Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Better than a pride of peevish primates

On Sunday, February 18, the Primates traveled by boat to Zanzibar for a Solemn Eucharist in the Anglican Cathedral -- where the altar is built over an old slave trading post -- as the people of Zanzibar commemorated the 100th anniversary of the last slave sold on the island and the 200th anniversary of the end of slavery in the British Empire. ENS article.

Reading this snippet about a meeting that otherwise seems to have merely enabled some prominent churchmen to issue an ultimatum to their U.S. branch to stop infecting them with gay cooties, I was moved to look for a picture of the Cathedral in question and found this:

This stamp pictures, from left to right: The Cathedral of Saint Joseph (Roman Catholic), The Christ Church Cathedral (Anglican), The Malindi Mosque, The Hujjatul Islam Mosque, A Hindu Temple. Link.

Hmm. Nice idea, though probably always more vision than practice.

Zanzibar then was an independent sultanate, one of the world's historic trading centers, where, for generations, seafarers from the Arab Gulf ports and the Indian sub-continent met African merchants. Yes, for far too long, the merchandise was human, as well as spices and saris. One year after that stamp was issued, Zanzibar was "married," not entirely voluntarily, with the mainland nation of Tanganika, forming the modern state of Tanzania.

The president of that new Tanzania was the leader of its anti-colonial liberation struggle, Mwalimu (Teacher) Julius K. Nyerere. After Nelson Mandela, President Nyerere (1922-1999) was one of the most widely respected theorists and practitioners of liberation in emerging post-colonial Africa. He was an enormously thoughtful man who did something almost unique (apart from Mandela) among that set of African leaders: in 1985 he voluntarily relinquished office and saw his political and development initiatives peacefully overthrown. He went on to work to broker peace among African nations struggling with poverty and arbitrary boundaries drawn by the European imperial powers.

While I feel certain that Nyerere would have shared the cultural disdain the princes of the church so evidently feel for gay people, it is hard to imagine this teacher of the Tanzanian people as one who would work for the oppression and imprisonment of some who did their country no harm. He had very strong words of wisdom about leadership to offer to poor peasant Tanzanians:

Leaders must not be masters.

We have been led to accept the division of men into masters and slaves. ...This is a bad habit. We have been treated as slaves and we have accepted that status. What is the meaning of leadership? When you are selected to lead, it does not mean you have to know everything better than they do. It does not mean you are more intelligent than they are -- especially the elders. Sometimes my own mother calls me to give me advice. ...

We fear to take decisions. That is why some people tell me to decide things for them on the grounds that we know better. This is not true. ...Our aim is to hand over responsibility to the people to make their own decisions.

If we do not remove fear from our people, and if we do not abolish the two classes of master and servants from our society, clever people will emerge from among us to take the place of the Europeans, Indians and Arabs. ...And we leaders can become the clever people.

This is what will happen to you if you do not remove fear from your minds. You will lose your property. It will be taken from you by clever people.

Uhuru Na Ujamaa: Freedom and Socialism, 1968
Unfortunately Nyerere was all too prophetic; African socialism was no match for the rapacity of the world market and for the greed of most of the functionaries of a one party state. He understood the operation of human frailty all too well.

Rather surprisingly, Nyerere was a devout Christian of the Roman Catholic sort. Some Tanzanians, especially Muslims, distrusted him for his faith, but in his time, his leadership was not much contested. Nyerere's faith idiom may have accounted for the particular messianic cast he gave to the struggle for liberation.

"We would like to light a candle, and put it on top of Mt. Kilimanjaro, which will shine beyond our borders, giving hope where there was despair, love where there was hate, and dignity where there was humiliation." October 1959

Now that's the stuff that matters; the work Christians are called to. The source of those poetic sentiments is a column by the U.S. Catholic Dorothy Day in which she waxes enthusiastic about her 1970 visit to the emerging Tanzania.

This Tanzanian teacher, a failed socialist and defeated democrat, is a lot more inspiring and a lot more true to Truth than a pride of peevish primates.

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