It has been several months seen the debate on political philanthropy and church complicity was introduced into the national dialogue forum.
The push and pull between the antagonists on one end and protagonists on the other is seemingly gaining momentum. On several occasions, those opposed to the whole idea of politicians making generous donations during church fundraisers have enjoyed the upper hand with support from senior clergy only for the clerics to make a hasty retreat.
A book by Tom Burgis has a fascinating account of Africa’s poverty and what fuels it. Titled The Looting Machine, the book explores the continent’s rich resource heritage, the wanton plunder, and the resultant poverty and political instability.
The author popularizes the phrase “Dutch Disease”, invented by The Economist. This is the economic ailment that results from the discovery of a natural resource in a country or region that leads to the crippling of other productive economic sectors and mass layoffs. The phrase got its name from The Netherlands, after the largest natural gas field in Europe was discovered in their southern region; leading to the economic slump and job losses in sectors outside the energy industry.
The symptoms of this disease are strikingly similar to our economic situation even though we are yet to commercially exploit our oil reserves in the North. One of them, especially in Africa, is poverty and oppression. The other is a cycle of economic addiction and dependence on the financial affluence concentrated on a small elite that also tends to call the political shots.
We may not be mineral-rich but we certainly suffer from the same ailment as our resource-laden African compatriots. The church is but a fitting representation of our social economic attitude and how the leaders act; a reflection of our individual mannerism.
Our curse is not a natural resource endowment but the political enterprise as government and government spending has become the largest economic activity. Through the mainstreaming of public resources plunder, opaque procurement processes and inflated invoicing, the government now rivals the mining fields of Eastern Congo as a source of illicit gold and private wealth. In equal reaction, other sectors of the economy are crumbling; leading to mass job losses and financial destitution.
The church just like their loyal adherents is in a dilemma as their desire to expand operations is hindered by an increasingly impoverished congregation. It is not just the clerics that are uneasy, the average citizen going through the motions of daily life is incessantly faced with similarly difficult choices. Since the economic opportunity pie is shrinking, is politics, political mobilization or becoming a political courtier evil?
Unfortunately, Dutch Disease has no quick antidotes because there are beneficiaries of the status quo and recovery requires that the source of quick riches be shut down. The matter at hand is not that ill-gotten wealth is being sanitized at the pulpit, the real estate and trading sectors have done an exemplary job of laundering money. The real issue is that we are building upon an unsustainable economic model and at some point, something will her to give.
Many of the resource-rich countries in Africa are plagued by civil strife, some say instigated by the west to maintain a state of political dysfunction in which resource plundering thrives. However, since our strain of the malady is homegrown; popular uprising may not even be a feasible option. The most probable outcome is a national debt crisis where the government is eventually unable to service its international debt obligations. The reason; our opulence is supported by borrowed funds and despite where those funds end up, the debt will have to be paid. With a shrinking taxpayer base, as other sectors of the economy collapse, the risk of default is real.
Perhaps this is what should worry the clergy; that looking the other way will eventually amount to economic sabotage. Instead of being fixated on the false prosperity of the political actors, they should be more concerned with the real prosperity of their congregants. Max Weber writing in the early 1900s had made this curious observation about certain Christian denominations and even religions. He noted that some were more prosperous than others and attributed this to not just the doctrine but its interpretation by the Priests as well as how it was applied by the congregants. In what he described as “this-worldly and otherworldly asceticism”, Weber demonstrated that the church is a powerful tool for economic transformation; not just then but even today.