The West's new 'gospel' echos colonial religious conversions

President Joe Biden. [AP Photo]

There is one aspect of the struggle for independence that I find rather puzzling. How did the generation that witnessed the end of the European colonial project in Kenya in the 1960s – so infamous for the “gun in one hand and Bible in the other” missionary duplicity wherein Christianity was the convenient ‘carrot’ for luring local people into surrendering their land - go ahead to embrace this religion and remain, until their dying day, among the most devout adherents you could find anywhere? 

Their numbers have now dwindled through natural attrition. With them are going remarkable memories of nasty encounters with the Bible-toting settlers who, at the tail end of the occupation acquired the vilest viciousness after realising that ‘blanket natives’ not only espoused the daring dream of forcing the British out of the country, but were already activating political and kinetic resources to make it happen sooner.

Through my mother’s harrowing narratives, my boyish imagination often re-lived the sheer terror of being caught up in the crossfire between Mau Mau fighters and the homeguards, either of who could have been your homestead’s unwelcome guests any given night. As a young girl, she saw firsthand in 1956 the venerated freedom fighter Dedan Kimathi, freshly shot and captured, just a few metres from her parents’ house.

But then, it was relatively easy for many Africans to convert to Christianity – maybe to other incoming religions as well- because it had numerous nexuses with the cultural codes they were relinquishing, for instance, the existence of a supreme deity, definite gender roles, the headship of the man in the family, sexual taboos and many other acceptable rules of propriety.

Even polygamy, then quite widespread and dear to many an old man’s heart, resonated well with the biblical patriarchs who had large households and multiple wives. Ditto, the cherished concept of generational and extended families. The biggest motivation, hopefully, was the promise of eternal glory which, though inherent in dim and mystical forms in traditional religions, was now offered explicitly by God through Christ.

My whole point is that spiritual contiguity was simplified by the congruency of the fundamental tenets of both the incoming and outgoing religions. Notably, nowhere did the issue of non-traditional sexual orientations arise. And needless to say, our parents inculcated the same moral and religious worldviews in us with considerable zeal, and sometimes, some brutality copied from the martinet European missionaries.

In fact, the finest generation of Africa’s writers including Chinua Achebe and Ngugi wa Thiong'o made their names depicting the uneasy relationships between the foreign values and animist religions within the colonial milieu. The sad story of Ezeulu - that traumatised traditional priest and chief protagonist in Achebe’s timeless novel Arrow of God - arouses feelings of pity in the reader every time.

Fast-forward to 2023, and the ecclesiastical ground has shifted irreversibly. For one, having achieved their lucrative goals, the colonialists seemingly lost interest in God as evidenced by the current sharp increase of irreligion in Europe. Wikipedia notes that “together with the decline of Western Christians, increasing numbers of Christians in the global South will form a "new Christendom" in which the majority of the world's Christian population will be found in the South”.

Meanwhile, if the divine franchise - like the biblical talents - was left in the hands of former colonial subjects, they have certainly not disappointed. So much so that today, Africa is often derided as being ‘notoriously religious.’

Against this backdrop, I find the new and energetic efforts by Western countries to ‘re-evangelise’ Africa with a gender-based ‘gospel’ which absolutely upends the ethos of the one they earlier bestowed on us, terribly confusing.

As things are now, an unwritten script requires the world’s poorer countries to make unconditional psycho-social about-turns and embrace quintessentially Western lifestyles that often feature diminished role of males in society, recognition of every form of sexual expression imaginable as absolutely acceptable, smashing of long-standing social taboos, repudiation of the concept of ‘God’, and lately, malleability of sexual identities. 

For any hesitating nation, the penalties are swift, furious and existential: Cessation of trade, withholding of critical international aid and blacklisting at international forums. As I type this, I am staring at a headline titled “America's Biden Promises Tough Penalties to Uganda for Allowing Anti-Gay Law”.

Until the LGBTQ movement sheds what looks to me like complete intolerance for any dissenting voices, my personal opinions of its agenda will be put on hold. But even then, unless some lives matter more than others, the Western countries’ willingness to imperil millions of poor people in developing nations by slamming the door on aid and bilateral trade in defence of any disenfranchised group, does not quite satisfy my sense of justice and fairness.

In sum, I suggest that the West should first reward former colonies for faithfully embracing the earlier religion and cultural mores they introduced to them at the turn of the last century before demanding - ever so snobbishly– acquiescence to the newest ones.

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