness" of a leader? Too many of the worlds leaders fall into the trap of "absolute power corrupts absolutely". Africa is only part of this issue. Africa has had "righteous" men as leaders in the past. Many were disposed of by foreign powers, or internally by those who hope to rape its people and lands for their own pockets. It is time for the peoples of Africa to look back into their past and identify people now to help direct them into a future which is fair and just. Easier said than done, but if the people take the power that is inherent to them it is possible.
John, United States



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