Emmanuel Katongole, Introduction and Chapter 1 …

I’m currently in the United States and just arrived in San Antonio for a Renovare conference. This is my first time in Texas (outside of an airport) and I can tell you that it’s hot here! 

Nevertheless, I’m currently reading a fantastic book entitled “A future for Africa” by Emmanuel Katongole. [It would be great to start a group that interacts on the content of this book – drop me a note if you're interested]

The book consists of essays by Emmanuel.  He is an Ugandan who currently teaches at Duke.  In the book’s introduction he talks about the challenge of developing a social ethic that is descriptive before it becomes prescriptive.  Or to use a computer analogy … before you download funky applications you need to understand the operating system.  You cannot load Mac software onto a PC (though you can load PC software on a Mac, but I digress).

He contends that a lot of ethics in Africa aim at telling Africans what to do, he states that, “by focusing on recommendations, Christian ethics does not fully and critically engage the reality of politics in Africa, especially the fact that politics involves the formation of identities.  A preoccupation with prescriptions does not, therefore, highlight the specific type of identities formed within post-colonial politics.”

The problems in Africa, therefore does not garner quick fixes, because they, “are wired within the imaginative landscape of Africa”p.xi.  These landscapes are wired into our collective memories and are embodied in our daily rhythms.  Because it runs in the background of society, these scripts (or operating systems) are taken for granted and it is precisely this memory that has to be discovered and “unlearned”p.23.

In Chapter 1 cleverly titled , “Remembering Idi Amin: On Violence, Ethics and social memory in Africa” – Katongole explore the importance of memory.  This memory include historical facts but is much more than just the factual.  The task of memory,

… is in fact a conversation about the present.  It involves taking a closer look at who we are in the present – our current responses, reactions, and patterns of life – and trying to situate that within a narrative of social/political history” p.19

Here are some of my thoughts on this …

-    It is disconcerting to me how fast white South Africans want to move past the memories of Apartheid.  This kind of amnesia that is prevalent in the talk of the beneficiaries of oppression serves a particular agenda; to keep the status quo. 
-    This task of remembering is very urgent given, “the current modes of social ethic, most of which is involves a calculated forgetfulness of the past and a naïve optimism and invitation to “move on.”p.21.
-    Though Katongole urges us to move beyond factual memories, I think most white South Africans haven’t explored the memories of our country.  Therefore, I would propose that any church should strongly encourage their membership to explore our country’s history.  Visit the Apartheid museum, talk to the previous perpetrators of Apartheid, talk to the victims, read on people who resisted (Tutu, Beyers Naude, Biko), repent, forgive, reconcile [remembering that prescriptive actions like that last sentence should follow descriptive exploration].
-     Personally I’m thinking that at Claypot, membership should be dependent upon a process of remembering.
-    Katongole states that one of the reasons we need to remember is that the oppressed who are liberated can easily become just like the oppressors.  That’s why God continually tells Israel to remember their slavery and by implications their taskmasters.  When we forget we become what we despised.  For white South Africans this can pertain to our accusatory stance towards our parents – if we only show a finger the chances are that we will make the same kind of mistakes.

… unless we are, as individuals and as communities, able to examine our present patterns of life and choices, and locate them within a comprehensive narrative of social history, we are neither able to understand who we are in the present nor clearly able to see the alternatives that might be available to us.  Only by confronting the past, which still somehow lives on in the present, are we able to envision or imagine meaningful and viable alternatives for the future.” p.7