Why Africa Matters

by Cedric Mayson

Orbis Books, P.O. Box 302, Maryknoll, NY 10545-0302, 198 pages, 2010, $20.00.

Reviewed by Mike Nichols, program director for intercultural studies at Lincoln Christian University; former missionary to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Cedric Mayson wants to save the world from extinction and he claims Africa has the answer.  Drawing on personal lessons learned in the struggle against Apartheid, he makes a passionate plea to the world to embrace the African concept of ubuntu, which represents the well-being that comes from interaction, inter-dependence, and bearing one another’s burdens. Mayson feels this experience has been largely neglected and lost in Western civilization.

The book is structured as a defense against what Mayson calls the five horsemen of the Apocalypse—religion, economics, politics, ecology, and the media—all representing restrictive structures from which we need liberation. The author speaks with credibility as a white African who battled the oppression of Apartheid. He critiques individualism and greed in its many forms, as well as the spiritual-secular divide the West has forced on the world. In his mind, Africa has resisted this pressure and now provides a platform to help the rest of the world return to its “primal roots.”  

Evangelicals will not be happy with many of his basic assumptions. Mayson is a Methodist minister who has “progressed” far from the teachings of John Wesley, putting Jesus on par with Muhammad and preaching a liberation theology which strays far from Christian orthodoxy.  Mayson sees through a humanistic evolutionary lens and has no room for a creator-redeemer God in his solution for the world. He uses spiritual language to call every religion—from African traditional religions to atheism—to come together in a post-religious spirit of humanness, comprising a “secular spirituality.”  

Mayson makes a sincere call for the values of “cooperation and compassion,” his strongest example being post-Apartheid South Africa’s astounding choice to resist revenge; however, he fails to provide a solid foundation for these values, other than claiming all religions have similar morals. The book provides a strong critique of free market capitalism, but it supports an “African socialism” without critiquing its own issues of corruption and lack of incentive. I agree with Mayson’s call for liberation from unjust structures, but he makes no mention of the fallen human heart. I resonate with his vision of “everyone getting along,” but find this ideal impossible to attain without the atoning work of Christ and the sanctifying work of the Spirit.

This continent of over fifty nations and over one thousand different ethnic groups is over-generalized with phrases like “Africa thinks” or “Africa knows.”“The West” is another general category frequently utilized which does not accurately describe our globalized world, and fails to help us move past simplistic “colonial whipping boy” arguments. Mayson speaks of Africa’s ancient past in almost utopian terms and more recent examples of African violence and corruption are presented as results of colonialism. Certainly, Africa has much to give, but it clearly has much to answer for. The world’s complex problems will only change as both individual hearts and unjust structures change—true, transformational change must come from a perfect God rather than an imperfect Africa.

Even though I disagree with the author’s basic assumptions, this book is worth reading. Evangelicals need to know what liberation theologians are saying to us and the larger world today.


EMQ, Vol. 47, No. 2, pp. 255-256. Copyright  © 2011 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS).  All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.


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