by Caroline Wickens.
What does justice look like through someone else’s eyes? That question engaged me when I worked as a mission partner in Zambia and Kenya, teaching alongside African theologians as they explored what justice meant for them. Over the years since, I’ve continued to benefit from listening in on conversations which begin from places outside my own experience. I hope these voices may help us in British Methodism to reflect on justice, injustice and walking with Micah.
Almost all African countries experienced colonial take-over by a European power. The mother of African women’s theologies, Ghanaian Mercy Amba Oduyoye, comments:
In practice, racism was central to the relationship between African and European. The chief reasons for this were ethnocentricity and greed.
The colonial past is still with contemporary Africa. Memories of violence are keen. Colonial languages continue to dominate. Western styles of clothing are popular, often via trade in second-hand clothes which threatens local enterprise. There is capacity for extracting raw materials but still very little to process it into manufactured goods, and in recent years the same economic approach has fuelled a complex relationship with China.
Independence brought celebration but also fresh injustice. A senior Kenyan theologian, JNK Mugambi, describes how the Cold War was fought by proxy in numerous African states. More recently, the Bretton-Woods institutions imposed ‘structural adjustment programmes’ on states with unmanageable levels of Western debt. The impact on basic health-care and education was appalling. Mugambi sees globalisation as the latest version of the West’s attempt to dominate Africa. Technological advances promote a Euro-American way of life and glorify white Western culture, sometimes described as Cocacolanisation.
And then HIV/AIDS struck. From Rwanda, Michel Kamanzi provides statistics from 2006: 24.5 million people living with HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa; some countries in south central Africa with prevalence above 20%; children infected or orphaned. ARVs have improved the situation, but HIV/AIDS continues to wound society. Despite this, African governments find themselves under pressure once again to pay debts to the West rather than spend on health and education.
Yet the conversations focus on hope, not despair. From the DRC, Ghislain Tshikendwa Matadi writes on Job in the time of HIV/AIDS. He discerns the possibility of justice even in a pandemic:
‘In the midst of absurd suffering, we are invited to maintain just and loving relationships with our fellow human beings and with God who identified with human weakness by adopting human form precisely in order to save the human race’.
From Benin, Valentin Dedji comments that African leaders’ first step is to collaborate to reconstruct African people’s broken human dignity. From Botswana, feminist theologian Musa Dube writes about mama Africa, a princess with a palace at Great Zimbabwe and a summer residence in the golden sands of Egypt, who finds herself sick and bleeding after the years of colonial imperialism. She turns to Dr.Neo-Colonialism and Dr.Global Village for help but finds none, then finds herself struck down by HIV/AIDS, burying her children. Her story ends like this:
When she called out, “Who is there? Who is there?”, she was told, “Jesus Christ, the healer of all diseases, is passing by.” She heard that Jesus is on his way to heal a little girl who is already dead, the daughter of Jairus.
Mama Africa is standing up. She is not talking. She is not asking. She is not offering any more money – for none is left. Mama Africa is coming behind Jesus. She is pushing through a strong human barricade of crowds. Weak and still bleeding but determined, she is stretching out her hands. If only she can touch the garments of Jesus Christ…
African theologians give voice to a passion to rebalance life away from deep injustice. The reflections above help in naming injustice:
- When economic or military power removes agency from indigenous leaders
- When human flourishing is restricted through lack of access to resources that are widely available elsewhere, ranging from COVID-19 vaccination to reliable food supplies and clean water
- When local or global cultural assumptions identify some ways of life as valuable and right, while disparaging others and despising those who live in those ways, whether or not by their own choice
Naming injustice in this way clarifies the challenge: what needs to change so that we can walk with Micah and do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God?
The Methodist Church is currently undertaking a two year exploration of what it means to be a justice-seeking church through the Walking with Micah project. Theology Everywhere is working in partnership with the project to host a series of articles about justice. For more information visit www.methodist.org.uk/walking-with-micah/