Learning from Globalization
Inspired by the five stones David uses in his fight against Goliath, Rick Warren has identified five of the most pressing challenges of our time. According to him, these are spiritual emptiness, extreme poverty, chronic disease, illiteracy, and egocentric leadership. One does not need to ponder too deeply to appreciate the truth in Warren’s thinking. For instance, in Africa, idolatry ran so deep that until recently, Africa was called the “dark continent.” Similarly, many of the continent’s countries are ranked as “low-income” and “least-developed” countries. Disease, poor education and bad governance are also rampant.
Remarkably, renowned economic consultant, Jeffrey Sachs, looks to history to arrive at the about same conclusion as Warren. With the exception of spiritual emptiness, Sachs, a former advisor to three UN secretaries-general, mentions all the other issues as significant challenges in our world. Reflecting on lessons learnt from the Paleolithic age, Sachs sounds the alarm that:
We can be our own worst enemy, or at least our cousins’ worst enemy. Environmental sustainability and peace across cultures may not come naturally, but must be constructed using our abilities to reason and to look ahead.
This alludes to the importance of visionary – not egocentric – leadership in creation care. Indeed, very few would argue that poor stewardship of resources is leading to significant imbalances in the ecosystem with resultant impact on everyone. And everyone can help resolve this. In low-income communities, when trash is not properly disposed of, the environment is impacted and often this poor hygiene practice becomes a breeding ground for disease.
Further, Sachs study of the Neolithic age (10,000-3000 BCE) reveals how, like America,
Africa too was deeply disadvantaged, largely cut off from Eurasia by the vast Sahara Desert and burdened by an exceptionally severe disease environment for both humans and farm animals.
Sachs hereby documents both the economic and healthcare challenge that confronted – and is still confronting – Africa. Alas! Africa is not the only region burdened with poverty and disease. Indeed, even in some western countries, inadequate access to healthcare and high unemployment rates, ensure that an increasing percentage of the population wrestle with these problems.
Yet The Ages of Globalization is not merely about uncovering challenges. It is about pointing out characteristics of each age and identifying the lessons that can be learnt from these. Sachs tracks how globalization began in the ocean age (1500-1800) with capitalism riding on the back of seagoing vessels, developed in the industrial age, and is making unimaginable progress in this digital age.
Sachs chronicles how the technological and institutional advancement globalization brings is remarkable, but quickly adds a sobering thought: “yet as we have learned at every phase of history, even seemingly impregnable power can quickly dissipate.” Mandela, Tutu, and several other commentators on South Africa’s former Apartheid system would agree. So, while Sachs does not write explicitly about spiritual emptiness, his remarks are a caution for established and emerging leaders today, in the words of the prophet Micah, to “do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly before God.”
 Jefferey D. Sachs. The Ages of Globalization, (New York: Columbia University Press, 2020), 40.
 Sachs, The Ages of Globalization, 52
 Sachs, The Ages of Globalization, 167
 Micah 6:8
15 responses to “Learning from Globalization”
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Henry, I really like your blog and the way you have contexualized your summary to Africa. Sachs book is very unique in giving adequate coverage to Africa as the cradle of mankind and attributes its current state of poverty to specific practical limitations that you have captured in this sentence, “Africa too was deeply disadvantaged, largely cut off from Eurasia by the vast Sahara Desert and burdened by an exceptionally severe disease environment for both humans and farm animals.” You have also stated that Africa was until recently referred to as a “dark continent,” what has changed, and do you see Africa claiming its rightful and respectable place in global affairs?
Mary, thank you for your kind words and questions. With regards to what has changed, I think from the economic standpoint there has been a significant rural-urban shift over the last 50 years or so, and with it an improvement in income levels and quality of life for more Africans. Many are still poor, but there’s been a change overall. I think globalization, especially the digital revolution, has also contributed to greater literacy. Cell phones abound everywhere now and are being used to update rural farmers about the latest developments in agriculture. Spiritually, more Africans have embraced Christ compared to 50 years ago, to the point that Africa, Asia and South America have become the epicenter of global Christianity. It is remarkable that the largest evangelical church in Europe was a church in Ukraine that was planted and lead by an African. I think the largest evangelical church in the UK/western Europe was also planted and is lead by an African. So God is on the move, but a lot still needs to be done, as you well know
I enjoyed reading your post. I posed a similar question to Mary and Jonathan, but I would love to hear your perspective.
What has your experience been like in this global leadership program? Do you feel the various expressions of African leadership have been presented for contemplation and application? If not, what would be some resources you could point me so that I can broaden my perspective?
Andy, thanks for these very interesting questions. The LGP journey has been a very enlightening experience for me. It’s helped me understand a few of the key issues important to western leaders: religion/theology, psychology, economics, history, governance, philosophy, race/bias, gender. I think if Africans in general were better clued up on these subjects, it would do us a lot of good.
I think by including Mandela, Tutu and the CPT Advance, a good amount of African leadership has been considered. But I would have liked to see a bit more examination of contemporary success stories like Paul Kagame of Rwanda and why he’s succeeding, as well as less successful African cases like Mugabe/Zimbabwe and why they failed. I’m very curious about Mary and Jonathan’s views on this and will read their responses shortly. In terms of resources, I believe there are a few books on Kagame/Rwanda. I haven’t read any myself but have been privileged to visit Rwanda in 2015 and was quite impressed with the transformation there following their 1994 genocide that claimed the lives of some 2 million nationals. I also had some very enlightening conversations with Jean De Dieu when we met in Cape Town last year. He’s originally from Rwanda but has been living in the US for more than a decade now. Thanks again.
Henry, thank you for another insightful post. You list the issues Rick Warren identities in this time. Of those, which one or two present the largest challenge to your ministry context? Also, what solutions are needed to solve those problems?
Roy, I wish I could just list one or two. The truth is all five of Warren’s global goliaths apply in my ministry context. Spiritual emptiness, for instance, manifests in widespread and deeply-entrenched ancestral worship among the Xhosa people. It also manifests as syncretism among many who mix their Christianity with veneration of the ancestors. Likewise illiteracy, poverty, etc, prevail.
I think the two primary solutions lie within 1) reconciliation with God and 2) Christ-like leadership. I believe if these two are sorted, the rest will fall into place.
thank you for your thoughts. I liked how you connected the book to your homeland of Africa and every country’s problme in wealth and healthcare. In your opinion, what are the most important areas and practical steps that Africa can take to improve current housing and healthcare issues?
Thanks Jonathan. I know you’ve travelled to some African countries and so are familiar with some of our challenges.
My most important concerns are in two areas: religion and leadership. I believe if Africa reconciles with God to the point where a critical mass of followers of Jesus manifest Jesus in their worship, worldview and daily practice/attitude; and of and if god-fearing leaders occupy key positions in politics, business, education, media and other key areas, we will see remarkable transformation.
I think practical steps to improve housing, healthcare and other issues would include focusing on in-depth discipleship. This will change the worldview. I think there’s a lot of preaching, but not the slow, painful process of mentoring and coaching Christian leaders
Thanks Henry. Do you think his assessment of African is fair and right, or is he off in your opinion?
I do find it interesting that horses were domesticated whereas lions, etc. have not! Why is that do you think?
Hi Eric, I think his assessment of Africa is factual. He’s confronting the brutal facts, which is not an easy thing to do. Of course, there’s the other side of the story. Africans have also been resilient against apartheid, slavery, poverty, etc, and things are improving in some quarters. We can argue that there has been “moments of excellence,” manifested in the Africans who have won the Nobel prize in various fields, even the presidency of the US :), etc. But compared to the potential that is there, we have not even began to scratch the surface.
Hmmm!! It’s very profound that you mention domesticating lions, etc. My thoughts have not gone that deep. Any ideas on that?
Henry: You state that in terms of potential, we haven’t “scratched the surface.” What areas to you anticipate Africa leaning further into, leading, or growing in over the next several decades that perhaps the larger global society would be surprised by?
Thanks Kayli. I make that statement against the background of 1 Corinthians 2:9 – “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived the things God has prepared for those who love him.” I think as the African church continues to mature in God, we’ll see God’s wisdom and resourcefulness manifest through her, as it did through Adam when he named all the wildlife. I expect the manifestation to include inventions and innovations in technology, science (especially with regard to the vast natural resources the continent has been blessed with), as well as in other areas: governance, business, healthcare, etc. Perhaps this is me “dreaming,” but I’m basing this on my understanding of these and other verses of scripture
Henry: Insightful comments about how Sachs and Rick Warren can arrive at the same conclusions from different starting points. I enjoyed this book very much because it gives a grand view of human development from the past 70,000 years. You can’t help but to see God’s fingers guiding the growth of the human race.
Very true, Troy!! History is really, His – story 🙂
Sachs must also be commended for such a sweeping overview of History: 70,000 years! That’s a long time 🙂
Henry, thank you for your thoughtful engagement with Sachs’ book and application to your context. I always value hearing your practical applications and how you ground them in scripture and life with Jesus. In the final chapter of Sachs’ book he makes 5 ‘policy’ type recommendations or foci. I’m curious to hear your evaluation of them and which one you think is most relevant to be taken-up by African nations at this time.