I have started reading Emmanuel Katongole’s A Future for Africa: Critical Essays in Christian Social Imagination as preparation for the Amahoro conference in Johannesburg in a couple of weeks. Katongole is a Catholic priest from Uganda who is now associate professor of theology at Duke Divinity School and co-director of its Center of Reconciliation.
His broad argument, as stated in the introduction, is that what Africa needs to overcome its various intractable social problems – ‘poverty, violence, instability, tribalism, and so forth’ – is not more good advice, not ‘abstract principles and recommendations’, but a new imagination. Christian ethics for Africa has been so preoccupied – understandably – with the ‘search for realistic and pragmatic considerations and solutions’ that it has failed to grasp the fact that the problems are ‘wired within the imaginative landscape of Africa’ (x).
He believes, however, that this landscape can be transformed by ‘concrete Christian communities whose way of life and practices are able to interrupt the history of violence, tribalism, and corruption’. The collective memory or identity of modern Africa has been shaped by a particularly damaging set of stories and practices. Once we realize this, Katongole argues, we are bound to ‘attend to the full range of Christian stories and practices as concrete and real alternatives, through which a different imagination can begin to take shape through the life of the church’ (x-xi).
It seems to me that there are some instructive parallels between the situation of the church in post-colonial Africa and the situation of the church in the post-Christendom West. So one thing to look out for here will be whether Katongole’s attempt to imagine alternative futures as they are embodied in the concrete existence of Christian communities that are ‘shaped by visions and practices that stem from a different imagination’ is stark enough and strange enough to enable us to understand our own missional vocation more clearly.