Authentic development and the nigerian experience of its absence


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Anthony A. Akinwale, O.P.

President and Professor of Theology

Dominican Institute

Ibadan, Oyo State


Nigeria is endowed with more than sufficiently fertile land to secure constant food production to feed her vast population and indeed a huge portion of the African continent. Among her 140 million citizens are highly resourceful and versatile men and women. Her clement climate means she does not have to contend with hostile forces of nature. Despite these enviable indices, she is not ranked among the developed countries of the world. She faces a crippling energy crisis which manifests itself in constant power outages and epileptic supply of petroleum products. Her vast network of roads is dangerously dilapidated. Many die of curable diseases in a country where access to good medical services is very highly restricted. Her education sector has been plagued by questionable policies forced down the throats of stakeholders by “all-knowing” officials of an overbearing government. The level of law enforcement is embarrassingly nil. Officers of the law have been known to look the other way while life and property are being threatened. When all these are added up, what one gets is a country of unfulfilled potentials inhabited by unfulfilled people of abbreviated humanity and citizenship.

Forty years ago, Pope Paul VI published the Encyclical, Populorum Progressio. On the Development of Peoples in which he offered a description of the world whose terms so accurately describe Nigeria that “human beings” in the quotation that follows may be easily substituted with “Nigerians” and the words will still make sense.

Today we see human beings [Nigerians] trying to secure a sure food supply, cures for diseases, and steady employment. We see them [Nigerians] trying to eliminate every ill, to remove every obstacle which offends human dignity. They [Nigerians] are continually striving to exercise greater personal responsibility; to do more, learn more, and have more so that they might increase their personal worth. And yet, at the same time, a large number of them [Nigerians] live amid conditions which frustrate these legitimate desires.1

Indices of impediment to authentic development, which the Encyclical provides in graphic detail, remain in the Nigeria of today: the ambivalent effects of colonialism which, even though it brought some benefits to many lands, left the economies of many countries in a precarious situation; the widening gap between rich and poor nations with the former making giant and rapid strides while the latter move at a slow pace, or, one should add, recede into more sickening under-development; social unrest provoked by the restlessness of those afflicted by poverty and glaring inequalities in the enjoyment of possessions and in the exercise of power. Added to these is the insecurity of today manifest in the worldwide fear and suspicion of terrorist attacks, and, to come nearer home, the never-ending surprises of violent crime and mindless killing in Nigerian cities. In the oil producing Niger-Delta of Nigeria, a legitimate reaction to the impoverishment of the people of a region that has enriched Nigeria has been hijacked by a criminal fringe that now terrorizes the same impoverished people. These issues should be addressed by revisiting the notion of authentic development, the notion which shows the originality of the Encyclical.

What is authentic development? What are the factors that militate against its attainment in Nigeria? Or, to formulate the question in a different manner, why do Nigerians experience the absence of authentic development? Addressing these and related questions will be my preoccupation in this paper. But one may ask: considering the multireligious character of the Nigerian polity inhabited by men and women of divergent, sometimes combustible, religious convictions, will it not be wise to refrain from referring to a notion contained in a document that originated from a particular religious tradition? Does one not risk alienating those Nigerians who are interested in taking part in the conversation on authentic development but who may be of different religious conviction? That these and related concerns are genuine must never be denied. Yet, addressing them compels me to make an observation. The fact that this country has witnessed so many violent conflicts in the name of religion and the fear of igniting new ones have combined to lead to a situation where useful insights of venerable religious traditions are being marginalized and ignored. What Nigeria needs right now is not the pretension that religion can only be left in the closet, the closet being the place of worship. For it is a well-known fact that religion forms a big part of the psyche of the Nigerian. It is not for nothing that a BBC-Commissioned study found Nigerians to be the most religious people in the world. While some have expressed the opinion that this is actually the problem with Nigeria, that is, an overdose of religion, I argue that the problem is not religion but the unintelligent and often self-serving manner of practicing religion. Either reason has been banished from the Nigerian space, or religion and reason have been declared strange bedfellows, or strangers walking on a parallel trajectory on two sides of a street without ever exchanging glances. Without reason, religion is reduced to emotions, and emotions are contagious and combustible. Religion becomes a truly human and humanizing act when it is not removed from the realm of reason. What is needed, therefore, is not the exclusion but the intelligent inclusion of religious insights in the conversation on authentic development. Such inclusion is possible despite divergent religious convictions precisely because many of the insights of our divergent religions can command the allegiance or subscription of people of different faiths within a common ground built on the good use of reason, a faculty that is common to every one. In this particular instance, one does not need any Catholic affiliation to agree with the notion of authentic development in the Encyclical Populorum Progressio. My presupposition is that people of divergent religious convictions can come together and even agree on certain issues because, despite divergent religious convictions, we share a common humanity endowed with an intellect of common specificity. As a rational animal, the human being is endowed with an intellect which participates in the divine intellect. Unlike the intellectual community in Europe, America and even Asia, the Nigerian academic community has simply ignored the body of what is called Catholic social doctrine. That need not be so. For this body of doctrine stands not only on the grounds of religion but also on the grounds of reason.

I intend to retrieve and explain the notion of authentic development in the Encyclical Populorum Progressio by calling attention to its presuppositions and implications which we all can agree upon without sharing in the religious convictions of Catholicism. At the risk of being accused of illicit generalization, I see the Encyclical as a commentary on the African situation. Even though I am using Nigeria as my point of reference, I believe my experience of reading about and visiting other countries on the African continent permits me to say that this commentary can be extended to almost all other countries on the African continent in so far as what obtains in Nigeria in matters of development is replicated in many other African countries. Thus, there is generalization. But, giving the situation on the continent, it is not unwarranted. In order to use this Encyclical as a commentary on the Nigerian and African situation, I shall relate it to two other post-Second Vatican Council encyclicals containing the social teaching of the Catholic Church, namely, John Paul II’s Laborem Exercens. On the Dignity of Labour, and Sollicitudo Rei Socialis. On Social Concern. These encyclicals in fact form a trilogy. For apart from the fact that at the heart of the social teaching of the Catholic Church expounded in them and in other social encyclicals there is a strong affirmation of the dignity of the human person, it is also the case that there is a discernible logical nexus between the three..

While Populorum Progressio outlines a vision of authentic development inspired by a recognition and affirmation of the dignity of the human person, central to the reflection undertaken in Laborem Exercens is an understanding of the dignity of labor, that is, of human work, rooted in the dignity of the human person and tending to the goal of authentic development spelt out in Populorum Progressio. In other words, the affirmation of the dignity of human work in Laborem Exercens is consistent with the recognition and articulation of human dignity which shapes the vision of development as personal fulfillment within collective fulfillment in Populorum Progressio. That is why, if the vision of development contained in Populorum Progressio is to be concretized, it will require taking seriously the notion of the dignity of labor in Laboren Exercens. Populorum Progressio specifies the goal of human labor, that is, authentic development, while Laborem Exercens, in its reflection on the dignity of human labor, deepens the reflection in Populorum Progressio by describing human work as that which will lead to the goal that authentic development is. The encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, for its part, reiterates the fundamental intuition of Populorum Progressio and concludes by providing a theological hermeneutic for reading it.

This trilogy and the commentary on the African situation inform the division of the essay into four parts. In the first part, the notion of authentic development in Populorum Progressio will be revisited. In the second part, the notion of the dignity of labor in Laborem Exercens will be seen as that which is necessary for the attainment of authentic development. In the third part, the theological explanation of development in Sollicitudo Rei Socialis will be considered. And in the fourth part, the Encyclical Populorum Progressio will be used as commentary on the African situation using Nigeria as example.

The Notion of Authentic Development in Populorum Progressio

The story was published in some Nigerian newspapers about how, shortly after assuming office, Nigeria’s President Umaru Yar’Adua paid a visit to Germany during which he addressed a group of Nigerians. At the interactive session, he was asked what his priority would be as President of Nigeria. He answered: “My first priority will be the economy, my second priority will be the economy, and my third priority will be the economy.” The widely held but often unexamined assumption within rich and poor nations is that the economy holds the key to authentic development and augmentation of material prosperity is the alpha and omega of human fulfillment. But in the Populorum Progressio, there is a clearly stated conviction that the problem of development, while not excluding but including the economy, is greater than the problem of the economy. As Paul VI warned, the reduction of development to just one of its aspects—to economic growth—diminishes the human person. Consequently,

Neither individuals nor nations should regard the possession of more and more goods as the ultimate objective….the exclusive pursuit of material possessions prevents man’s growth as a human being and stands in opposition to his true grandeur. Avarice, in individuals and in nations, is the most obvious form of stultified moral development (Populorum Progressio, n. 19).

The reduction of development to economic growth ultimately jeopardizes personal and collective fulfillment. It leads to an unbridled liberalism and its resultant tyranny of “international imperialism of money” with indigenous agents. Unrestrained acquisitive instinct gives rise to an insatiable desire for worldly goods, and, in an attempt to fulfill this insatiable appetite, the human person degenerates into a power addict who spends his time, talents and energy scheming for greater personal power and perpetual maximization of profit at the expense of other human persons.

Apart from the religious conviction that informs this notion—the Biblical dictum that no one lives on bread alone—there is an anthropological conviction that the human being counts more than economic prosperity. One does not need to share the religious conviction before sharing this anthropological conviction. When economic gains are prioritized over human dignity that is when the world is ordered as if the human person existed for the economy and not the other way round. The point is being driven home that the human person is not made for the economy but the economy is made for the human person. Understanding this point calls for a new humanism that respects and promotes the supernatural destiny of the human person. By virtue of this transcendental humanism, authentic development is the human response to the call to a higher state of perfection, “a new fullness of life” which is beyond the mere satisfaction of material wants and needs (Populorum Progressio, n. 16). The human person is greater than what he produces, possesses, and consumes. For a human being who is described solely in terms of production, possession and consumption is nothing but a mobile bundle of sensations, a being whose life is exclusively regulated by sensual desires and aversions. But how does this play itself out in the quest for authentic development?

The quest for development, rather than be a quest for what is possible, profitable and expedient, is a quest for the truth, the good and love. Every human being desires the good. This desire for the good is what drives the quest for development. But the highest good is not the acquisition of material things. It is in the openness of the human person to the unseen but real dimension of human existence, to what religion considers to be the spiritual dimension of human existence. Even without adhering to any particular religion that lays claim to supernaturally revealed truths, experience shows that the acquisition of material things is not by any means a guarantee that one would be fulfilled. Therefore, to use the economy as the ultimate index of development is to ignore or deny the fact that human nature transcends appetite for material things.

Placing the human person at the centre of the issue of authentic development, the Encyclical acknowledges the role of personal responsibility and education. The role of personal responsibility is to be seen in the fact that each human person is endowed with a desire for and the capacity to seek self-fulfillment by undertaking some task. But each person lives with other persons. The imperatives of authentic development are rooted in human inter-subjectivity. The quest for the best way to live is the quest for the best way to live together. Authentic development, as envisioned in Populorum Progressio, respects and requires the promotion of inter-personal and inter-communal ties.

Each human person is also a member of society; hence he belongs to the human community. It is not just certain individuals but all men are called to further the development of human society as a whole. Civilizations spring up, flourish and die. As the waves of the sea gradually creep farther and farther in along the shoreline, so the human race inches its way forward through history.
Even inter-temporal ties are to be respected and promoted.

We are the heirs of earlier generations, and we reap benefits from the efforts of our contemporaries; we are under obligation to all men. Therefore we cannot disregard the welfare of those who will come after us to increase the human family. The reality of human solidarity brings us not only benefits but also obligations (Populorum Progressio, n. 17).

Development is therefore an inter-subjective objective involving an intricate web of ties across space and time. It is a collaborative venture in which the human person meets other human persons in order to build the common future of the human race. This encounter imposes three major duties: mutual solidarity in “the aid that richer nations must give to developing nations”, social justice understood as “the rectification of trade relations between strong and weak nations”, and universal charity whereby “the effort to build a more humane world community, where all can give and receive, and where the progress of some is not bought at the expense of others” (Populorum Progressio, n. 44). Populorum Progressio challenges the world to see solidarity, justice and charity as more than alms giving. In fact, financial aid without respect for human dignity is not generosity but condescension. The three major duties of the encounter are graphically described by Paul VI when he said:

these efforts, as well as public and private allocations of gifts, loans and investments, are not enough. It is not just a question of eliminating hunger and reducing poverty. It is not just a question of fighting wretched conditions, though this is an urgent and necessary task. It involves building a human community where men can live truly human lives, free from discrimination on account of race, religion or nationality, free from servitude to other men or to natural forces which they cannot yet control satisfactorily. It involves building a human community where liberty is not an idle word, where the needy Lazarus can sit down with the rich man at the same banquet table (Populorum Progressio, n. 47).

The attainment of authentic development requires good education, and the role of formal education is to lead the one being educated to respect and promote the values of authentic humanism. It is to assist the human person to assume personal responsibility for authentic development by cultivating aptitudes and abilities already present in an embryonic stage in the human person at birth. The human person has a natural desire for the truth and for the good. There is in the human person a natural desire to love and to be loved. Here again, one sees an interplay of personal and social responsibility in the attainment of authentic development. The human person works for his or her self-fulfillment. Agents of formal education assist to actualize potentials for self-fulfillment the attainment of which is integral to authentic development.

Endowed with intellect and free will, each man is responsible for his self-fulfillment even as he is for his salvation. He is helped, and sometimes hindered, by his teachers and those around him; yet whatever be the outside influences exerted on him, he is the chief architect of his own success or failure. Utilizing only his talent and willpower, each man can grow in humanity, enhance his personal worth, and perfect himself (Populorum Progressio, n. 15).

Populorum Progressio was written within the first decade of independence of many African countries. Almost five decades later, a visit to its website reveals that the World Bank still ranks many of these countries, immensely rich in human and natural resources, among under-developed nations of the world.2 Millions of their citizens have no access to basic things of life. They live in dehumanizing poverty. Where there is ignorance there is fear, where there is lack of knowledge there is under-development. Poverty of the intellect manifests itself in poverty of the pocket. But education banishes ignorance, and by so doing, banishes fear and under-development. At the same time, in the African’s quest for self-fulfillment and authentic development, the fact must not be overlooked that the development which good education brings is not just about building infrastructure. It is not just about building beautiful bridges, fanciful airports, business and holiday resorts and skyscrapers. Authentic development is primarily about building the human person. This has been constantly reiterated in the social teaching of the Catholic Church. You cannot develop a country if, before and while building its infrastructure, you do not form the mind, build the character and form the hands of its citizens. Nigerian and African experience shows that corruption and incompetence will either make it impossible to build the infrastructure or make it impossible to maintain it.

Africa’s fertile land, even as it shrinks because of ecological degradation, her mineral resources, intelligent and resourceful men and women, and her rich cultures which contain veritable blueprints for authentic development make under-development in Africa something close to a scandalous puzzle. Africa has enough to make her rich. Africa has countries with the wherewithal to elevate her above the status of a beggar continent that pays a price for the alms she receives. If authentic development is inspired by authentic humanism, and if Africans labor much but earn little, then it is pertinent to inquire what type of labor and what type of humanism obtain and should obtain in Africa.

Dignity of Labor in Laborem Exercens and the Attainment of Populorum Progressio’s Authentic Development
I had said in the introduction to this essay that the central concern of the Encyclical Laborem Exercens, the affirmation of the dignity of human work, is consistent with the recognition, articulation and promotion of human dignity which inspires the vision of authentic development as personal fulfillment within collective fulfillment in Populorum Progressio. Development thus understood is never economic progress without spiritual values because the fulfillment that is sought cannot be found in economic prosperity alone. The human person is a being endowed with a natural desire for self-fulfillment, and this natural desire for self-fulfillment is a search for the best way to live which, by virtue of the relational character of the human being, is ipso facto the best way to live with others. In so far as the desire for the best way to live is a natural desire, the quest for development is itself in us by nature, and the human being, by nature, works for the attainment of this development. In concrete terms, the human being is by nature a worker.

It is important to make further remarks on human dignity here since this serves as the basis on which the affirmation of the dignity of human labor will be made. It is to be noted that these statements are being made within the horizon of an under-developed country, that is, Nigeria. This will lead us to consider the recurring problem of strikes in this under-developed country.

In the previous part of the essay, I had attempted to identify the anthropology behind Populorum Progressio’s notion of authentic development. From what has been said, it is clear that the affirmation of the dignity of the human person in Catholic social teaching is in accord with reason. From the point of view of reason, differences of physical appearance, of race, of gender, of religion, colour, culture and tribe do not remove the fact of out common humanity. President Joe of the Republic of Jogbo is different from Mr. Jim, cleaner in the Presidential Villa of the Republic of Jogbo. What makes Joe Joe is different from what makes Jim Jim, or else, we would not be able to talk of two persons—Joe and Jim. But what makes Joe a human person is what makes Jim a human person. Therefore, even though we are talking of two persons, there is a common humanity in these two persons. And one may extend this to the entire human family. There are billions of human persons in the world. But there is only one human nature in the whole world, not two, not three, not several. This common humanity is found in the fact that every human person has an intellect which is able to know, and a will with which he is able to freely choose the good.

The common humanity that we have is seen in the fact that every human person is endowed with an intellect which participates in the divine mind. Thanks to this intellect, it is possible to recognize that the human person is not an object but a subject who surpasses the material universe. As affirmed by the Second Vatican Council:

By relentlessly employing his talents through the ages he has indeed made progress in the practical sciences and in technology and the liberal arts. In our times he has won superlative victories, especially in his probing of the material world and in subjecting it to himself. Still he has always searched for more penetrating truths, and finds them. For his intelligence is not confined to observable data alone, but can with genuine certitude attain to reality itself as knowable, though in consequence of sin that certitude is partly obscured and weakened (Gaudium et spes, n. 15).
The human person is able to know the truth and he is able to choose the good. The human person, it has been said already in the first part of this essay, has a natural desire for the truth, a natural desire for the good, and a natural desire to love and to be loved. The human person is endowed with the power of the intellect so as to fulfill the natural desire for truth, endowed with the power of the will to fulfill the natural desire for the good and for the desire to love and be loved. It is with the will that the human person is able to freely choose the good. Again, the observation of the Second Vatican Council regarding this comes to mind:

Only in freedom can the human person direct himself toward goodness. Our contemporaries make much of this freedom and pursue it eagerly; and rightly to be sure. Often however they foster it perversely as a license for doing whatever pleases them, even if it is evil. For its part, authentic freedom is an exceptional sign of the divine image within man….man's dignity demands that he act according to a knowing and free choice that is personally motivated and prompted from within, not under blind internal impulse nor by mere external pressure. The human being achieves such dignity when, emancipating himself from all captivity to passion, he pursues his goal in a spontaneous choice of what is good, and procures for himself through effective and skilful action, suitable means to that end.( Gaudium et spes, n. 17).
To speak of the dignity of human labor is to speak of the dignity of the human person itself, for the dignity of human labor is rooted in and commensurate with the dignity of the human person. It is instructive to note in this respect that we do not speak of the dignity of machines, of tools that are deployed in the course of our labor. That is not to say that we take such tools for granted. For at least three reasons, even tools are not to be abused while they are being used: (i) for the sake of the safety of the worker, co-worker and the environment; (ii) for maximum efficiency of the tools; and (iii) for their durability. Work is itself an expression of human dignity, and has as purpose the promotion of the same dignity, which is the purpose of authentic development. The dignity of human labor lies in human nature itself, in the fact that human labor is for the sake of the common good. By common good is meant “the sum of those conditions of social life which allow social groups and their individual members relatively thorough and ready access to their own fulfillment”(Vatican II, Gaudium et spes, n. 26). If the dignity of labor lies in human nature itself and in its being ordered to the fulfillment of the common good, and if authentic development is in the attainment of common good, that is, in the attainment of self-fulfillment in collective fulfillment, then it becomes evident that the dignity of labor is in its being ordered to the attainment of authentic development.

As has already been said, it pertains to human nature to desire the good. Work is a manifestation of the natural human desire for the good. The fulfillment of the human being rests in the attainment of the good. Since the human being cannot find fulfillment without attaining the good, and since the good cannot be attained without work, it follows that the human being cannot find fulfillment without work. Here the connection between Populorum Progressio and Laborem Exercens becomes very clear: the authentic development that Paul VI envisions in Populorum Progressio is attained through work as explained by John Paul II in his Encyclical Laborem Exercens. John Paul II underscored this fact in the following words:

Through work the human being must earn his daily bread and contribute to the continual advance of science and technology and, above all, to elevating unceasingly the cultural and moral level of the society within which he lives in community with those who belong to the same family. And work means any activity by the human being, whether manual or intellectual, whatever its nature or circumstances; it means any human activity that can and must be recognized as work, in the midst of all the many activities of which the human being is capable and to which he is predisposed by his very nature, by virtue of humanity itself. The human being is made to be in the visible universe an image and likeness of God himself, and he is placed in it in order to subdue the earth. From the beginning therefore he is called to work. Work is one of the characteristics that distinguish the human creature from the rest of creatures, whose activity for sustaining their lives cannot be called work. Only the human creature is capable of work, and only the human creature works, at the same time by work occupying his existence on earth. Thus work bears a particular mark of man and of humanity, the mark of a person operating within a community of persons. And this mark decides its interior characteristics; in a sense it constitutes its very nature (Laborem Exercens, n. 1).

In these words, John Paul II was reiterating the Second Vatican Council which had remarked:

Throughout the course of the centuries, human beings have labored to better the circumstances of their lives through a monumental amount of individual and collective effort. To believers, this point is settled: considered in itself, this human activity accords with God's will. For the human being, created to God’s image, received a mandate to subject to himself the earth and all it contains, and to govern the world with justice and holiness; a mandate to relate himself and the totality of things to Him Who was to be acknowledged as the Lord and Creator of all. Thus, by the subjection of all things to the human being, the name of God would be wonderful in all the earth (Gaudium et spes, n. 34).

The scope of the mandate was described by the Second Vatican Council in these words:

This mandate concerns the whole of everyday activity as well. For while providing the substance of life for themselves and their families, men and women are performing their activities in a way which appropriately benefits society. They can justly consider that by their labor they are unfolding the Creator's work, consulting the advantages of their brother men, and are contributing by their personal industry to the realization history of the divine plan (Gaudium et spes, n. 3).

But is work not a punishment resulting from sin, as some would want to read the book of Genesis? There are some other considerations here that caution such a literal reading of Genesis. John Paul II explains:

It is not only good in the sense that it is useful or something to enjoy; it is also good as being something worthy, that is to say, something that corresponds to human dignity, that expresses this dignity and increases it. If one wishes to define more clearly the ethical meaning of work, it is this truth that one must particularly keep in mind. Work is a good thing for the human being—a good thing for his humanity—because through work the human being not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but he also achieves fulfillment as a human being and indeed, in a sense, becomes “more a human being” (Laborem Exercens, n. 9)

The relationship between the dignity of labor and authentic development already found an explicit recognition in Gaudium et spes. Development is to be understood as a pattern of related and recurrent operations undertaken for the promotion of the dignity of the human person. The pursuit of development can never justify the de-humanization of the worker. In fact, there can be no authentic development where policies in general and labor policies in particular deviate from the promotion of human dignity. For development is not just the abundance of goods and services as well as the availability of infrastructure. Development is first and foremost promotion of human dignity. Consequently, anticipating Populorum Progressio, Gaudium et spes affirmed:

the social order and its development must invariably work to the benefit of the human person if the disposition of affairs is to be subordinate to the personal realm and not contrariwise, as the Lord indicated when He said that the Sabbath was made for the human, and not the human being for the Sabbath (Gaudium et spes, n. 26).

The human person is not for work, work is for the human person. Work is for the good of the worker and for the good of others with whom the worker lives. In other words, work is meant to provide for the worker and for the society. The human person seeks his or her good by working for the good of others. No one can find any good by working only for personal interests. Selfishness is ultimately self-destructive. It is the promotion of the good of the human person in the promotion of the common good.

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