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The Lion, the Witch, and the Will to Change

Posted by speedskating-online on December 18, 2008 at 12:55 PM








Written by Beorn Nijenhuis

Dutch speed skater


The sheer momentum behind the freight train of suffering that is roaring across the continent of Africa is absolutely breathtaking. When faced with so many different reincarnations of Hell, it's understandable that we might throw our hands up in despair and surrender. But we can't do this. Whether it is the child armies in Liberia, genocide in Darfur, cholera in Zimbabwe, AIDS over the entire continent and, if that wasn't enough, the new explosion of bloody violence in the Congo, whether we focus on any one of these nightmares directly, or we stand prostrate before the general hell of it all, one thing does not change: we have to do something. 


For thousands of years the western world lived under the yoke of monarchical dictators, before the enlightenment philosophies of individual freedom set us free. This tradition of freedom, loosed upon the world by the minds of Voltaire and Locke and later the inspiration for the creation of the first modern democracy, must be infused into the common consciousness of Africa. In short, Africa needs a new enlightenment. There needs to be a disbanding of old ethnic and familial loyalties and an introduction of new systems of values. The entrenched and coveted ways of thinking have to be smashed through, but for this to happen, the people of Africa must be empowered with one thing and one thing alone: knowledge. 


This is why my parents? decision to spend six months teaching the youth of Rwanda will prove to be the most powerful gift they have ever made to our world. The chance they have to change that country by inspiring its youngest members may eclipse any other strategy to improve Africa's future, even when compared to Bill Gates? billions. 


So far, one intellectual and philosophical revolution has succeeded in Africa. This was a religious one. The missionary work of Christian churches ranging from Evangelical Christians to Mormons has succeeded, with their tax-free millions, to evangelize great tracts of the continent. Countries like Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Rwanda and Burundi are all majority Christian nations. And yet, regardless of this spiritual revolution in Africa, little has changed. Although many church funded programs do positive things in Africa, they could be causing more evil than good. 


Bishops, and other even higher ranking Catholic officials, are suspected of being involved in the genocide that slaughtered countless Tutsis at the hands of machete wielding Hutu murderers. Partly, the Hutus justified their superiority on religious grounds. Human Rights Watch has done multiple studies on this; for more information read Christopher Hitchens? book God is Not Great. In Nigeria a horrible mutant form of Christianity born of a mix of the bible and older animist traditions has lead to the mass torture and murder of tens of thousands of innocent children by none other than their own loved ones. These children?s crime: witchcraft. Children as young as three years old are thrown over camp fires to burn or sliced and butchered with machetes by those who are supposed to protect them. This may seem impossibly violent and cruel, but anything is possible as long as one believes. And all this under the flag of ?our gentle Jesus meek and mild.?


It seems then, that a philosophical intervention is just as dubious and destructive as any other strategy the West has entertained in reforming Africa. Does this mean a revolution in thinking has been tried and revealed as a dead end?




What does one expect to happen when one bases a social and philosophical revolution on a book written 2000 years ago in the barbarous Middle East by desert dwelling Jews who, among other things, forbid eating shellfish and condone stoning your wife and owning slaves? The bible is, by no stretch of the imagination, the best book to base a philosophical and social revolution on. Until the enlightenment has been given equal face time to evangelize Africa with the ideals of Voltaire, Rousseau, Kant, Locke, Jefferson and many more, I believe we have not yet seen an Africa that has been given a fair chance to reinvent itself in the image of an enlightened state. We've exported food, we've exported money, we've exported guns and we've exported religion to Africa. Now it's time to export ideas, and not just any ideas, but the ideas that are the bedrock of the greatest accomplishments of mankind. 


I know my dad won't be able to fly with all the books he might wish to bring to the students of Rwanda. Luckily he has a laptop... and hopefully they will be sufficiently entranced by what he can show them with it, that they won't try to steal it, while they learn.


Photo credits: DESGphoto/Lars Hagen

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Reply Luv2sk8
4:19 PM on December 18, 2008 
Well written piece! <br>Relations between missionaries and african natives seem to be that of a hierarchy. Although in some ways the church has brought some wealth and aid to Africa it seems as though (and I say this without trying to sound too marxist) to still be a distinction between the oppressors and the oppressed. <br> <br>I suppose the goal here should be to bring not just one idea to the people of Africa, but several others as well. They need to be given a choice. They needed to be flooded with ideas -religion, science, athiesm, philosophy, history- and thats where it should stop. Opinions and life choices should be left to them. <br> <br>This piece was refreshing to read and it shines a new light on what may seem to be a never ended struggle within a poverty stricken country.. oops!.. i mean continent! I think we all need a wake up call if one of the most powerful countries in the world almost elected a vice president who is not sure whether Africa is a continent or a country. Just goes to show that religion doesn't do much for intellectual stimulation or even what we lucky, wealthy countries should see as common sense! <br> <br>Great piece! Looking forward to reading more on this site...
Reply Beorn
11:28 AM on December 23, 2008 
Thanks for the reply! <br> <br>I agree that the gifts we must provide Africa are most certainly not Frankincense and Myrrh. A renaissance style education, teaching about all religions, would be nice, but as it stands i think we have to focus mainly on secular enlightenment. But i completely agree with your distaste for Mono"idea"ism. That is always nasty stuff. <br> <br>Interesting how my ideas regarding the relationship between ideas and lifestyle choices has been evolving lately. Yes, undoubtedly we can never tell folks there opinions or how they aught to spend there Sunday afternoon. However, i have realized lately that ones beliefs have a huge influence on the lifestyle choices an individual makes. It's next to impossible to keep them apart. Choosing a rather unfortunate trajectory with your newly hijacked jet liner is a rather extreme example of how beliefs can alter behavior. Changing Africa's mind will undoubtedly lead to changing it's habits and it's lifestyle. But, the day that Africa can take its religion with a grain of salt, like The Church of England or most Catholics do, I will be happy. <br> <br>Thanks for your response and encouragement, <br> <br>Beorn <br> <br>
Reply Gerda
5:48 PM on January 2, 2009 
Thanks for writing this Beorn. So beautiful and true. <br>I agree on the fact that religion often do them more bad than good. And also that they need to have more than one opinion to choose from. But most of all they need to take it step by step. One change at a time or this great continent won't be able to get it all. I think that trying to make a change by starting educating children is the best way to start a big change. <br> <br>Than the mothers need some education so they can raise their children with an other view on the things, then everybody will follow. <br>I still hope this great 'country;-)' will have a big future. Without the problems and wars they are dealing with now. <br> <br>Thank Beorn for keeping us updated. Hope to hear more of your parents journey there.
Reply ferry
8:34 AM on February 7, 2010 
Reply thrhtrurth
10:29 AM on September 8, 2010 
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