Picture credit: Bible Society / Mark Woods
Africa is entering a new epoch, according to Revd Dr Samuel Kobia.
On the closing day of the African Biblical Leadership Initiative (ABLI) conference in Kigali, Rwanda, the ABLI moderator and former General Secretary of the World Council of Churches spoke on the theme, 'Re-imagining Africa: peace and social cohesion'. He spoke of the previous epochs characterised by colonialism, independence and the increasing cohesiveness of African countries in continent-wide organisations. However, he said, the spiritual emancipation of Africa has not yet been completed. We have 'carried into the 21st century a lot of wounded memories'.
He referred to continuing conflicts and the genocide in Rwanda 25 years ago, and to the 'economic colonialism' making itself felt from Russia, China and Japan. 'What does it mean if to achieve peace, cohesion and harmony we have to get it from Moscow, Beijing or Tokyo?' he asked.
He spoke of the five 'pillars' required for the re-imagination of Africa. First, he said, was peace. It is, he said, not just tranquillity, but a transformation of conflictual and destructive interactions into more constructive relationship. Peace and peacemaking should not simply be techniques to patch up conflict, but a larger and deeper concept,
Of reconciliation, he said that it had to be understood in all its dimensions – not just, as in the past, purely in theological terms, but in as a social category as well. 'Too broad an understanding of reconciliation could deprive it of its cutting edge,' he said, noting that it was 'part of political rhetoric' in some countries. True reconciliation requires working alongside people and being committed to a relationship of building trust. 'There is a always the danger that reconciliation is trivialised,' he said. 'We don't talk of cheap reconciliation but of costly reconciliation.'
Kobia also spoke of forgiveness and healing. 'Genuine forgiveness is an encounter between the perpetrator and the victim,' he said. 'It occurs when the perpetrator asks, and the victim grants it.' Forgiveness 'frees the future from the haunting legacy of the past', he said, adding that 'Africa must forgive, or it will chain the next generation to the legacy of the past'.
Fourthly, he spoke of the liberation of creation. 'The task of bringing about the liberation of creation is daunting and overwhelming, but we must have hope,' he said. He referred to recent comments by the Secretary General of the United Nations, who said the effects of climate change could be worse than those of atomic bombs. 'The existential threat to life as we know it is real,' he said, adding that 'Africa as the cradle of humanity is endowed with ancestral memory, that must be allowed to enrich the efforts at reconstituting the wholeness of life and humankind.
'Mitigating climate change will be poorer if the world does not allow itself to be informed by the indigenous knowledge of Africans in maintaining the balance of ecosystems.'
He closed by speaking of the importance of hope. 'We believe in a God who is not aloof from human affairs, whose reality is grounded in our daily struggles for peace and justice.
'It can still be a beautiful world in which the children of God will eventually become free. We acknowledge that we are part of sinful world, and that we too are broken and wounded, in great need of being liberated and reconciled to one another.'
The Church's mission of reconciliation, he said, would never succeed without the grace of God.
He concluded: 'We cannot sit quietly waiting for the world's agenda to impact on us. Rather we should be the ones to come up with an agenda to impact the world.'