A "Christian" Nation in Africa

Interview With Archbishop of Lusaka, Zambia

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LUSAKA, Zambia, MAY 23, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Zambia might call itself a Christian nation, but there is still much work to be done for the faith to become the lifestyle of Catholic believers, according to Archbishop Telesphore Mpundu.

The Lusaka prelate spoke with the television program «Where God Weeps» of the Catholic Radio and Television Network (CRTN) in cooperation with Aid to the Church in Need. In the interview, he reflects on why it is wrong for Zambia to be officially Christian and reasons for hope in his country.

Q: Your Excellency, in 1991 then President Chiluba declared Zambia to be officially a Christian nation, and every government since that time has reaffirmed this fidelity to God. Can one say that Zambia has been particularly blessed by this fidelity, by this generosity, an official generosity of the state to God? 

Archbishop Mpundu: Not really. I think Zambia is a country like all countries in the world, beloved by God, Christian or non-Christian. He does not distinguish or discriminate. As far as the official Catholic Church in Zambia is concerned, the declaration of Zambia as a Christian nation is something we did not go along with, on the contrary, somehow this was poorly done and ill advised. 

Q: Why was it ill advised? What was wrong with this declaration? 

Archbishop Mpundu: First of all, it has something to do with the constitutional rights of the people. If you declare a country Christian as part of the Constitution then those who are not Christian are at a disadvantage. I don’t need to go into details about the ramifications of such a declaration. So the 1996 review of the Constitution contended the declaration of Zambia as a Christian nation in the preamble and we thought, and we said as much, that it was wrong. Zambia should be a secular state and not a theocracy. Well, successive governments have reaffirmed it for their own interests. They have their own agenda. 

Q: What is this agenda?

Archbishop Mpundu: This agenda in my humble opinion and I think in the opinion of the Catholic bishops, is a way to try and manipulate the Catholic bishops and the Catholic Church. 

Q: How can you manipulate by introducing or making a declaration of Christianity? 

Archbishop Mpundu: By giving the impression that you have a rapport with the Christians Churches and that you support the Christian Churches and thereby getting their vote, their support, and we felt that this was not right. 

Q: So it was more for political reasons? 

Archbishop Mpundu: Yes, it a was political ploy indeed and in the course of time this has been proven to be so because, unfortunately during this time of the successive governments to that of President Frederick Chiluba, they found during their time of office that a lot of corruption has been unearthed, not that there wasn’t corruption before but it should have reduced if really the state is so called ”Christian.» By the way, a country is not or is Christian not by declaration, whether this declaration is presidential, ministerial, that doesn’t mean that it’s Christian or non-Christian. It’s the way, it’s the life of the people. For me, for the Catholic bishops in Zambia, and most of the Catholics, the country is not more Christian or less Christian as a result of that declaration so it is a useless declaration. It doesn’t help anyone. On the contrary, it puts Christianity in a bad light. “Caesar» wants to combine that he is the priest, and the Pope; those who have been trying, in the history of the Church, the history of religion, especially Judeo-Christian religion, to be the prophet, priest and king end up being more kings, than prophet or priest. 

Q: The situation of the country as we have spoken has not been particularly blessed; 51% of the population live on less than a dollar a day making Zambia one of the poorest countries in the world. What is the reason for this despite the fact that Zambia is wealthy in resources; you have the “copper belt.» Why has Zambia lagged behind economically? 

Archbishop Mpundu: Thank you very much for bringing this out. To begin with, you are very generous; it is not 51% but 80%, a conservative estimate, that are poor. I would say that 85% of the people in Zambia are living below the poverty line. Why? You have touched slightly on that. It is not because we do not have resources in Zambia; the natural resources are there, but in the past four decades or so, unfortunately, though we have made some progress, we haven’t made sufficient progress to benefit the majority of the people. Most of the people are poorer now than they were in the 60s and I’m saying that because in 1960 I was around. 

One of the reasons is the lack of proper priorities, prioritizing by the political leadership. For example education, education is the key to development. Immediately after independence, education was given priority but it was more like: “More is better” all the time. More young people in the school doesn’t mean that it’s a better, quality education; this unfortunately has been the case. 

We are talking about natural resources. Yes, copper is one of them but unfortunately copper has been also our curse. The politicians in the first generation taught us after the British; we Zambians are lucky to be born with a “copper spoon” in our mouth. Yes, it was said and I heard it, not second hand but with my own ears, because of that, our economy in Zambia, has been a mono economy that depended on copper year in and year out. 

Q: With no development in the other sector?

Archbishop Mpundu: Not enough effort has been made to diversify the economy: the agricultural department, for example, the manufacturing department. We have had three or four programs to make agriculture the mainstay of our economy, all of them being given not much more than lip service. One was known as «Agrarian Reform” during the time of Kenneth Kaunda, the second one was «Green Revolution” then came “Operation Food Production” then came “Go Back to the Land.» Not everything was well thought out, not enough resources were given to that sector and, therefore, in the end, people did not see agriculture as a department where they could engage for a profitable economic activity, and, therefore people didn’t go to agriculture, and yet we have a lot of arable land and plenty of land for that matter. Of 12 million people, about 5 million are living in the towns and the rest are in the rural areas in the country, which is bigger than Kenya. 

Q: Zambia has the highest urbanized rate in Africa, I understand? 

Archbishop Mpundu: Yes, indeed we are told that Zambia with more than 45%, maybe 46%, of the people living in towns or urban areas is one of the most, if not the most, urbanized countries in Africa. 

Q: But within the African context, Zambia is economically doing well. You have single digit inflation. You have macro-economic indicators, which are positive. You have investments, which is coming in. Inflation is down. We are speaking about a country, which is economically, at least on paper, doing well and yet at the same time, in our conversation, and in my understanding, the complaint of poverty is actually increasing. Why this contradiction and where is the problem?

Archbishop Mpundu: Let me clarify. To begin with, that was my assessment of the second term of office of the late President Mwanawasa. There was a tremendous increase in confidence; investor confidence as a result of his dedication to at least reducing corruption. Unfortunately this “investor injection” into our economy was going back to square one. That is my personal assessment. Why? More mines were being opened, especially copper mines. We were being told of a second “Copper Belt.» Copper mining has been done for the past 67 years in Zambia. We called that [Zambia] the copper belt; the copper belt province, but under Mwanawasa, we were going to start a second copper
belt in the northwestern province, in the Solwezi. Going back to square one, you know how volatile copper prices can be. From 1973 with the oil embargo of the oil producing — especially the Arab — nations, the production of copper became so expensive; the prices of copper went down. Nine years after independence our economy started going down. We have never recovered from that. We were going back to the same. It promised a lot of short term benefits like the Peoples Republic of China with a lot of investments coming to Zambia and promising to open these mines. Now came the world wide economic crunch; there are a lot of lay offs on the copper belt right now as we speak. And those mines which are going to be opened; the scale at which it was going to be opened has reduced considerably. Lay offs everywhere because of copper production-related slowdown. 

Q: We hear about the unemployment in the U.S. and the impact in China but is in fact, the untold story in this economic crisis tht Africa is the continent that is suffering the most as a consequence of this economic crisis?

Archbishop Mpundu: For sure. When you have 5,000 miners being laid off in Zambia per week; that is lot more than 1 million in U.S. because of the proportion, but this has been going on for the past two to three months and nobody can tell you when exactly this is going to stop. I think it is going to be a lot darker before it starts getting brighter. So that is one reason going back to a mono-economy and not investing enough in agriculture to make it a much more profitable economic activity for the people is a big mistake.

Q: I have a spicy question for you because Catholics make up 3 million out of this 12 million population in Zambia. Catholic education is very strong and present. Is not corruption playing a role in this problem of the economic growth? If corruption is playing a role where did Catholic education break down in not addressing this for the future leaders of the Zambian society? 

Archbishop Mpundu: To deny that our Catholic laity is involved in corruption is to be burying one’s head in the sand like an ostrich. I can give you an example. One day the bishops had the honor and privilege to meet with former President Chiluba: “Look Mr. President you have to do something about corruption. Corruption in government. Corruption in civil life. You have to, as president, take the lead. The government must take the lead in moral rebuilding so to speak especially with regards to corruption. And President Chiluba said: “Thank you very much. Corruption! Don’t talk to me. Talk to your own Catholics; 70% of the permanent secretaries are Catholics. They are the ones who know how to do things.» “Mr. President this is not a Catholic problem, it’s a national problem,» [we replied.] 

I do agree with you, on the other hand we say in recent years, the Church in Zambia has seen it fit to share with the faithful and also those who are not members of the Catholic Church our best-hidden treasure and that is the social teaching of the Church. Our people are becoming, everyday they are becoming, so happy that the Church has such a rich heritage of teaching on how we human beings ought to relate to one another on issues of human rights, the dignity of the human person created in the image and likeness of God and we ought to do more. Maybe we should have done a lot more. Now we are waking up to that. In the educational sector, sure, the Catholic Church has been doing a lot, unfortunately, as I said, on the part of successive governments, not enough resources are allocated to the educational sector and to see how important it is. It is not just education. It’s quality education. So that the schools we have now — like recently, we were told at the grade nine level which is nine years of education there is no cut off point anymore. Children just go into grade 10. Wonderful, excellent, but where are the resources to increase classrooms for example, laboratories, the number of teachers? 

Q: What is the classroom size in Zambia? In Europe or the U.S. it’s 25 students per classroom.

Archbishop Mpundu: That is a very good question. For a very long time we’ve always maintained 40 per class, but because of pressure in the course of the years, it has gone to 45, now it’s 50. The dropping of the cut off point, there is no limit. Take as many children. There is no cut off point, but where do you put them? We do not have enough classrooms, laboratories, and not enough teachers. If you have so many students and you don’t have enough teachers … I’ve seen that is the secondary schools for example, 70 to 75 students for one teacher; poor teacher.Unmanageable. You want to prepare a test; no it’s a test you can’t mark. You want to prepare your lesson; how do you manage to get their attention. So it is “more is better»? No! So this is one example. 

Q: Let us change the subject. I want to talk about non-Christians, particularly the question of Islam. There is a growing Islamization particularly in northern Nigeria and other African countries. In Lusaka 10 years ago there was one mosque and today, I understand there are 10 mosques. Is this a concern?

Archbishop Mpundu: I don’t know if the word concern is the right word. It is a fact that Islam is growing. There has been in the not so distant past what I would call an aggressive proselytizing campaign on the part of the Muslims, and you see that on the streets in Lusaka and Islamic school being set up in Lusaka and the rural areas in the central and eastern provinces. What people forget is that, in the mean time, the Christian Churches are also growing. The Catholic Churches are also growing, not just one parish in the past few years but several parishes have had to be established to serve our Christians better. The fact that Islam is growing is not so much a source of concern but a source of self-examination for the local church. What kind of catechesis are we bringing about so that our people are properly formed in their faith, that they are not swayed this or that way, because that is the point we also face with sects. 

Q: We will come to that issue but let us stay with Islam for the moment. You mentioned that it was an aggressive form of Islamization and there is allegation that money is coming, for example, from Saudi Arabia for this purpose, the Islamization of Africa. Is this the case in Zambia?

Archbishop Mpundu: I don’t know. I can’t answer for them and this is nothing new at all. I, every year, make certain applications to the missions. I have relations with some of the dioceses in the U.S. and Europe to help us in our pastoral programs. I do not see why Islam, Muslims, will not do the same with their brothers and sisters in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain or God knows where. […] There is nothing wrong with that. It doesn’t make me panic, but only forces me to think: What kind of faith formation are we giving to our Christians so that they are sufficiently confident in their faith? 

Q: Are they? 

Archbishop Mpundu: Well, not as much as we would like them to be. They are, but we would like them to be much more sure. The roots of catechesis are not so deep, not sufficiently otherwise we wouldn’t have [this], like a calling, from the first African synod. The first African Synod in 1990 was a look at our faith on the continent. The Church is young, very dynamic but it has also “teething“ problems as a young Church. The faith is not deep enough so it is incumbent upon us to make sure that our faith is inculturated. Our faith sheds light on our cultural and traditional practices so that these cultural practices and traditions are enriched by the light of faith and the two are so wonderfully woven into us that we are truly African Christians.

Q: And it’s the young people that give you this hope?

Archbishop Mpundu: Young people give me a lot of hope. When it comes to vocations for example, now in the Archdiocese of Lusaka, I have 70 young people in the senior seminary and I don’t have e
nough money to pay for them in the seminary and this is the tragedy. I lose them because I can’t get all of them in the seminary. First of all because I don’t have enough money as a local Church and secondly, we are given also quotas on a national level, like in the spiritual year, I can only take five students there but if I have 15, well the 10 can wait for next year. Some are too impatient to wait so we are trying to find ways and means to keep them occupied as they wait for their turn to go into the senior seminary. These are young people who want to become priests and they are mostly, overwhelmingly from ordinary secondary schools where they are teased, they are ridiculed for deciding to become a priest and they say: “Nevertheless we are going.»

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This interview was conducted by Mark Riedemann for «Where God Weeps,» a weekly television and radio show produced by Catholic Radio and Television Network in conjunction with the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.

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For more information: www.WhereGodWeeps.org

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