“Africa’s future belongs to its young people… We need young Africans who are standing up and making things happen not only in their own countries but around the world… We want this to be the beginning of a new partnership and create networks that will promote opportunities for years to come.”

–President Barack Obama
South Africa, June 2013

If there is one thing the world identifies as characteristic of Africa, it is hospitality. Consequently, if there is one thing that all African countries identify with absolutely it is—you guessed it—hospitality! Africa has played host to its neighbors, its oppressors, its aiders and even its exploiters. It is the home of the open hand, the resilient heart and the ever generous spirit. Sharing lies at the very core of the African culture; nothing is withheld which can be given and nothing that is given is expected back in reciprocation. However, one’s greatest strength is often considered to be one’s greatest weakness as well. Africa is designated as the poorest continent in the world. All 10 of the poorest nations in the world are African. So it isn’t surprising that the most generous people in the world would also be the ones with nothing left to give.

A recent article compiled by the Jubilee Debt Campaign (a global movement towards eradicating debt in the Global South by 2030) along with 10 other organizations, proved that Africa loses $192 billion every year to the rest of the world. This amount is almost 6 and a half times the amount of ‘aid’ given back to the continent. The outflow can be chalked up to illicit financial flows; profits taken out of the continent by multinational companies; debt payments; brain drain of skilled workers; illegal logging and fishing and the costs incurred as a result of climate change among others.[1] Africa, once again, proves that it has mastered the art of true hospitality.

The Greek word used for hospitality in the bible is philoxenia which loosely translated means “love for a stranger” as in Rom 12:13. Biblically, hospitality was also used to refer to any help given to the poor, e.g., the needy, the widow and the orphan as exhorted through the law [Lev 19:34]. Both forms of hospitality were done without expectation of repayment and were to be treated as a way to honor the commands of Yahweh—as a form of worship. My travels this summer led me to a woman who exemplifies this kind of hospitality. She had every right to turn strangers away because she had nothing, and yet she did not. Evelyn Ingosi grew up on the streets of Nairobi, after her parents abandoned her as a seven year old girl at a busy bus park in Nairobi, Kenya. A grown woman now, she barely remembers the particulars of how it happened but clearly recalls being alone with no one left to care for her or feed her. Her childhood inspired the woman she has become today.

Ingosi and I met at a Workshop for Community Leaders run by the Emory Interfaith Health Program at the Informal Settlement of Kawangware in Nairobi. She is a respected leader in the informal settlements of Kawangware because of the work she does.

“One day someone left a child at my doorstep, another day I came across an abandoned boy at the market, on a different day someone brought an orphan whose parents had committed suicide in their home and so on and so forth. Before I knew it I had seventeen children living with me and that was okay. All I knew is that I couldn’t turn them away because I am who I have become because of the kindness of strangers,” she said to me when I asked her how she started her little orphanage. Apart from the 17 children ranging from toddlers to about 18 years of age that she lives with as her own, Ingosi also runs a day care program for mothers who have to work during the day. During this particular visit, we found her tiny living room full of toddlers… All of them were seated on the floor drinking porridge without a care in the world. When they saw her they began to demand for her attention. She addressed them as one would a classroom, asking the older toddlers to cuddle with the younger ones and comfort them. Looking at this woman, I was astonished because in this one bedroomed house, she has embodied true hospitality. I asked her if the mothers who bring their children to day care pay for the service and she laughed. “They know that we are all poor around here, I don’t expect anything from them, but if they bring me something—I will take it. Isn’t it their children who will benefit after all? Whatever I have, we will all share together, no matter how little it is.”

This is the Africa we have, folks! The people who will go above and beyond for a fellow human being.  It is a spirit, however, that is quickly fading as the younger generation takes its cue from the world and scrambles to finish first; getting caught up in the rat race and the message of consumerism that exalts the self. The pursuit of pleasure and self-satisfaction is slowly robbing Africans of this pure kind of hospitality. The quest to be the best and thrive is stealing away the Africa of ‘unlimited resources’, of generosity and of unending opportunities to heal and restore itself into wholeness.

Every now and then we see a glimmer of hope when young Africans are rising to the occasion to build African companies, buy African products, develop African businesses, empower African people and renew African leadership so that Africa can stand again. Pres. Obama’s quote resonates with the heart of the African Spirit. This is the Africa we want. The one we have may not be self-sufficient or independently wealthy, but it is one which understands that true hospitality is sometimes sacrificial; that it takes more than it offers and demands even more. Africans are as resilient as they are hospitable, and the journey to our independence has been long and tragic, but as we look into the horizon, we should see the dawn and welcome it with open arms. In true hospitable fashion!