That’s White of You, George


Bush speaks on Africa. Luckily, people like Njongonkulu Ndungane speak for Africa.


Anglican Church

Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane: gives religion a good name.

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 Ndunganehe 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:

QUESTION: Prime Minister Blair has been pushing for wealthy nations to double aid to Africa. With American aid levels at among the lowest in the G-8 as a proportion of national income and the problems on the continent so dire, why isn’t doubling U.S. aid a good idea?

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 want rich countries to shoulder the cost of repaying the World Bank, thereby getting poor countries off the hook while protecting the World Bank’s balance sheet. The Bush administration wants the World Bank to absorb the cost of debt cancellation, which would mean shrinking future World Bank assistance to poor countries. Meanwhile the British want the International Monetary Fund to sell some of its gold to pay for debt relief. The administration resists because senators from western gold-producing states claim that IMF sales would drive down the price of gold; other gold producers, including Canada, share this position.

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:

Sojourners: You helped the United Kingdom’s Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown understand the mechanics of global poverty and put a face on it for him. Are there other political leaders who have responded to debt relief and global poverty issues the way Brown has?

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:

It’s not that we are asking too much really. These things are possible. These goals are realizable. It just needs the political will. I mean, if you think that the world community this year will spend close to a trillion dollars on armaments — four-and-a-half days of that spending will guarantee universal primary education for all. And the world will be a better place. Because if you have girls going to school, they will get jobs, they will make sure there’s food on the table. Notice I say “girls.” Women get things done. I’d rather give my money to women’s organizations than to men’s organizations. That’s my prejudice.

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:

First of all, let’s start with the church and its false theology that links sex with sin, with guilt and punishment. There have been evangelists — and they have not stopped coming to Africa — who say that HIV/ AIDS is a punishment from God. … We have begun shouting from our rooftops that HIV/AIDS is not a punishment from God. It is a disease, like any other disease, that is manageable, that is preventable, that is treatable. We need to give loving care and support to people living with 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:

Sojourners: The church raises a moral voice for a just economy because we believe that God wants humans to live with dignity. How does human dignity affect a person’s relationship with God?

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.