Om na te lezen: Money, Relationship, Christianity and the African Context

Hieronder volgt de paper van Jeremiah Agbeshie op basis waarvan hij een bijdrage leverde aan het rondetafelgesprek over Geld en (intercultureel) partnerschap in zending op 26 april 2023. We delen de paper graag met toestemming van de auteur met u.



Money is a significant entity in every society, and the African context is no exception. Money, as a currency of notes and coins is still considered alien to many African communities because it did not originate there but was introduced by foreign merchants. However, just as any society, money has become an integral entity of the fabric of African contexts in such a way that Africans cannot do away with it. Its significance is also seen in how it has helped, shaped, and contribute to the economic development of African societies. Money has deeply been integrated into African societies such that it has now embodied the most significant element in the context, spirituality. Despite this positive outlook, many Africans, especially the older generation, have noted the negative consequences of money and how it has consequently destroyed vital elements in the contexts that made African cultures unique. The accusation is usually levelled at how money and its acquisition has devalued relationships. African Christians and Africans in general are presented with the challenge of finding a balance and a way to toggle money, spirituality and relationships within the framework of African culture. Below is a brief overview of the dynamics in relations and money in African contexts.

Human Relations, Money and African Contexts.

It must be noted that one cannot speak of an African culture or religion because of the multiplicity and dynamism of beliefs and way of life of the various clans and tribes in Africa. African religion, mostly used by scholars to enable it usage in discourse, is a reduction of the whole and a summary of the common religious denominator found in most tribes in Africa.[1] It includes but not limited to belief in a Supreme Being, the realm of spirits, and a unified community.[2] The universe is perceived in African cosmology as a unified sphere consisting of the physical and spiritual components cohabiting simultaneously with constant interactions.[3] The common African mythology is also the belief in a common ancestry, a man and a woman created by the Supreme Being and out of which the whole human race emanated. This is the basis for the strong communal ties among Africans as well as the continual veneration of ancestors and consultation of deities and spiritual media. Thus, as noted by Ezenweke Elizabeth and Loius Nwadialor, “human relations are basically two dimensional-one horizontal (with fellow humans) and the other vertical (with the divine).”[4] While many components are considered as significant in African contexts, humans are highly recognized as the most significant,[5] because of their role in maintaining harmony in this unified world. Human relations are regarded as one of the most important needs for Africans. It is in this regard that some African scholars have identified humanism as a foundational principle in the African culture.[6] However, personhood and what it means to be human is not merely an intrinsic value, but a communal network expressed in responsibility and obligations in a community. This is well captured in the philosophy of Ubuntu “I am, because we are; and since we are, therefore I am.”[7] The human relations are expressed in many ways which include but are not limited to the family system, community, solidarity and hospitality as depicted in the oral encounters and non-verbal symbols. Although African communities were not democratic, power resided in the community rather than in an individual. In some African communities the power of the community is such that the community determines morality.[8] In this regard, what it means to be human and the sense of community have been strongly protected and passed on. But contact with the West[9] has affect this fabric of African societies, especially the introduction of money and economic systems.

Vertical and horizontal relationships also exist in the western context. However, there is a significant difference observed by both westerners and Africans. The west is characterized by secularization which means declination, relegation and differentiating of religion.[10] This means there is a downplay of the significance of a vertical relationship. From an African perspective, human relation in the West is individualistic juxtapose to the communal one in Africa. Values are intrinsic and not necessarily determine by a community. This does not mean the West is less humanistic or have little regard for human values. No community has promoted and legalized human rights in the world more than the West. The challenge, as seen form an African perspective is that in the West a person is as valuable as what they can offer. Therefore, value diminishes with age. Thus, while elders are celebrated and properly cared for by their relatives in the African community, elders are relegated and of less significant to the community in the West. Individualism is characterized by the pursuit of success, personal choices and no strict obligation to community unless specified by law. Also, the family system in the West tends to focus more on the nuclear family and not the extended family system like that in African communities. On the economic front, cooperation was key to economic development in African communities. As noted,

The traditional economy, which is mainly based on farming and fishing, was co-operative in nature. In Ibibio land, for instance, friends and relatives would come and assist in doing farm work not because they will be paid but so that if it happens that they need such assistance in the near future, they will be sure to find it…the synergetic nature of the African society is what made two or more individuals to pool their resources together and uplift each other economically through the system of contributions called osusu.[11]

This way of building individual and communal wealth and resource is not characteristic of the West. Money as a currency is considered western by Africans because it carries  western characteristics. The philosophy of money is associated with elements akin to the western context such as modernity, rationalism and logic. In summary,

Money ‘symbolises and embodies the modern spirit of rationality, of calculability, of impersonality.’ Simmel claimed that ‘money has … developed as its content the most objective practices, the most logical, purely mathematical norms, the absolute freedom from everything personal’. Consequently, the arrival of money is associated with ‘the fundamental re-orientation of culture towards intellectuality’, rather than the ‘emotionality’ which characterised nonmonetised societies. This ‘intellectuality’, as distinct from emotion, passion and impulse, is produced by the convertibility and intangibility of money, properties which do not exist in earlier types of transactions, such as barter or gift-based exchanges.[12]

Before the introduction of currency money there existed forms of economic engagement within African communities. Barter trading was the common mode of doing business.[13] It involved exchanging both goods and services. Africans were introduced to currency by Arabian merchants. Cowries then became a purchasing power and gradually replaced the barter trade system because of how it was used easily to purchase things especially where one does not have what it takes for exchange in the barter trade system. Money began to also imbibe power because of its purchasing prowess. This is reflected in the names among various African tribes. For example, among the Ewes in Ghana and Togo the word for money is egá, and as noted by Nathanaël Soede “the word egá, which means chief, one who has power and authority to control. Such a person can show he/she is powerful in many circumstances. This person can pretend to be superior to others because his/her power is a means for possessing much wealth that can be used for the benefit of others or selfishly”.[14]

With such accolades and meaning, money began to replace certain elements in African tribes. Thus, a chief is not only a credible warrior or one appointed by the gods but one with money also shares the same title. Having the purchasing power of money also gives an individual, instead of a community, power to dictate and determine the value of things. Research among rural Malawians reveal some challenges common to traditional Africans with regards to money.[15] It was noted that the pursuit of money has divided relations particularly among family members where the father must travel to work and other similar labour migrations. This is still prevalent in Africa as many young men and women leave behind families to developed countries in such of greener pastures. Again, it was noted that money has become a problem of marriages. The traditional token exchanges in marriage ceremonies have now been quantified into huge sums of money. Young men who have money can now go ahead and get married without consulting elders as due process requires. Money has instigated greed and envy among married men and women has become a chief factor in divorce. Money has again been noted to be responsible for reckless and immoral lifestyle driving both the young and old into sickness and death. Overall money is said to have “erased social distance, throwing individuals into abrupt collisions with other individuals’ passions, wants and irrational desires without respect for formal distinctions of status, such as the status of spouse or parent.”[16] Juxtaposed to the western philosophy of money, in Africa money is not moving life “in the direction of intellectualisation, rationalisation and the loss of colour and passion in life, but rather in the direction of impulsiveness, unconstrained passion and irrationality.”[17] Despite these observation, the same agree that life with money is better than before the olden days because young men and women have numerous options to establish themselves financially and live a better life.[18] Sika ye mogya, is an Akan saying which literally suggest that money is blood. However, as seen today, money has become the measure of thing instead of humans, and the elders keep warning the young generation of this fact. In the Akan community there is a saying which depict the limitation of money; “onipa na ohia: mefre sika a sika ngye so; mefre ntoma a ntoma ngye so; onipa na ohia” loosely translated as “humans are important. If I call money, money will not respond. If I call cloth, it will not respond. Humans are important.” This suggest that in times of need material things cannot really help as humans. A caution that nothing should replace humans and human relationship.

New Relationships and Spirituality of Money in Africa

Contemporary African theology is an intersection of African culture and the Christian faith. African Christianity mediates a contentious paradoxical nexus between Christianity and the pre-Christian tradition, creating a form of continuity while affirming discontinuity simultaneously. Western missionaries were known for rejecting African culture and tradition. The historic mission (Mainline) churches founded by these western missionaries also followed suit causing schisms and the formation of African Independent Churches (Independent of western influences).[19] The Pentecostal movement that emerged later also exhibited similar rejection. Converts are required to break ties with their cultural and religious past, because the divinities in the traditional religions are evil and responsible for their immoral lifestyle and challenges in life.[20] It appears that in recent times contemporary Catholic and Mainline Protestant churches in Africa have taken a softer position towards the local culture than contemporary Pentecostals.[21] In this regard, African Christians forge a new family and social relation among themselves in their communities of faith. Among African Pentecostals, for example, the pastor and his wife become spiritual parents and the church members become siblings. This neo-family has its economic benefits. According to Samuel Bonsu and Russell Belkz this “pseudo-family ties were further manifested in the ritual sharing of assets—in the form of cash and other donations to the needy in the family of believers.”[22] This Christian family ties among African Christians is affecting the traditional African family relations. Bonsu and Belkz noted this; “sadly, the strong family relationships developed in the church support the gradual dismantling of the traditional Ghanaian organization that recognizes the extended family… church members are encouraged to perceive each other as family members, and to shun others who were not of the same religious persuasion, even if they are blood relatives.”[23]

As noted above, money occupies a central place in Africa today. This also means it has embodied essential characteristics such as spirituality. Thus, money with its purchasing power is also a spiritual entity in African communities. This gives money another layer of relevance and power. In African Christianity money plays a major role. Money given in church carries a connotation of sacrifice – aforebo. This is at it peak among African Pentecostals where money is a subject in spiritual warfare and as an indicator of divine blessings in what is termed prosperity theology or gospel. According Asamoah-Gyadu, “prosperity gospel is the teaching that, when a person comes to Christ, God makes available to that Christian certain spiritual and material blessings that lead to well-being.”[24] My previous research among Pentecostals in Ghana and Ghanaian Pentecostals in Amsterdam concurred with the widespread observation of high regard for money in contemporary African Pentecostalism.[25] This widespread theology presumes that God wants all Christians to prosper materially, and this promise of holistic wellbeing is possible if believers follow some laid down principles such as prayers, positive confessions, and generosity towards the church. It goes further to imply that every misfortune – poverty, sickness, challenges, etc. – has a divine solution such that it is only lack of faith that that hinders Christians from escaping challenges in life.[26] Money as a cure to poverty and lack is therefore deemed very spiritual. African Christians pray for money. But as noted by Martin Lindhart, in his ethnography study in Tanzania, “not only do they ask God to grant money, but once they have it, they pray over the coins and bills with laying-on of hands.”[27] Using Marcel Mauss’s theory of gift-giving, Lindhardt observed these Pentecostals do not only give money as a physical entity, but the money given is induced with essence of themselves and cleansed through prayer; “the effects of prayer are hence twofold: it transfers human qualities and desires to the money and, given that God finds the spiritual condition of the donor acceptable, cleanses and blesses the money, enabling it to produce counter-gifts.”  Again, these payments are means to also express gratitude to God who first gave His Son as a sacrifice, and particularly the tithe is an expression of the blessing they have already received from God become it is ten percent of a profit or income.  Furthermore, although their expectation of a counter-gift from God includes material blessings and protection from evil powers, the blessing could be the salvation of others. Karen Lauterbach noted that there are underlying themes such a enhancing the divine-human relationship, Christian maturity, symbolization of hope, legitimacy of leaders, gratitude and respect to God and pastors, and morality in how African Pentecostals engage with money.[28] This indicates that there is dynamism in how African Christians perceive and relate with money which is not always fraudulent as perceived by critics. African Pentecostalism is believed to have capitalized on the African cosmology is able to spiritualize the material and materialize the spiritual. This spiritual notion of money is different in the western context of dichotomy. As noted in the western context of secularization, a distinction is made between sacred and material, which means a physical entity such as money will have little or no spiritual essence compared to the African context of a unified spirit-matter cosmology. It is therefore expedient for foreign missionaries collaborating and aiding African churches and communities to understand these relationship and money dynamics among African Christians.

Mediating a Confusing Relationship

I draw largely from Jim Harries’s experience in African to merge the above discussions. Jim Harries having spent decades in some African countries and shared a personal experience on money, relationship, and Western-African Christian missions. Harries noted that money is foreign and an imposition on Africans which has replaced traditional entities and structures in Africa, such as the exchange and barter system. However, the western perception of money is different from that of the African.[29] African are known for beseeching God and spirit entities for prosperity and wealth. Since money has replaced their traditional economic entities, money is understood as a resource received from God.[30] This therefore challenges the assertion that relates poverty to piety. Thus, if money is from God, then the one with more money must be “holy.” This also means that one with money to give is, God-sent or God-like. This, as noted by Harries, makes westerners appear holy and spiritually upright in the sight of Africans. This also makes Africans dependent on Westerners and foreign aid in ways that can be idolatrous. Again because of this African perception that money is given by God, the search for money in the form of donation is prioritized over working for money. Therefore, the African, as noted by Harries has an unapologetic habit of constantly asking for aid, which among African Christians is a sign of faith and trust in God.[31]  Furthermore, because exchange of resources was a common practice among African communities, sharing is deemed as a social obligation. This also means refusing to give or share is another way of saying no to relationship. Harries noted a vast gap in communication between Africans and the Westerners. Harries noted;

Westerners need to appreciate that saying “no” is a relational affront that many people around the world try to avoid. Mutual agreement is highly valued. “No” responses are therefore demonstrated in actions rather than in words. Westerners like to think that people ought to be honest in their communication. Many African folks prefer to avoid confrontation at all costs. Upsetting someone by contradicting their suggestion seems to hold the potential for negative “spiritual forces” diminishing one’s good fortune. This means that agreements and contracts entered into by African people may not be followed to the letter to Westerners’ expectations. Add to this the material fruitfulness typically entailed in an agreement with a Westerner (very often a part of the deal of a Western partner is the provision of funds) and the incentive for an African, who desperately needs money, to say “yes” is ever greater.

It is obvious that both the African and Western are naive of each others perception of relationship and money. Harries advocates that the westerner should make the effort to integrate into the local context and understand the African once they assume the position as donors.[32] I agree with Harries on this. However, contemporary Africa has already been heavily influenced by the West. African understand the “culture” of the West to a very large extent, usually more than what is reported. Therefore, any collaboration and partnership must be preceded by an ample interaction and dialogue. Westerners should not only send aid or visit when a project is about to commence. Rather they should be integrated into the community ahead of time. This will give westerners the opportunity to explain their background and expectations while learning from their African counterparts. Westerners can also adopt ways such as the extent of disclosure on funds and sources, non-verbal ways of saying “no”, avoiding direct confrontations, as noted above.

[1] Godfrey B. Tangwa, “The Traditional African Perception of a Person Some Implications for Bioethics,” The Hastings Center Report, Vol. 30, No. 5 (2000):41.

[2] Jaco Beyers, “What is Religion? An African Understanding,” HTS Teologiese Studies/ Theological Studies 66(1), (2010), 3. DOI: 10.4102/hts.v66i1.341

[3] Polycarp Ikuenobe, “African Communal Ethics,” in Nimi Wariboko and Toyin Falola (Eds.) The Palgrave Handbook of African Social Ethics (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2020), 137

[4] Ezenweke Onyedinma Elizabeth and Loius Kanayo Nwadialor, “Understanding Human Relations in African Traditional Religious Context in the Face of Globalization: Nigerian Perspectives,” American International Journal of Contemporary Research Vol. 3 No. 2 (2013): 62.

[5] Tangwa, “The Traditional African Perception of a Person,” 43.

[6] M. Ajei and M.B. Ramose, “From ‘Man is the Measure of all Things’ to Money is the Measure of All Things: A Dialogue between Protagoras and African Philosophy,” Phronimon, Vol 9 1 (2008): 28.

[7] John Mbiti, African Religions and Philosophy (New York, N.Y.: Anchor Books, 1970), 141.

[8] Kwame Bediako, “Jesus in African Culture: Ghanaian A Perspective,” In Emerging Voices in Global Christian Theology, William Dyrness (Eds.) (Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 1994), 101.

[9] The label “West” may be used in varying ways, some of which may not be acceptable in some circles. However, in this paper, it is used in term of global designation; global West juxtaposed to Africa as the global South.

[10] Charles Taylor, The Source of the Self; Making of the Modern Identity (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989),143-158.

[11] Gabriel E. Idang, “African Culture and Values,” Phronimon Vol. 16. 2 (2015): 105-106

[12] Amy Kaler, “When They See Money, They Think it’s Life’: Money, Modernity and Morality in Two Sites in Rural Malawi,” Journal of Southern African Studies, 32:2, (2006): 336, DOI: 10.1080/03057070600656333

[13] Nathanaël Yaovi Soede, “African Peoples and Money, Yesterday and Today Anthropological and Ethical Approach,” In Wealth, Health, and Hope in African Christian Religion: The Search for Abundant Life, edited by Stan Chu Ilo, Lexington Books/Fortress Academic, 2017 158

[14] Soede, “African Peoples and Money,”

[15] Kaler, “When They See Money, They Think it’s Life’, 335-349,

[16] Kaler, 339.

[17] Kaler, 339.

[18] Kaler, 343.

[19] Omenyo, “Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone,” In Christianity in Sub-Saharan Africa, Eds. Kenneth R. Ross et al (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2017), 207.

[20] Brigit Meyers, “’Make a Complete Break with the Past.’ Memory and Post-Colonial Modernity in Ghanaian Pentecostalist Discourse,” Journal of Religion in Africa 28.3 (1998): 323-325. DOI:10.2307/1581573

[21] Meyers, “’Make a Complete Break with the Past,”317.

[22] Samuel K. Bonsu and Russell W. Belkz, “Marketing a new African God: Pentecostalism and material salvation in Ghana,” Int. J. Nonprofit Volunt. Sect. Mark. 15, (2010):305–323

[23] Bonsu and Belkz, “Marketing a new African God,”

[24] Asamoah-Gyadu, Sighs and Signs of the Spirit; Ghanaian Perspectives on Pentecostalism and Renewal in Africa (Oxford: Regnum Africa, 2015), 169.

[25] Jeremiah Agbeshie, “Seed Sowing: Putting into Biblical Context Special Offerings Aimed at Influencing Blessings in Contemporary Pentecostal Churches in Ghana,” (MA Thesis, Trinity Theological Seminary, Ghana, 2017); “A Theological Understanding of Money among Ghanaian Pentecostals in Amsterdam,” (MA Thesis, Protestant Theological University, Netherlands, 2019).

[26] Koch, “Who Are the Prosperity gospel Adherents?”1.

[27] Martin Lindhardt, “More Than Just Money: The Faith Gospel and Occult Economies in Contemporary Tanzania,” Nova Religio (2009): 49. DOI: 10.1525/nr.2009.13.1.41.

[28] Karen Lauterbach, “Fakery and Wealth in African Charismatic Christianity: Moving beyond the Prosperity gospel as Script” in Faith in African Lived Christianity: Bridging Anthropological and Theological Perspectives (eds.) Karen Lauterbach and Mika Vähäkangas (Leiden: Brill, 2019):111-132.

[29] Jim Harries, “The Place of Money in Mission between Africa and the Rest: A Personal Theological Narrative,” In Wealth, Health, and Hope in African Christian Religion, 187.

[30] Harries, 184

[31] Harries, 190-191.

[32] Harries, 194.