Fr. Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator
TORONTO – Africans still want the kind of genuine partnership with Canadians the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace has fostered over the last four decades, said the provincial superior of the Jesuits in Eastern Africa.
"It matters," Father Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator said in an interview. "It's not only about Canadians giving to Africa. There's an element of mutuality there. It's not just about the money. It is important to keep that contact."
The Canadian International Development Agency recently announced that it has cancelled funding to every CCODP partner in Africa outside of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Orobator was in Toronto to deliver a May 2 public lecture sponsored by Canadian Jesuits International, the office that supports Jesuit projects around the world. He spoke under the title Africa: Continent of Hope.
CCODP member Sylvia Skrepchuk was glad to be reminded Canadians should support African-led development projects. "The sad thing is that the thing he (Orobator) said that we should do is exactly what D&P was doing, and what this government has cut," Skrepchuk said at the end of the lecture.
Orobator said most North Americans don't know that Africa has the world's fastest growing middle class, that against great odds the rate of new HIV infections is dropping and that democratic culture is beginning to translate into peaceful, democratic regime change in many countries.
The Nigerian-born theologian said he does not deny the reality of poverty, misrule, corruption and war in many parts of Africa.
Africa has suffered through poor leadership, the shadow of colonialism, environmental degradation, and twisted and manipulative versions of religion, he said. But the young nations of Africa are claiming a better future.
"We need to take the long view of Africa," he said. "Its fortunes are not in the past. They lie in the future."
Failure in the political class isn't an exclusively African problem, Orobator said. Citing Canadian International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda, who has had numerous public relations' gaffes, he noted that in developed Western countries we can find politicians who "are not icons of leadership."
Africa's icons of leadership include Nelson Mandela of South Africa, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania and former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan.
Zimbabwian dictator Robert Mugabe, Orobator said, is a "dinosaur who faces certain extinction."
The Arab Spring movements that began in North Africa "have swept away decades of misrule and mismanagement," said Orobator. While they may have so far delivered less democracy than initially promised, they have changed people's expectations of politics and politicians across the continent.
While both Christianity and Islam are growing by leaps and bounds on the continent, religion has too often been used as a crude tool of political division. Christianity has grown 57 per cent since 1900 and Islam by 29 per cent, he said.
"Leaders and fanatics of religion prey on the vulnerabilities of Africans," said Orobator. "There is cause to revisit the use and abuse of religion in Africa."
Orobator was quick to reaffirm Pope Benedict's 2009 assertion Africa is "an immense spiritual lung" for the world.