Icelandic Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir (now that is a surname!) is in what could be deemed as a difficult situation. About a year or so ago after her country’s economy collapsed, she is facing legal pressure from the United Kingdom and the Netherlands to take responsibility and pay back the money the country defaulted upon. The issue is that her population do not see things the same way. They point out, why should they pay more than their ‘fair’ share of the responsibility. After all they lost money too.
I’ve only met 2 Icelanders (I’ve no idea if that is the correct term). They were a mother and daughter on a Portuguese Course in Faro, Southern Portugal. Quite what 2 icelanders were doing learning Portuguese I don’t know. They seemed good people though, and had a very good idea of fair play and responsibility. Probably the icelandic people have a very good point. Why should they pay for a banking collapse…..
Now is this post about Iceland? Well no! It’s actually about Africa and in particular the area of responsibility. While Iceland struggles with the implications of international fiscal responsibility, African countries can struggle with responsibility for their own people. African villagers can struggle with a sense of responsibility for one a wider section of their rural area.
As a European who works in Africa, you are constantly fighting two enemies. The first is cynicism, the second is your own naivety. Somewhere in all of that, my faith in God sits, somewhere between, or despite the two. Constantly it is this question of responsibility that prompts my thoughts.
On one hand you have naivety. I am kind of jaded from hearing about different ‘projects’ that many people embark upon from a UK perspective. (and you could lumps in the Americans and the rest of Europe with this). Take what happened in Haiti as an example, with children being inadvertently trafficked out of Haiti by a naive and well meaning missionary. A lot of the church to church missional work that goes on, is of this variety. It is naive and the difference in responsibility is where it is shown.
The project in Africa tends to believe that it is the responsibility of their partner to fund, work and generally get them out of any hole they get themselves in to. The naivety comes when a partner accepts that at face value and does not recognise these attitudes are born of poverty, dependency and non- responsibility. The responsibility gets shifted to one side of the partnership and well it ultimately fails. Africa has a problem with responsibility. Whether it be families who believe that a wealthy relative will help, or wether it is a pastor getting blessing from his western brother, the problem is the same. Someone else will do it, someone else will take the can, someone else will bail me out. You see the similarity to the UK’s attitude to Iceland now don’t you….
That naivety if not understood, learnt from and framed properly leads to cynicism. Your view of everyone and everything becomes coloured by the experience, which is a bad. All because of responsibility not being exercised. Ask an Icelander what they think of the UK at the moment and you will see that. Ask many a ‘burnt’ missionary about Africa and you will also see it. Long term missionaries in Africa are often a cynical and quite bitter bunch, why? It is simply this issue.
Our lack of responsibility takes the following face. We believe that it is our responsibility to help the poor at any cost, even if we take the prime responsible position in a venture or relationship. This actually can show a shocking lack of responsibility and foresight. If you take initiative away from those who struggle with it in the first place, you and they will ultimately fail.
I’d love to see many people take a fresh look at what they are doing and in particular the area of responsibility. I think mission work would truly get pulled into the 21st century if we did this. The idea that we are somehow to save the poor is well an affront to them (and I include some big campaigns in that view) but the view that the poor can do it themselves is completely unrealistic and naive. What is needed is some servant hearted work, where we serve and encourage people with God to take responsibility for their own lives.
Going back to Iceland. Maybe those people who saved in Ice-save need to recognise that they have a responsibility. It was their decision to settle their accounts there and so whilst maybe not their fault, they are partly responsible. As humans we are always looking for someone else to blame, someone else to compensate our misfortune. That is as true in Africa, as it is in Iceland and the United Kingdom.
Some would call it human nature……. part of God’s work amongst those in this world whether they are rich, poor, lack or white is to recognise that our actions or lack of them have a consequence. That is called responsibility.

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