Most world civilizations have either their own version of God with a special connection between themselves and that God, or a name for the religion that connects their being to their God of the past, the present and the future, or both. It would appear that the people on the Afrikan continent are the only group that does not have either a God of their own or even a name for their religion. Pockets of Afrikan societies have a sense of God of the past, not the present or the future. The God of our ancestors – Mukuru Ndjambi, Kalunga, Karunga, Nyambi, Modimo, Mulimu, Elob, !Khub – seem to belong to family matters that are a consequence of our familial past. The God that came with missionaries, yes the one that is represented by the tragic story of Jesus of Nazareth with Jewish ancestry, the God of the flying and protective Angels and the Holy Ghost is not related to the God of Afrika’s past. This God has not been integrated into post-independence Namibia. This means that we pray to two different Gods, the one at home and the other over the weekends when we go to church. Other civilizations appear to have more integrated relationships with their past, present and future Gods.
The God we interact with on a daily basis in current Namibia is the weekend God, the one who was introduced to us by the orthodox Christian churches that came with missionary societies. This means that there is a void somewhere. There is schizophrenia somewhere as we seem to take our troubles to different Gods depending on the situation and who we think will give us the kindest audience. When we want to relate to our inner selves, lie when death, when infertility and bad things strike the family, the God who is likely to lend an ear is the ancestral God. This God is also more likely to hear us when we prepare to run for public office or seek high employment. The prayers that are relevant in the villages are in the jurisdiction of our ancestral God. But this old God is seen not to understand post-independence issues, and the orthodox churches such as the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran churches have not experienced the spiritual renovation to bring the old God and the new God into constructive dialogue, and we thus tend to speak to them at different times about different matters. At times we tend to protect these Gods from each other. This state of affairs could in part explain the rapid growth of Pentecostal charismatic churches that preach wealth and success on the one hand, and even the attraction to Islam that introduces strict discipline on the other, in the black communities today.
After the historical onslaught of slavery and colonialism, the Afrikan condition was further compounded so much so that Afrikans see themselves more along the lines of who colonized them. We live in false consciousness that we are Anglophone, Francophone, Lusophone to the extent that most Afrikans, especially those who were subjected to Portuguese and French colonial subjugation, live under the spell of a foreign and debilitating consciousness that they are more comfortable being French or Portuguese than being Afrikan. Our brothers and sisters in Angola are the most afflicted as the Portuguese have succeeded in emasculating the Angolan Afrikans from their historical background such that they have surnames that they cannot account for and they believe that their real home is Portugal. It is sad to see how they lack self-definition and self-affirmation, never self-direction. These Afrikans suffer continuously from an illness of looking for a God in European capitals where they are not allowed by virtue of being Afrikan, and they do not know it. They are inclined to claim that it is their God because they bear the same surnames as the Portuguese and the French descendants. They suffer from the same illness of a good Roman Catholic Church goer who believes that he is more catholic than the Pope.
As a result of the absence of Afrikans from mainstream history cannons, we Afrikans lack objective lenses through which we can see the world and ourselves and which can bring us closer to the truth. This deprives of a sense of loyalty to ourselves and the courage to face our realities on our own terms. The easiest excuse then becomes to blame others for our own failings and to name things wrongly and dangerously such that we become our own worst enemies, without even knowing that our behaviour is destructive to ourselves and our children. The monkeys we bear on our shoulders are too permanent and it will take serious thinking, rethinking and self-examination to remove them. We have been hurt too long. Hurt people hurt people. Others have been hurt too. We have hurt other people too, and we might know who and when we hurt others. The point is to get over this hurt and rebuild our world on different terms with different relationships altogether. Like Albert Einstein said: We cannot solve our problems with the same mindset that created them.
The absence of names for our Gods is the essence of our lack of clarity when it comes to how to govern the resources that God gave us. In the absence of clear understandings of who we are, where we come from, how we got here and what our purposes are on this planet, we are caught in a whirlwind of mindless power games and upmanship: who is more powerful than the other in any given situation we find ourselves in? We do not cherish ideas and creativity: we cherish fear of authority, we celebrate material power however pretentious it might be and we compete in games that we do not even understand ourselves.
The Gods of our cultures must be given citizenship in a free Namibia as a matter of urgency before we lose everything. In light of research that several scholars have conducted on post-colonial developments, we can discern certain patterns that have emerged as a consequence of how cultural realities influence how people come out of oppression and endeavor to recover using their own strengths. In history, many countries and nations were colonized and ruled buy foreign authorities. Many nations were formed out of the resistance to be under foreign domination. Many countries have in one way or another recovered from colonial domination and constituted themselves as sovereign entities with unique characters germane to their historical circumstances and cultural specificities. Yet Afrikan countries that came out of such foreign domination are still struggling to become entities in their own right and of their own.
The all-time Greek philosopher Socrates once said: ‘A life unexamined is a life not worth living’. It is a fact that unlike other civilizations, it is Afrikans who suffer an indelible inability to examine ourselves in order to move forward with lessons from our past experiences. The African-American journalist, Keith Richburg, opined that in Afrika things stay the same until they fall part. Afrikan countries were not the only parts of the planet that were colonized and/or ruled by foreigners. Others, such as Japan, China, India, Singapore, Malaysia, Korea Bangladesh and even parts of Greater Europe, were colonized. Yet they manage to crawl out of their conditions of subjugation and reconstructed themselves into cohesive socio-political societies that serve the interests of the greater commonwealths in those lands.
Many former Asian colonies that became sovereign countries are also composed of multiple ethnic and linguistic groups in their diversities that make for their overall strengths. Many countries in the world also have artificial borders and continuing border disputes, so much so that some of East Asian countries like Korea, Vietnam, were racked by destructive civil wars in the 1950’s and 1960’s. But still Asia managed to prosper while Afrikans remain mired in poverty forever.
We speak with forked tongues to the world on the one hand and to ourselves on the other. We take huge credit when things go well, even when we know the credit is due to someone else. Yet we blame every failing on someone else but ourselves. We cry poverty when we meet richer countries from whom we beg, yet we behave richer than the countries from whom we beg. The problem is no longer with our colonial masters, the problem is not with our own ancestors, the problem is no longer with apartheid, and the problem is not with the struggle for independence: the problem is with us. We are not dreaming to create a better world, a better Namibia. We are busy fighting wars without opponents and we are too preoccupied with our own comfort at the expense of the comfort that can only come with a new struggle for the common good. In this setup we generate our own insecurities and create new enemies for the sake of remaining in a situation where we must eat alone. The politics of the belly must come to an end. Ben Okri is right: Our history has not taught us enough, or the abuse would have ended a long ago.
We need to find our Gods, and give them pleasant names. We need to know what we believe in. Once we find, name and respect our own stories in different ways, we will learn to coalesce around strong common values with a new openness and a new passion. This newness cannot be about individuals, and it matters not how powerful they are or say they are because ‘they died’ for our country. Our democracy cannot grow and flourish without democrats. The future cannot be well without the youth that mortgages common values, and build upon them! And the youth cannot on its own know about the Gods of the past, the present and the future if they do not hear about how we got here.
The past and the future must come together somewhere. We need a joined-up way of thinking! This way is neither only about the past, nor only about the future, but in the middle. In the here and now. We must learn from the past and prepare for the future better. Our ancestors and our leaders held something together which is slipping away, due to our greed, selfishness and self-righteousness. Our values were reposed in the art of listening to others as equals. We had stopped listening and hearing. It would appear that the conversations between heroes and the youth today are more of a loud dialogue of the deaf. Without self-examination, we are likely to have the choir director who does not know the song, but who expects the members of the choir to sing harmoniously with his direction. We are likely to send our best netball players to compete in international football.
We are likely to sing burial hymns at weddings. Better yet, we are likely to appoint good dentists to fix rural people’s eyes. Or we go forward in reverse. Our Gods of the past must hear us today and we must listen to the Gods of tomorrow. The God of today is here. This God only needs a new name, a more pleasant name. An inclusive name. This God is neither white nor black, but GOOD. Or else we go nowhere very slowly!