by David Maranz
One of the most challenging tasks for Western missionaries to Africa is fitting into the local rhythms of money management. At the core of the misunderstandings that often develop is the mutual obligation and interdependence that shapes African life but clashes with Western independence.
SIL International Publications in Ethnography, 7500 W. Camp Wisdom Road, Dallas, TX 75236-5699, 2001, 238 pages, $19.00.
— Reviewed by Gorden R. Doss, associate professor of world mission, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Mich.
One of the most challenging tasks for Western missionaries to Africa is fitting into the local rhythms of money management. At the core of the misunderstandings that often develop is the mutual obligation and interdependence that shapes African life but clashes with Western independence. These clashing perspectives have developed in adaptation to the very different contexts and histories of Africa and the West. Bringing them together within an incarnational missionary lifestyle is like mixing oil and vinegar, as David Maranz suggests. What missionaries need is a book that provides a good starting point upon which to build understanding—and this book does just that.
Maranz carefully qualifies himself by recognizing that his insights may not apply to all of Africa or to everyone within a particular group. He contrasts what he calls “fundamental economic considerations.” In the relatively affluent West, where basic needs are usually met, the accumulation of capital and wealth is the priority. In relatively poor Africa, where survival is often at stake, resources are distributed among family and kin to meet minimum survival needs. These two considerations are the birthplaces for very different systems of money management. In the West, “macro-solutions” are used to facilitate the larger economy while in Africa “micro-solutions” are used to give “a person a tiny, immediate advantage over a competitor in a socially acceptable way.”
After developing his introductory concepts, Maranz moves to discussing ninety “observations” about African money matters that he illustrates anecdotally. Number one says, “The financial need that occurs first has first claim on the available resources.” Number twenty-five says, “A network of friends is a network of resources.” Not all of the observations are equally weighty and there is some unavoidable overlapping. But taken as a whole the ninety observations seem to paint a valid portrait.
The history of modern missions in Africa contains too much condescension and negativism from the Western side. Some African readers might perceive negativism in the book, but there seems to be a genuine love that shines through. Maranz repeatedly emphasizes how logical the African perspective is within its own context.
This book needs to be used as a springboard for dialogue between Africans and Westerners that candidly looks at both sides of shared money matters. The book also offers the fertile seedbed for many dissertations that pursue a fuller understanding.
Although Maranz says that Africa and the West are like oil and vinegar when it comes to money matters, he suggests that they can mix to make wonderful salad dressing.
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