Continent of hope

“We need to take a long view of Africa. The political life of the continent is relatively short. Its fortunes are not in the past; they lie in the future. And, I believe, this future is in the making. Many people have written off Africa. Time and again, this continent has shown resilience in the face of monumental challenges from within and from without.”

Fr Agbonkhianmeghe E. Orobator SJ, a Nigerian Jesuit who is a renowned speaker and writer, shared this hope-filled perspective of Africa with Canadians in a recent event organized by Canadian Jesuits International (CJI). Fr Orobator, who is the provincial superior of the Jesuits in Eastern Africa, visited Toronto for two days in early May, at the invitation of CJI. He gave a lecture on 2 May to more than 100 people on the theme “Africa: a Continent of Hope”.

In his lecture, Fr Orobator acknowledged that hope is not the word that many in the west would normally associate with the continent of Africa. He challenged the audience to listen to a different narrative about Africa, one that does not speak of Africa as a basket case, or alternatively the equally unrealistic image of Africa as a pristine wild park and a repository of untarnished human values. As he said emphatically, ‘this is not my Africa’.

On the other hand, Fr Bator listed his reasons for hope in Africa. One is the Arab Spring that has given fresh impetus to movements for social and political change; there are now over 20 democracies on the sub-continent, he continued, compared to only three just over two decades ago. And while many parts of the world suffer a financial crisis, not a few African countries are experiencing socio-economic growth. Fr Bator also underlined the realisation at leadership level that a culture of impunity is no longer sustainable; the gradually growing role of women in leadership, one expression being the three female Nobel laureate and two presidents; and declining HIV infection rates in Africa.

Fr Orobator concluded by saying “Africa is not a single story. It is a confluence of many stories – stories of pain and joy; growth and decline; stagnation and transformation; despair and hope.”

During his two-day stay in Toronto, Fr Orobator animated a workshop at Brebeuf High School where he met with about 100 students from eight different schools in the city of Toronto, and gave an interview to TVO’s The Agenda, among other activities.

Many people who listened to the Agenda interview wrote to CJI to express their appreciation. Here are a few comments:

“Thank you for alerting me about Father’s interview. What a fine gentleman and so knowledgeable on Africa, I learned a lot… good news that we can celebrate.”

“It was good to hear GOOD NEWS about Africa. Father was so positive and helpful. Also, the work of the Jesuits in the fields of education, health and social services in remote parts of the world is often overlooked and it is good to have it aired. Steve Paikin handled the difficult questions well and Father responded so well.”

“Thank you for letting people know about Fr Orobator at TVO’s Agenda.ÔÇ¿Fr Orobator’s answers and comments were so clear and inspiring.ÔÇ¿I hope it helped people understand that in certain places not everything is bad and in others not everything is good, there is a mix of both everywhere.”

“The exchange with Steve Paikin was excellent. I was able to attend the lecture at the Loretto residence on St Mary Street and was very positively encouraged by what Fr Orobator offered. His presence, his intelligent and articulate conversation, engaged with a most hospitable and irenic manner, is very hopeful. You are all to be commended at CJI for hosting Fr Orobator. We pray for him and for all those with whom he collaborates to continuing affirming hope for Africa.”