"A billion reasons to believe in Africa"

Africa should no longer be seen as a charity case requiring endless handouts from superior Western economies, the Provincial of Jesuits in East Africa argues in a lecture.

Delivering Cafod's annual Pope Paul VI Memorial Lecture in London, Fr Agbonkhianmeghe E. Orobator SJ, suggests that a partnership is now required.

Popular perception and imagination of Africa would dismiss as fanciful or delusive a disquisition that purports to adduce “a billion reasons to believe in Africa.” The Coca Cola Company, whose global advertising campaign inspired this lecture’s title, contests the generalised pessimism regarding the fate and fortune of Africa. “Africa,” the Company argues, “has found the most reasons to believe — a billion, in fact — by inspiring people to see the brighter side of a continent that's often portrayed as dark, hopeless and stricken with disease, conflict and poverty.”

Let me be clear: I don’t drink coke. The Coca-Cola Company has not offered me any incentive, monetary or otherwise, to indulge their craving for strategic product placement at this distinguished forum. My fascination with Coca Cola derives from the creativity and originality of its advertisement, which fascination dates back to my childhood.

Curiously, however, I find the advertisement in question to be one of the least innovative and effective, and this for two reasons. First, although Coca Cola alleges a billion reasons “in fact,” it offers no more than a handful; they include music, dance, Mobile phones, beauty pageant, Nelson Mandela.... Second, the colourful billion-reasons billboards strategically planted in cities across Africa present a montage of Africa in stark dissonance with stereotypical imagery of the continent.

Look at it this way: smiling and well-nourished Africans in affluent, safe and secure environment – where in Africa, you might query? In which Africa? Africa of the BBC, CNN, Al Jazeera? Africa of Al Quaeda, Al Shabaab, Boko Haram ... Africa of M23? The daily diet of headline news stuffed with plentiful servings of war, violence, corruption, rape and similar vices from the so-called “dark continent” bears contrary testimony to the tantalising promise of the billion-reasons campaign to lift the burden of stigma and enigma that hangs over the continent. It might be conjectured that Coca Cola speaks but figuratively. Yet, to allege a billion reasons only metaphorically is to run the risk of reinforcing widespread incredulity and pessimism about Africa. If, in fact, there are a billion reasons to believe in Africa, credibility demands our painstaking effort to enumerate and name them.

The rest of the conference can be dowloaded HERE and watch HERE

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Bishop of the Diocese of Manzini (Swaziland)

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