Africa: 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 but, time and again, this continent has shown resilience in the face of monumental challenges.”

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 an 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 said hope was not a word many in the west normally associated with Africa: “To the avid listener of international cable news, ‘Africa’ evokes many negative images, stories, and anecdotes – images of carnages, stories of miseries, calamities and diseases; and tales of war and violence.”

Fr Agbonkhianmeghe E. Orobator SJ giving his talk in Toronto (Photo: V. Kalisz).

Fr Agbonkhianmeghe E. Orobator SJ giving his talk in Toronto (Photo: V. Kalisz).

But there is a different narrative, one that does not speak of the continent as a “basket case,” or the equally unrealistic image of Africa as a pristine wild park and repository of untarnished human values – “this is not my Africa,” said Fr Orobator firmly.

In his realistic appraisal, the Nigerian Jesuit drew attention to a puzzling and painful truth: “Africa contains paradoxes that defy comprehension: it is one of the most naturally endowed places on the earth and the most economically deprived; it is hailed as the most religious continent and yet is traumatized by religious intolerance and sectarian violence; it is the most youthful continent, but least hopeful as dreams for the fulfilment of its potential quickly fade into nightmares.”

Fr Orobator listed the leadership deficit, the “resource curse,” the relationship between Africa and its “new colonial master” China, as “factors that repeatedly thwart Africa’s quest for development and progress.” A paradox again: some of these factors “also contain reasons for hope.”

Fr Orobator acknowledged, “oftentimes, it seems like one is merely hoping against hope.” But the signs of hope are there: the Arab Spring that has given fresh impetus to movements for social and political change; and over 20 democracies on the subcontinent 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 Orobator also underlined as reasons to hope the realization at a leadership level that a culture of impunity is no longer sustainable; the gradually growing role of women in leadership, one expression being the three women Nobel laureates and two presidents; and declining HIV infection rates in Africa.

And “the most hopeful sign is Africa’s youth.” Fr Orobator said: “Africa is not a good place to grow up, but, when I look around, I see young women and men who defy the odds to put a new face on the continent.”

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2012 issue of CJI’s Mission News. At the time, Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator SJ was the Provincial Superior of the Jesuits in Eastern Africa. He is now the Principal of Hekima College at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa.