The exchange of gifts between Europe and Africa
During last year the attention on our thinking about Africa was focused on the north of the continent with the so-called Arab Spring.
But in the meantime in other parts of the continent many important things were happening. In the Horn of Africa, with a drought crisis in the region and political instability in Somalia, we had a huge displacement of people fleeing the famine. In the neighbourhood, South Sudan appeared on the African map as an independent state. In an earlier time the EU together with other international partners gave guaranties for the peaceful character of the separation process. We had presidential elections in Congo and attempts to provoke religious war in Nigeria. One should also not forget the risk of a new colonisation of the African continent by China, the presence of international companies exploiting the raw materials and so on, and so on. Were all these issues important for EU external policy?
I wouldn’t like to discuss this issue from the point of view of EEAS but rather from a more general and more ecclesiastical perspective. What is the general perception of the African continent by Europeans? Are Africans regarded by us as our brothers in human dignity or rather as a “migration problem”? With the Synod on Africa, with the Postsynodal exhortation “Africae munus”, with the meeting between European and African Bishops like the last which took place in Rome on February 13-17, 2012, we can say that at least in the Church there is an attempt to understand the challenge and to open hearts to those who are in need. But still it is moving when you hear a cardinal saying: “With this colour of skin, what can we do?”
In his address to the European and African Bishops on February 16, Pope Benedict XVI stressed the necessity of establishing relationships in the style of an “exchange of gifts”. The North of the world is much richer than the South in material terms and the crises in the former means risks to the good standard of life while in the latter – it is the risk of starvation. But the crises is also reminding us that we need to have other than material goods to have a “successful life”. With these goods there is no guarantee that we, as Europeans, are in a better condition. Religious indifference, weak religiosity which is not capable of being confronted with the question of truth and the coherence of life are common to Europe and some parts of Africa. But – as underlined by the Pope –far more in Europe than in Africa you can feel the weight of the environment secularised and sometimes hostile to Christian faith. Africa is here rather a victim of ideological pressure coming from some Western countries. From time to time one can hear some African bishops complaining about abusive exploitations of soil and subsoil, on putting the promotion of abortion and sterilisation as a precondition of financial aid, on attacks on marriage and family life which were defended by Zambian bishops of all Christian confessions against the policies of USA and UK. These complaints raise the question: to what extent is our development aid destroying the traditional cultures and values of African societies? But, as some African Bishops emphasised during the conference in Rome, it doesn’t mean that they do not want financial help from the North. They just would prefer that this help would rather be an answer to the real needs of African people than an expression of a doubtful ideology.
But talking about the “exchange of gifts” we should not forget that this poor continent is sharing with us what is its most precious asset – its Christian faith, sending to the most secularised continent in the world, not only unskilled migrants but also missionaries. In “Africae munus” Pope Benedict XVI called this continent a “spiritual lung for humanity that appears to be in crises of faith and hope” (13). What Africa really needs most is “neither gold nor silver” – stresses the Pope – but she wants to stand up, like the man at the Bethzatha pool, she wants to have confidence in herself and in her dignity as a people loved by God” (149). This claim for dignity and partnership in relations between our continents was very characteristic of the many contributions of African bishops at the Rome conference.
Fr Piotr Mazurkiewicz