Conflict, poverty and corruption have stifled Africa’s potential in the post-independence era, yet the Church has been reluctant to involve itself in politics. Now one of its most prominent voices argues it is time for its leaders to urge Catholics to put their faith into action for a just society
Chris Patten’s shrewd and insightful recent article in The Tablet on the Catholic Church’s mixed record as a defender of democracy made me wonder if Africa would be suffering from its apparently interminable crisis of leadership had Catholics – who make up such a vibrant part of the continent’s social and economic life – been encouraged to become actively involved in politics. Catholics in Africa vote, of course. But there are rarely serious Catholic politicians to vote for.
I should say I’ve always liked Chris Patten, even though he became chairman of the Conservative Party in 1990, when Margaret Thatcher’s policies were having a corrosive effect on the poor and on foreign students like me. Later, I thought he might launch a bid for the leadership of the party, and become Britain’s first Catholic prime minister. In 2003, when I returned to the UK as a senior fellow at St Antony’s College, Oxford, he was contesting for the position of Chancellor. I voted for him and, when he won, two friends and I celebrated his victory with a cheap bottle of red wine over dinner.