Africans: be IN the World, but not OF World!

Author’s note 11th August 2013 – This article was written at a time when I believed that socialism was the answer to the problems that Africans face. I no longer subscribe to that idea. I have posted a video recently which outlines my current understanding. Please view the following video in conjunction with the article:

A while back, I made a video in which I wondered out loud why so few Africans are involved in progressive politics and activism. This is what I said in the video description: 

“From where I’m standing, Black Britain is asleep and pacified. It’s bloody hard work trying to get even 50 Africans out to hear a speaker and see some cultural artists, LET ALONE going on a march or other forms of action. I’m confident that things will improve, but I’m a bit concerned that this might take a long time.” [What Happened to Black Power (UK)]

Two years on and still very few Africans are involved in political organisation of any kind. Recently, I’ve been thinking about how an idea in the Bible helps to understand the reasons for this.

In the world, not Of the world
I used to be a church-going Christian and I was a big Bible reader. One of the biblical concepts that resonated with me was that of ‘the World’. In Christian circles, there is this concept of being IN the world but not OF the world. I actually think that this is an excellent way of looking at the lack of political involvement among Africans. To explain, let’s first look at two sections of the Bible.

Just prior to his impending death, the Hebrew prophet Yeshua (aka Jesus) made a prayer concerning his followers. The prayer included the following request:

“I have given them Your word; and the world has hated thembecause they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.[John 17:14-16] 

In another part of the New Testament, a follower of Yeshua wrote the following to Christians in Rome:

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.[Romans 12:2]

The ‘world’ in one sense means simply the place that we all live. In this sense, you cannot be taken out of the world as long as you are alive. In a negative sense, the world refers to the evil ways of people in the world. It is this aspect of the world that Christians separate from – at least in theory! 

This means the unrighteous behaviour such as lying, cheating, stealing, drunkenness, fornication, etc. But more importantly, it refers to the ideology of the world – The system of ideas which dominates the world. Paul encouraged the Roman Christians to ‘be transformed by the renewing of your mind’ – in other words, an ongoing revolutionary overhaul of their ways of thinking. Another term for this might be a paradigm shift. Someone who has the wrong kinds of ideas will do the wrong kinds of actions.

Too Many Africans are OF the world
The most explicit and obvious way in which many Africans are ‘of the world’ is in our commitment to the political and economic system of the world – i.e. Capitalism and Neo-Colonialism. We are turned-off by the mere mention of ideas like Socialism. We think that Capitalism and Neo-Colonialism are natural. As far as we can see, Capitalism is the only thing that works and so there is no point in doing anything to bring it down. Somehow this faith isn’t shaken by the galloping Great Recession of the last 4 years which has hit Africans especially hard. I guess we’ve bought into the idea that this is just a temporary thing that will eventually blow over and we’ll all be fine. We think that the problems that African countries face can be fixed by them simply working harder and being more honest. They think it’s been too long since Independence for us to keep blaming colonialism.

Even many avowed Pan Africanists are committed to Capitalism, and thus ‘the world. There is a tendency among ‘conscious’ Africans to go down the cultural nationalist route. This is the idea the answer to all of our issues is for us to focus primarily on reclaiming our culture (our spiritual systems, our names, our languages, etc). Cultural nationalists are usually quite committed to Capitalism. For them, we will find our salvation by creating our own African space within the existing system. We just need to get our slice of the pie and then we’ll be alright. Many Africans who share this kind of worldview are thus not interested in getting involved with any kind of organisations of initiatives which are anti-Capitalist.

Another way in which we are committed to the world is in our individualism. The idea of working together with other people to achieve a common goal is almost non-existent. The only people we work together with consistently are out workmates and our immediate family and possibly housemates. In this environment, it seems an alien notion to join a political. Even where we can see problems in the world, or in our communities, many of us only want to know how we can make a difference as individuals. We are unconvinced of the necessity of collective action. 

This point on individualism also impact on those who do actually join organisations. Once you join an organisation, you quickly realise that effective activism requires your time, commitment, accountability, reliability, patience, humility, etc. We start to realise that we will need to make some sacrifices in order to be a productive organisation member. This might mean us having less time to socialise, less time to spend with the family, less time to just relax, and so on. This conflict can result in different things, depending on if we take a collective or individualist approach. What often happens is that people will take the individualist approach which usually means they engage with the organisation less and less and just drift away. Another example of taking an individualistic route is to simply pick and choose when and how we will be active within the organisation.

The Way Forward: Learn from the Church?
Looking at the Churches, we see that they also face problems with people converting, being born again, and then falling away. They actually have a great term for this which is ‘back sliding’ – sliding back to the ways of the world. But despite this, the churches have thousands of Africans filling out the pews every Sunday and other days. We can perhaps look at them and see what we can learn.

For example, the whole experience of going to church can be an emotionally and even physically satisfying one. I’m talking about all of the ritual and singing and collective praying and so on. Too many Pan African meetings are about sitting down and being talked at for a few hours. If we’re honest, this is not going to attract people or inspire people to remain in our organisations!  Another strength of churches is that they provide people with a very clear ‘result’ – i.e. eternal life and salvation. I wonder if we Pan Africanists are clear enough about what we are offering to people. To this end, we should really study the examples of Socialism in the world today in places like Cuba and Venezuela and show these examples to our people.

Anyway, these are just some thoughts around the concept of being in the world and of the world. Hopefully they will inspire you to do something constructive for Africans and humans in general. Let’s finish with some Dennis Brown!



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2 thoughts on “Africans: be IN the World, but not OF World!”

  1. Greetings bro, Good post. The issue has been aboarded nicely. There is always a danger to compare religious organisations with political ones. You can't compare pears with stones. What the religious organisations provide is spiritual relieve from daily suffering whiles what we offer is practical but difficult to achieve relieve from that same suffering. There is many examples (pass and present) of how organisations can gain more members by helping them practically on their daily struggles. For instance, as socialist (Nkrumah-Toureist) if we believe on the important role that women play on the revolution and social changes we should soport their involvement by providing practical support (i.e. child minding, break fast and after school clubs, family legal support…). Until we put our theories into practice, even if we do so at the micro/local level, we will remain irrelevant to our people's struggle. \”Thought without practice is empty, practice without thought is blind\” O.K.Nkrumah

  2. Greetings fam. Churches do actually some practical support to people too! Lots of them do charity work for homeless people and people in some churches who are especially hard up to get support. The New Testament actually tells Christians that if they don’t support each other, their faith is meaningless! Faith without works (actions) is dead. This is similar to what Nkrumah’s comment about theory and practice. This is not surprising seeing as he was a Christian!

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