Bush speaks on Africa. Luckily, people like Njongonkulu Ndungane speak for Africa.
The hot air emanating from the White House on Tuesday afternoon during the Blair-Bush press conference only worsened the problem of global warming and certainly didn’t do much for the poor people of Africa.
Now, Cape Town Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane—he is a breath of fresh air. More on him in a minute.
First, though, George W. Bush‘s performance Tuesday was particularly pathetic, especially when the Q&A started. This is what I mean:
BUSH: Well, first, as I’ve said in my statement, we’ve tripled aid to Africa. Africa is an important part of my foreign policy. I remember when I first talked to Condi, when I was trying to convince her to become the national security adviser, she said, “Are you going to pay attention to the continent of Africa?” I said, “You bet.”
Good Lord, is he a honky or what? Someone asks him about aid to Africa, and the first thing he says is that he talked with his house Negro about it. I’m surprised he didn’t mention Colin Powell, Willie Mays, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, and Wayne Brady.
What an idiot. It’s revealing that he apparently thinks of this Africa thing as a cause that only black people would be interested in—you know that in his heart of hearts, he couldn’t give a shit about it.
And he certainly is proving it, matching Blair’s vow to drum up $25 billion with a paltry $674 million. Hey, we extract billions and billions from Africa—our corporations do—so it’s not like we’d even be giving them something for nothing. Please. If you don’t believe me, then listen to someone more sober, the Washington Post editorial page, which broke it down yesterday morning, before Bush and Blair met:
The British arguments are stronger on both counts: It’s better to provide debt relief in a way that keeps the World Bank strong; gold producers, who have enjoyed rising prices lately, should not be allowed to become deal breakers. But debt relief should not dominate the discussion ahead of the G-8 summit. It is only one mechanism for increasing the resources available to finance development, and it has the perverse effect of tending to reward countries that borrowed imprudently in the past. The administration should announce a further Africa initiative of $6 billion a year—the U.S. share of the $25 billion increase advocated by the recent British-convened Commission for Africa.
As I said before, Bush didn’t come close to that. Of course, now Bush’s handlers also have a firm grip on the World Bank, through Paul Wolfowitz. But look for more tension between the Brits and the U.S. on this issue, because Gordon Brown, who’s likely to take over as U.K. prime minister before too long, is even stronger on Africa than Blair is.
One reason is the aforementioned Njongonkulu Ndungane, a worthy successor to Desmond Tutu as an Anglican conscience out of Africa—and even in Selma, where he visited in March to preach and meet with U.S. civil rights activists. Ndungane, now 64 and the head of South Africa’s 4 million Episcopalians, served three years in Robben Island, the prison that held Mandela for decades.
The new issue of Sojourners magazine, from the progressive branch of American Christianity that keeps getting drowned out by the knuckleheaded religious right, carries an interview with Ndungane. Here’s a snippet:
Ndungane: In 1998 I led a delegation of bishops to meet with Gordon Brown. We talked about debt relief. I’m not saying that he wasn’t convinced then. But after his visit to Africa—he won’t be the same again. He has become very visible and very vocal. We had potential for this in the United States with former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, who traveled to Africa with [U2’s] Bono. O’Neill saw for himself and was transformed. I’d like to invite [current U.S. Secretary of the Treasury] John Snow to ride in a 4×4 and visit Africa, to see these AIDS orphans. I think people become champions once they come face-to-face with the real faces of poverty and suffering and hunger.
As Ndungane notes, the money is there; it’s the will that’s lacking:
See, Ndungane isn’t afraid to speak his mind. Religious nuts give religion a bad name. People like Ndungane can almost restore one’s faith. Here he is on the topic of AIDS:
The Sojourners interviewer feeds Ndungane a leading question, but it’s worth it for the answer—anything to get the bad taste of those self-righteous schmucks like James Dobson out of our mouths. Here’s the last Q&A of the interview:
Ndungane: First, they have self-respect. They feel they can stand up with dignity and are able to be the kind of human beings God wants them to be, and be fully human. They learn to appreciate the world more and more. They feel that they have a stake in the world. If we invest in people, if people are happy in this world, then they would not be so susceptible to people with evil intentions. We have a moral responsibility to make God’s world a just world—a world where everybody has what’s necessary for human dignity.
We worship a God of hope, a God of love. We worship an inclusive God—a God who says, “There are no aliens in my house.” We worship a God who, through grace, is able to transform people’s minds and hearts.
There’s a gift of the African church, in its warmth, vitality, its own spirituality: It is the concept of Ubuntu, which says that “I am because we are.” It’s a kind of high doctrine of humanity that is the foundation of the notion of koinonia and belonging together. That gives me hope.