Africa is enjoying a huge opportunity. Black Panther recently spent months at the center of world-wide publicity, and global attitudes toward the continent may be poised to shift. But the question now is:
Which countries and, within them, which people are ready? Moreover, what matters most moving forward?
It may surprise you.
This is a photo of billboards posted throughout Malawi. It states three priorities. But at this moment, integrity may be far more important than any.
As some of you know I returned to the states a while ago to help with hurricane relief. My rent in Malawi was covered during my time away, and we even paid extra to take care of my place. But when I got back, it wasn’t ready…at all.
The caretaker didn’t have the key. Apparently someone else had it. Through the windows at the back I could see linens I had left folded—strewn on the floor with a woman’s purse on top. My bedding was nowhere to be seen. A few windows over, there were dirty dishes in the sink with ants crawling over them. A window over from that, someone had hung a piece of cloth in place of the curtains I’d left hanging.
When I asked about the key, I learned I wouldn’t be able to get in that day.
I wonder why?
I ultimately ended up spending two nights in a lodge, while the people I’d paid to maintain the place got it back together…sort of.
Because when they asked me to come back to see the cleanup, it wasn’t so cleaned up. It couldn’t have been…too many things had been moved or damaged.
That’s the list, obscured because the details aren’t the point—the lack of integrity is.
I brought replacements for some things they were likely to break or consume—which, of course, they broke and consumed. And I was prepared to stay in a lodge…because unfortunately, it’s simply safer to assume that agreements here will be broken—since the most reliable factor in doing business here is often unreliability.
But its depths can still be difficult to foresee. Going into your clean-looking fridge to pour water you just bought, that after a day wreaks of raw fish you never had…? Having your missing, now damaged, personal items randomly returned at odd times…? Pulling someone’s tangled extensions from towels presented to you as “clean”…smh?
Little time-release surprises like that were waiting for me throughout my first few days back in the house.
It was essentially a repeat of my return last year. One that wasn’t nearly as mismanaged, but fundamentally riddled with the same games, in a new year, with different people…in a place where trust has become synonymous with folly.
Unlike last year, this time no police. But both times I got to see what I needed to see. People to whom I’d given more than what they’d asked of me…craving opportunities to take more.
If this were simply a personal issue with a poorly negotiated agreement, writing about it might not be worth my time. But it’s a different dimension of similar experiences I’ve had here.
Empty promises to follow-up on agreements. Redundant conversations with those entrusted to care for children they’re content to neglect. Government workers manipulating inefficiency for kickbacks—managing systems adept at creating delay. A private sector filled with personnel for whom excellence is irrelevant. Proud to have a title for a job they may not know how to do. Content – even smug – because convincing others that you’re capable, is now considered more clever…than actually being capable.
A workforce not completely devoid of excellence, but whose excellence is crippled by graft. With too many of its best minds encouraged to use their talents to steal…and conceal.
Situations underscoring the reputation this region has earned with most every foreigner doing business here. A reputation that discourages investment, and begs the question…
…who is ready?
There are parts of Africa ready for this next opportunity, because I guarantee you that Wakanda is more real than you might think. But an elder I heard preach may have identified the single greatest impediment to readiness here when he bluntly said:
“Malawi is suffering for its sins.”
So many times we complicate an issue that the wise see clearly—and simply.
Integrity seems foolish to the “clever.” But more than anything, integrity may determine which places new opportunities pass by. Far too many people see graft in major world powers, and assume that graft is how wealth is built. When that’s often how it’s simply being spent. Oblivious to the existence of at least a minimal level of honor amongst thieves, many seek to build a livelihood on levels of dishonesty that would cripple any business—much less an entire national economy.
Managing commerce with neither the consistent, timely delivery of goods…nor the interest in developing consistency. Functioning without guarantees that items purchased will ever arrive in the amount – or at the price – agreed. Proud when services paid for aren’t actually rendered. Hiring staff that take pride in consuming, pocketing and depreciating the very things they’ve been entrusted to maintain.
Thinking that getting even just a few dollars for nothing is clever, bragging about it sublime, and losing thousands of dollars in future business from a diminished reputation…nothing. Attitudes that breed habits now standard in some of the most “Christian” parts of the continent. Places that at times idly debate: “…why aren’t we getting a chance?”
But chances are coming and going, in forms you don’t expect—through people you take pride in dishonoring.
42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ Matthew 25:42-45 (ESV)
Another elder I worked with said it this way: “We do it to ourselves.”
I believe that. Because the absence of a physical price tag on integrity, leads many to dismiss it. Often trading our ability to genuinely progress—for money quickly spent. Allowing Colonialism to maintain its grip on much of the continent—through the opportunities we give it. Because this region has qualities attractive for businesses—but failing to organize in a way that attracts investment…inevitably attracts exploitation.
Leadership often takes the blame, but dishonesty so permeates our neighborhoods that it’s difficult to tell who leaders can trust with the resources entrusted to them. And as long as that’s the case, opportunities for actual investment may continue to pass by—as loads of “assistance” continue to pour in.
I guess I’m writing because I’m not just seeing this as an outsider.
But regardless who’s seeing the dilemma, its recurrent dismissal and resistance to change are astounding.
A simple Hollywood movie could have all Africa poised for growth—however a lack of integrity could have large parts of the continent poised to be left out…
The financial costs may be nothing compared to the spiritual costs though.
Peter said that it would be better to never know God, than to claim to know Him—only to turn and serve something else. The greatest tragedy here could be the number of people crowded into churches—never warned about what’s spiritually awaiting the levels of deception to which they’ve returned. I leave you with those reminders…