Our problems are not spiritual, but practical

develop me Tapiwa Gomo

SOMETIME in 2000, when our economy started the gradual tumble, I had a chat with a Pakistan colleague, expressing my fears of the possibilities of losing jobs.

I had just started life, secured a job and things were shaping up. Like many of my generation, I was concerned that with the way the Zanu PF government was running down the country, mainly the destruction of the agro-industry, our hopes of a brighter future would be dimmed.

My colleague gave what then sounded like a far-fetched philosophical response.

He highlighted that in a country such as Zimbabwe, when a functioning economy dies, it opens up space for non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and civil society organisations (CSOs).

NGOs would take up the humanitarian gap created by loss of jobs and economic opportunities, lack of social welfare services and destitution created by a plummeting economy, while CSOs would take on the ruling government on political issues such as human rights, democracy and governance.

These would be foreign-funded and such funding has a life-span.

He, however, cautioned that if this two-pronged approach fails to achieve the desired political and economic change within a decade or so, the journey would be much more protracted and gruelling, because funding for both the NGOs and CSOs tends to decline or last for only a decade, thereby pushing more people into abject poverty.

He wished that Zimbabwe would not get to that stage because when a people lose hope in the face of an unrelenting dictatorship, they tend to spiritualise their situation.

This will open up space for religious institutions to thrive. Instead of looking at their situation as human-made, requiring humanly solutions and when all else fails, desperate people tend to submit themselves to spiritualism through various forms of religious practices.

Fast forward to 2019, our media is awash with stories of the innumerable churches, “men and women of God” and the prophets who have become the dominant subjects in our midst.

Spirituality, whether it is in traditional faith or Christianity, has never been this dominant and my Pakistan friend’s prediction seems to have come to pass.

Both the citizens and the political leadership are resorting to consulting spirits to help address the prevailing poverty problems to the extent that some have even forgotten that economic problems are solved by economic solutions.

Political and economic desperation by both the citizens and the leadership is one of the reasons why prophets have sprouted and spread like uncontrollable weeds and they have suddenly become de facto authorities.

There is nothing wrong in believing in the powers above.

However, there is a serious problem when a people entrust solutions to their problems to spirituality.

Doing so simply abrogates human accountability for having created the problems and, therefore, exonerates human responsibility to solutions.

This is because both the problem and the solution begin to be viewed as the will of the powers above for which humans have no role and power to alter.

When Africans say the continent is cursed, they are simply implying that the devil is having its way on the continent and prayer or spiritual rituals is what is required to cast away the curse.

When confronted with practical problems, in spiritualism, the solutions seem obvious — talk to a religious leader, go to confession because problems are seen as punishment, pray, seek guidance from spiritual leaders.

But the line between the spiritual and reality can be very blurry, so much so that one wonders if people are too often told to “pray away” their problems that may also require practical solutions.

Spiritualising poverty or economic problems often times tends to be the dead end of hope.

This is because of several reasons. First, spirituality operates on the basis of blaming something or someone for having caused the problems.

And, therefore, the solution to the poverty problem would begin by addressing that assumed cause of the problems through a variety of spiritual rituals some of which are remote from the actual problems that are being addressed. In most cases, these rituals require resources, the same resources that could have been used for investment.

Second, spiritualising problems robs people of their confidence and ability to move on, to take initiative and take on the challenges using their capabilities and available resources.

It is for the same reasons that, despite Africa possessing hard-working labour, plus abundance of natural resources, it still lacks the confidence to utilise these for their own betterment. And hence the fallacy that it needs a “miracle” for the continent to develop like others.

Third, it is premised on the assumption that to prosper is a blessing that comes through a miracle and that such a blessing is an expression of gratitude or a favour by some powers above on its people and not necessarily out of human initiative.

Hard work is reduced to nothing, but complementary to the blessings from the powers above. While we are not the only the continent that is religious, we are the only continent that believes that the prospects of a better future lie not in our hands, but in the hands of those above and yet we read and learn how other countries have done it to get their people out of poverty.

1 Comment

  1. A well-written piece brother Tapiwa Gomo….but like you said people are desperate and, belief in the supernatural is most prevalent in poor societies, we are no different, though I wish it was otherwise.

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