Africa is Complex

Katongole Lays it Down:

We have been reading a book called “The Sacrifice of Africa”, by Emmanuel Katongole, who is a Ugandan Catholic Priest. In this book, Katongole examines the different reasons for the cycle of violence in Africa. Also of interest, he looks at how religion intersects with the narrative of violence that is being told throughout the continent. I’ve found this book to be refreshingly interesting. Katongole sees everything in stories, and notes that the primary narrative that is being told right now in Africa is one that remains the legacy of the colonial era. The nation states that ensued in Africa from the colonization by Britain, France, and other tertiary nations operate such that institutions become very unstable. Of course, we all know that would-be-dictators will sometimes compete for power in these nation states. Eventually one wins – they may even stay in power for a while (Museveni is the current one in Uganda, and has been there since 1986). However, the entirety of the power in the country does not fall to just a single man or woman. Katongole also tells us that the political elite, who may be competing against one another for power can manipulate the people and cause outbreaks of violence. For example, in Rwanda, the Hutu and the Tutsi lived peacefully in the same area for quite a while. However, as Katongole tells me in his book, those tribal threads of identity were very selectively plucked by a group of political elite in order to pit the two groups together. The definition of “Hutu” and “Tutsi” literally changed over the course of years, in order to bring the two groups into conflict. Thus, the nation state “presents itself as the only hope against the chaos” of the supposed tribalism that plagues the country.

We Pick it Up:

So it seems we have this layering of competition throughout the political structure of many African countries, all with the inevitable result of causing suffering for the majority of the country’s population. An image that comes to mind while I think about this is a hypothetical poorly-planned city. Every street could stand for one person’s motivation, and subsequent action to try and change the course of the nation. However, with everyone leading in a different direction, you don’t go very far if you are looking to pass through the city.

Katongole also talks about this vision of Africa, and how the church can play a role here. As things currently stand in Africa, the church is stuck in a place of reticence, where they are considered to hold strict domain over the spiritual realm, but nothing else. As such, they aren’t in a position to imagine possible future directions that Africa might take – they can even become part of the paralyzing structure that demoralizes African residents. However, Katongole says that if the church took a bit more of an outward, courageous stance on issues in Africa (which might involve the church taking some political stances), they may come into a space that allows them to shape the future of the continent. To me, this would be like emerging from the tangled webs of downtown streets, and leaving a city to find that the road has formed into a highway leading to the next city it has direction and significantly higher velocity.

It is a bit strange for me, an American, to envision the church taking a role in politics. I don’t think a majority of Americans like the idea of marriage of the church and state. In fact, I remember learning in freshman year theology that there was a lot of concern when JFK was running for president that, if elected, he would hold his first obligation to the Pope, and thus America would come under the “rule of the church”. Our professor then showed us this long speech that JFK made in response, in which he highlighted his firm belief in the separation of church and state. Anyways, in the case of African politics, I do believe that Katongole has a good point. In a place where stability on all levels – from economic stability all the way to literal stability of security, without which people are hunted and killed for their ethnic background – is more fluid, a new narrative introduced by the church may serve as an anchor point off of which people could gather and move forward, together.

Please do note that when I say that the church would be involved in politics in African countries, that would mean something to the effect of saying, “Actually the Hutu and the Tutsi tribes are both comprised largely of Christian individuals (which, I believe they actually are), and thus should not be killing each other…or anyone”. Currently, the church doesn’t seem to do that as much as they should. At least that is my impression from reading this book. In fact, some Priests actually participated in the Rwandan genocide themselves, within the church itself. Obviously, that should not be the case.

We are Picking up what Katongole is Laying Down:

Super Cool Lingo to English Translation: “We understand what Katongole is saying”


Well, that is my current digestion of this dense book that we are reading. Sorry for the long book report post here, but I really wanted to share a bit of what we have been talking about – I find it very interesting on a sociological, and personal, level. I think now I will go to bed!

As a side note: I am really liking the work that we are doing already. Working the camera in all different types of light and scenarios is a fundamentally enjoyable challenge. It almost feels like a little video game from my childhood. Although this time, instead of defeating the basilisk from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, I am getting actions scenes of someone picking up a coffee from the counter, or paying a barista for their drink (we were practicing taking shots in Starbucks this morning, much to the staff’s surprise, and the management’s wariness). I am already starting to think that I might like this type of work too much to just let it go after out Uganda adventure is over. I found this cool organization in Washington DC called “Stone Soup Films” (the location of one of my dream medical schools) that makes pro-bono documentaries to advertise local NGO’s….. Perhaps I’ll be having some stone soup to treat the weariness that medical school is bound to provide.

About Andrew Bodlak

A soon-to-be senior at Creighton University. I grew up in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and still hold a love for the city and state as a whole. I love going back and seeing the mountains, the Tesla store in Denver, and the hustle and bustle of I-25. I am a Neuroscience major at Creighton University, a major choice which has brought much fruit into my life. While is can be very challenging at times, I have learned to love a good challenge - especially when I get to the top of the metaphorical hill and look back on all that has been accomplished. This definitely applies to tough courses, but also to real life. For example, I have been in a long distance relationship with the most wonderful woman in the world for three years now - this was admittedly a LARGE challenge - but I appreciate the challenge nonetheless. As a side note, she is moving to Omaha for a masters program next year, so I am approaching that mountaintop of relief very soon. Five cheers of joy! Woohoo!

3 thoughts on “Africa is Complex

  1. So glad to see you are enjoying the book by Emmanuel Katongole, just made a full professor at Notre Dame. He is a former student of mine from Uganda and one with a wealth of knowledge to share. Be sure to look for his other books.

  2. Glad to see you are as already blogging. We will continue to share the address, and look forward to reading your updates. We pray your heart will be filled with empathy for others and that the spark will remain for a lifetime.

  3. Very interesting subject. Such a good education, and experience for you. It will certainly effect the rest of your life. Also glad that your photography is giving you a great way to release the stress of school. You are an amazing young man. We are so proud of you!

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