Benedict’s Legacy: Did He Fail Africa?

African rosary 3In the last week, Pope Benedict XVI’s abdication has elicited a lot of reflection and commentary on the legacy of his pontificate in the Church as well as the world. Amidst all these, we have heard some of the unfortunate and unfavourable criticisms in the mainstream media, particularly on his work and mission in Africa. I call them unfortunate because these criticisms are predicated upon so many inaccurate assessments and conclusions rashly made by people from first world countries without duly seeking the thoughts and opinions of the Africans or even their reactions or relationship to the Holy Father.

So, what do the Africans have to say to the world about this Pope whose mission in Africa has been grossly misunderstood and largely mischaracterised? And what is the true impact of Pope Benedict XVI on Africa and Africans ?

A day after the announcement of the resignation, I got together with some of my African friends so as to discuss and reflect together on how the Pope’s mission of words and works swept across our Continent and touched the lives of millions in the course of his pontificate. In fact, contrary to the claim of the harsh critics, his legacy in Africa is one of abundant life, fatherly love and overwhelming light and we Africans have nothing less than profound reverence and gratitude for the many gifts and treasures received from him, gifts and treasures that we are sure to continue to unpack and tap into for decades to come .

So before taking the negative criticisms to heart , I would invite you to consider how the Africans have felt his fatherly love.

In March of 2009 , he visited Yaoundé, Cameroon and Luanda, Angola, and what a visit!

He was welcomed with so much jubilation , singing and dancing by Catholics and non-Catholics alike. The tides of joy were high throughout his stay in Africa and the atmosphere was electric in and around the countries he visited .

He reached  out in graciousness to clergy and lay faithful, Christians and Muslims, women and workers, the youth and the dying. He embraced Africans even as they embraced him. His message of life and authentic development echoed across Africa and was accepted by so many.

But as our celebrations peaked, a shadow was cast on the august apostolic visit by the critics from some of the western first world mainstream media expressing outrage over the Pope’s response to a question concerning the use of condoms in Africa as a solution to the AIDS epidemic. The Holy Father’s exact words were:

If there is no human dimension, if Africans do not help by responsible behaviour, the problem cannot be overcome by the distribution of prophylactics. On the contrary, they increase it.”

Only a few words, but enough to elicit an avalanche of harsh criticism and acidic headlines such as “Pope’s anti-condom message is sabotage in fight against Aids–stance makes Catholic church a major global public health problem“, published by the Guardian newspaper.

Funny that most of the rage came from the western countries whereas the Africans who were really the primary subject of the discourse listened and heard the Pope’s words as those of a Father insistent on a true solution in this fight to eradicate a scourge so vicious. Since then, some  prominent researchers in the field of AIDS prevention have come forward to support the Pope’s stance. Professor Edward Green, medical anthropologist and former Director of the AIDS Prevention Research Project at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, in an interview with National Review Online, clearly stated:

“We have seen HIV decline in Africa when the number of multiple and concurrent sexual partnerships has declined and when more people have been faithful. The role of condoms in HIV success stories such as Uganda and Zimbabwe has been debated, but we have certainly never seen more condom use alone bring about declines in HIV. The parts of the continent with the highest condom use — in southern Africa — have the highest HIV rates.” 

Thank God that many Africans began to see through the haze of the aggressive condom promotion campaigns by the rich western donors. More and more people are opting for a sexually responsible life style through abstinence, fidelity and monogamy .

We thank you, Holy Father, for speaking to our hearts as only a father can.

Another gift that Pope Benedict gave to us was in his convocation in 2009 of a Synod for Africa on Reconciliation, Justice and Peace. A triple jab most needed in Africa!

It was in  fact during this Synod that the Pope described Africa as the spiritual lung for humanity: 

“Africa constitutes an immense spiritual “lung” for a humanity that appears to be in a crisis of faith and hope. But this “lung” can also become ill. And at this moment at least two dangerous pathologies are infecting it: in the first place, a disease that is already widespread in the Western world, in other words practical materialism, combined with relativist and nihilistic thought. 

Without discussing the genesis of such sickness of the spirit, it is nevertheless indisputable that the so-called “first” world has sometimes exported and is exporting toxic spiritual refuse which contaminates the peoples of other continents, including in particular the population of Africa.”

These are the words of a man with a special appreciation, love, and concern for Africa especially within a rapidly changing global moral climate.

Throughout his pontificate , Pope Benedict XVI continuously affirmed, invigorated and fortified the Catholic Church in Africa , but without a doubt, his most precious gift and legacy to us was Africae munus – the post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation which he signed and presented in Contonu Benin Republic in November 2011. A tremendously rich teaching document which charts a future for the Catholic Church in Africa, addressed to virtually every member of the African society. For decades to come it is sure to be a well-spring of profound wisdom which we will continue to draw and drink from for the continuous growth and strengthening of our Continent on the sure path of reconciliation, justice and peace.

So as the Africans join the rest of the world in reflecting on the Holy Father’s works and legacy, we wish that the harsh critics who speak from the vacuum of their remote observations, would stop for once and listen to the thoughts and words of the Africans in their reverent love and respect for a man who has given them so much in the last 8 years.

Obianuju Ekeocha


Obianuju Ekeocha is originally from Nigeria, but has for the past six years has been living and working in the United Kingdom as a biomedical scientist. Her work, including the recent "An Open Letter to Melinda Gates," has been published in The Catholic Herald UK and other Catholic news outlets. Obianuju is also part of Culture of Life Africa, an initiative dedicated to the promotion and propagation of the Gospel of Life in Africa through the dissemination of good information, sensitisation and education.

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage

  • James H, London

    “the so-called “first” world has sometimes exported and is exporting toxic spiritual refuse”

    This! This…

    I’d never heard that before, even from the Catholic press in the UK!

    Don’t forget to spread the word, everybody: that the parts of Africa where AIDS infects most people, *just happen* to be those where Catholics make up less than 10% of the population!

  • Mary-Lynn

    Thank you for writing this, and thank you for writing an ‘Open letter to Melinda Gates’. You have profound love for the truth, church, and women. May God bless your much needed voice!!!!

  • Aging Flower Child

    Dear Woman – what a wonderful article! What a beautiful voice! ‘Meeting’ you and reading this article and learning about your letter to Melinda Gates has brought me great hope and joy. God Bless You!

  • Spot-on, Uju. Spot-on. I salute you for this article. I’ve long known that Africa is a spiritual lung, and if there’s anything that needs to be paid attention to, it is the disease going on in the west. Yet, this information came from my observation of my Nigerian, Ghanaian and Ugandan friends — the VAST MAJORITY of them hold strong to the Faith and morals, regardless of whatever pressure comes to them. That is commendable in and of itself.

    Which makes me think: the focus is not to settle for the supposedly “charitable” agenda of the media to advance contraception to the African continent. The focus is to switch people’s thoughts (especially here in the UK) to what is beautiful, good and true. I yearn to help do this. You’re already helping with your writings and the work that you do. God bless you.

  • Dear Leader Papa-Ratzi is a generous fellow. He has tossed some nourishing scraps indeed: his delightful ‘convocation in 2009 of a Synod for Africa on Reconciliation, Justice and Peace’–in and of itself–amply justifies our continued prostration, flagellation and groveling. Some Prada wearers are by no means Satan-sent.

  • Leila Miller

    Please ignore the troll. Gavin is only about belittlement and mockery. A swell guy.

  • Poor Gavin. He must be so lonely – no family or friends – if he’s forced to troll Catholic blogs for fun and amusement.

  • Francis Choudhury

    Good morning, Mr Sullivan!
    So this is where you’ve slunk to after beating such a sudden and rapid retreat from Leila Miller’s blog a few hours ago, with a sensitive section of your anatomy most severely bloodied by your spectacularly un-successful attempts to troll and insult Catholics and other people of faith there! I admit that at one point, inveigled by your pompous and flowery tongue, I had half believed you might be intellectually accomplished enough to at least attempt to answer some of the many questions that were asked of you on that blog. But no, you fled, trembling in white hot terror from having your own discomfiting “metaphorical camera” turned back on you, starkly exposing as it did, your pathetically vacuous mind (I swear, towards the end I could actually hear a (bi)polar wind howling through it!). And now here you are, on another Catholic blog, attempting to start your infantile cussin’ and fightin’ afresh! What a man! What a troll! What a life! Sad ain’t the word! Is the medical profession really totally incapable of providing you with an effective pill for your Acute Attention Deficit Disorder? At least the good people on this blog will have the benefit of being forewarned to ignore your inane rants and insults. Like my dear departed grandmother used to quaintly but tellingly say, “Dogs bark, caravans pass”. Or better still, perhaps the host of this blog will block/delete your sulphurous commentary, to spare her readers the odorous streams of toxic verbiage which continually gush from your noxious, out-of-control anterior. Or was it the posterior? It’s so hard to tell! Rest assured we’ll keep an eye out for you on other Catholic blogs as well. A good economist (and even a good troll) knows that one’s first loss is one’s best loss. But not so with you; you’re so grimly determined to add to your self inflicted injuries! What a masochist!

  • By contrast, Francis, I take a somewhat less fanatically McCarthyite attitude toward the world. I have evaded no question, I stoutly defend your right to participate in civil dialog–and I always emphasize how intensely–as a gentleman–I will endeavor to avoid any babyish silencing and ejection of others. I extend the hand of friendship to all, simultaneously spreading the concept of non-McCarthyism, to a tribe heretofore unfamiliar with the concept.

  • Francis Choudhury

    Pal, which part of “go away you rude, crude, vacuous, boorish lout” don’t you understand? You do realise, don’t you, that you’ve been promptly exposed on this blog, just as you were drooling to get started with your idiot rants and insults, and that no one’s now going to take your cheap two-bit baits here? So yeah, run along, boy. There’s a good puppy now.