Who Are My People?
Love, Violence, and Christianity in Sub-Saharan Africa
244 Pages, 6.00 x 9.00 in, 12 b&w illustrations, 4 maps, 1 table
- Published: July 2023
- ISBN: 9780268202576
- Published: May 2022
- ISBN: 9780268202569
- Published: May 2022
- ISBN: 9780268202552
- Catholic Media Association Book Award: Gender Issues – Inclusion in the Church, First Place
Who Are My People? explores the complex relationship between identity, violence, and Christianity in Africa.
In Who Are My People?, Emmanuel Katongole examines what it means to be both an African and a Christian in a continent that is often riddled with violence. The driving assumption behind the investigation is that the recurring forms of violence in Africa reflect an ongoing crisis of belonging. Katongole traces the crisis through three key markers of identity: ethnicity, religion, and land. He highlights the unique modernity of the crisis of belonging and reveals that its manifestations of ethnic, religious, and ecological violence are not three separate forms of violence but rather modalities of the same crisis. This investigation shows that Christianity can generate and nurture alternative forms of community, nonviolent agency, and ecological possibilities.
The book is divided into two parts. Part One deals with the philosophical and theological issues related to the question of African identity. Part Two includes three chapters, each of which engages a form of violence, locating it within the broader story of modern sub-Saharan Africa. Each chapter includes stories of Christian individuals and communities who not only resist violence but are determined to heal its wounds and the burden of history shaped by Africa’s unique modernity. In doing so, they invent new forms of identity, new communities, and a new relationship with the land. This engaging, interdisciplinary study, combining philosophical analysis and theological exploration, along with theoretical argument and practical resources, will interest scholars and students of theology, peace studies, and African studies.
Part One: Who Are My People? Philosophical and Theological Reflections
1. On Being African
2. On Being an African Christian
Part Two: Love’s Invention in the Midst of Africa’s Violent Modernity
3. Ethnic Violence and the Reinvention of Identity:
4. Religious Violence and the Reinvention of Politics:
5. Ecological Violence and the Reinvention of Land
Afterword: On Being Some Sort of Catholic: A Sermon
“Emmanuel Katongole is quietly but beautifully introducing a new methodology for doing theology in Africa.” —Stan Chu Ilo, author of A Poor and Merciful Church
"Katongole compellingly demonstrates that African theologians and the church must revisit the conversation on identity and the contours of Christian conversion to reimagine solutions to the continent’s perennial ecological and political challenges." —Reading Religion
When the Genocide broke out in Rwanda in the spring of 1994, I had been living in Belgium for almost three years. Having finished my masters in philosophical ethics, I was just starting my PhD research on moral rationality at the KU Leuven hoger instituut voor wijsbegeerteat (Higher Institute of Philosophy). I was living at the Helieg Geest College, formerly a seminary for Flemish seminarians, which had been turned into a residence hall and housed a number of foreign priests mostly from Africa, India, and the Philippines. The fact that Rwanda was a former Belgian colony and that ten Belgian UN soldiers had been killed at the start of the Genocide meant that the event received extensive coverage in the Belgian press. At the Helieg Geest College we had one television set in the common room, where a number of us foreign priests and a few Belgian students gathered to watch the news. As the Genocide unfolded, we watched in silent disbelief as bodies of Rwandan children, women, and men floated in rivers, piled up in churches, and decomposed by the roadside, and we heard endless “explanations” about age old animosities between Hutu and Tutsi that had now exploded into “ethnic” genocide.
It was not just the speed and efficiency of the killing (in less than a hundred days, close to a million people were killed mostly using machetes, sticks and rudimentary weapons) that baffled us into silence, but also its intimacy. Neighbors killed neighbors, family members killed family members, priests and the religious killed members of their congregations and the other way round. There was very little to say, we could only watch in stunned silence as the brutality and inhumanity of the genocide raised questions about the sacredness of human life and even what it meant to be human. The Genocide also raised doubts about global human community and solidarity, as we saw scenes of hundreds of Rwandans seeking protection at various Western embassies and compounds only to be abandoned into the hands of the Interahamwe militias as foreign governments evacuated their nationals. Barely fifty years after 147 states had vowed “never again” and signed the Genocide Convention, the world turned a blind eye on Rwanda. The reason, it would become increasingly clear, was that Rwanda was an African country of little strategic interest to Western governments. Are there any bonds of community and society that transcend national interests, I wondered?
But the genocide also raised a number of questions about Africa: about ethnicity and community in Africa, about recurrent patterns of violence across the continent, about the so-called African traditional values of communality and solidarity, and ultimately, of what it means to be an African. Kurian, an Indian priest friend enrolled in the same PhD program as I was, turned to me one evening as we were heading out of the common room after watching the news from Rwanda and asked, “Why do your people always kill each other like this?” I was not sure whether “your people” in Kurian’s question referred to Rwandans, Hutus, or Africans. Kurian might have sensed my hesitation and so he clarified, “I mean, why do you Africans always kill your own people?”
I was deeply troubled by the question. As if the images of the Genocide were not enough, here was another example of Afro pessimism, I thought to myself, this time coming not from the usual suspect of Western racists and bigots, but from an Indian! What did he know about Africa? Where in Africa had he been? On what basis could he generalize from a case of genocide happening in one country to “Africans”? He probably thinks Africa is one village, or one country. I wanted to fight back, but all I could muster at that time was a more measured response. “Not all of Africa is having Genocide,” I told Kurian. But the question continued to haunt me in ways that, looking back, I see have driven my scholarship. For I now realize that most of my work has been an attempt to understand the nature and recurrent patterns of violence in modern Africa. This attempt culminated in The Sacrifice of Africa, in which I traced the violence in Africa to what I called the “imaginative landscape” of Western modernity on the continent. In The Sacrifice of Africa, I argued that the prevailing forms of violence in Africa are not merely hangovers from Africa’s primitive or premodern past (reflecting ancient hatreds between tribes), but a modern phenomenon that has partly to do with the stories that shape modern Africa, and thus stories with which modern Africans live. These stories are embedded within and help to sustain the modern institutions of politics, education and economics in Africa. As Chabal and Daloz argue, violence, disorder, and corruption are not the exception. It is the way modern Africa works. What I sought to make clear in The Sacrifice of Africa, drawing on the work of scholars like Anderson and Cavanaugh, is that this “imagining” of Africa has greatly to do with the stories that justified and informed Europe’s modern (that is colonial) project on the African continent. I argue that even though colonialism officially ended in Africa, the nation-state (the successor political institution as well its related economic and social institutions in modern Africa) still operates out of the same imaginary that there is “nothing good out of Africa.” Wired within the architectural foundations of modern Africa, this story supports the ongoing devaluation and sacrificing of African lives by fellow Africans. It is for this reason that I argued in The Sacrifice of Africa that even more than the usual attempts to stem violence in Africa, what is required is a fresh social imagination of Africa and of Africans. We need another imaginary, and for this, another and better story.