God’s word is clear that borrowing is a sign of a fundamentally off-track national trajectory. In Scripture after Scripture, borrowing is generally condemned as detrimental to the borrower. Proverbs 22:7b, for instance, says that “the borrower is the slave of the lender.”In His words to Israel at the nascent stages of that country’s establishment, God said that his plan for the nation was that it “shall lend to many nations, but [you] shall not borrow.”
Going by the Scripture then, it seems clear that many African countries are enslaved to other nations through their high debt profiles. As of 2022, countries such as Zambia, Angola, Mozambique and Cape Verde have debt ratios as high as 100% of their gross national income. These countries and many more others across Africa have extremely limited capacity to service their debts. Total debt across Africa south of the Sahara stood at $305 billion in 2010; however, by 2020 that figure had ballooned to $702 billion, which is close to 50% of the GDP of all sub-Saharan countries combined. African countries, together with their citizens, are enslaved to the dictates of the lending nations in the Eastern and Western hemispheres of the globe.
Taking Back Colonial Loots
National borrowing is antithetical to national interests, but what strategies does the Bible establish for nations to mobilize resources for economic advancement? Here, we recourse to an examination of the very first nation established by God Himself, which is the nation of Israel. Israel’s four hundred years of slavery in Egypt ended on the night of the Passover. As the Israelites made ready to leave Egypt, the Lord instructed them to request to be given silver, gold and expensive clothing owned by the Egyptians. The Bible records that “The Lord had made the Egyptians favourably disposed toward the people, and they gave them what they asked for; so they plundered the Egyptians” (Exodus 12:36). The transfer of wealth that occurred during Israel’s exodus would be the least way of making the Egyptians pay for the hundreds of years of free labour extracted from generations of the Israelites, not to talk of the trauma they were subjected to for centuries.
Here, African countries who were colonized for years can draw a lesson or two on how to get back a tiny fraction of the wealth stolen during the decades of colonialism and thereafter. For Africa today, one immediate way of getting “the gold, silver and clothing” of the former colonial authorities and their accomplices is by heavily taxing the profits of Western multinationals operating in Africa. The tax will be directly used in the development of people-centred programmes and infrastructure, especially those related to agriculture, health, education, water, access roads, and other such necessities.
However, rather than get back what was stolen, African countries continue to be cheated by former colonial authorities, through their multinationals, of billions of dollars in tax revenues. Instead of the continent placing heavy taxes on multinationals operating within their domain as is the case in Europe where American companies such as Amazon, Apple and Google are especially targeted for heavy taxes, foreign multinationals in Africa in different sectors (including mining, energy, and even in small- and medium-sized companies) routinely evade taxes and are allowed by African governments to engage in diverse practices that result in capital flight from the continent to their host countries. For instance, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) estimates that tax evasion alone costs African countries as high as 100 billion dollars annually, not to include other forms of capital flight engaged in by these multinationals.
Domestic Revenue Mobilization
Another way that God instructed the Israelites to raise revenue for nation-building was through domestic revenue mobilization. In the area of infrastructural development, specifically, Moses received instructions from God to raise resources through a freewill offering, for the first-ever Tabernacle to be constructed. In Exodus 25 1-8, the Bible records that,
The Lord spoke to Moses: “Tell the Israelites to take an offering for Me. You are to take My offering from everyone who is willing to give. This is the offering you are to receive from them: gold, silver, and bronze; blue, purple, and scarlet yarn; fine linen and goat hair; ram skins dyed red and manatee skins; acacia wood; oil for the light; spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense; and onyx along with other gemstones for mounting on the ephod and breastpiece.“They are to make a sanctuary for Me so that I may dwell among them.
God also instructed Moses to tax every male Israelite over the age of 20 a certain amount of money. Estimates have placed the total money collected through this exercise at 150,000,000 million dollars in today’s currency. This temple tax, according to Bible scholars, became an annual exercise in the nation of Israel for centuries. At the time Jesus came to Jerusalem, he instructed his disciples to continue paying taxes, not only to the temple but to the Roman government, urging them to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God, what belongs to God.
The responsibility also lies on African Christians to be conscientious in paying taxes to their governments as that is required for good statesmanship. The history of forced tax extraction from the time of colonialism, where taxes were used for the maintenance of the extravagant lifestyles of the expatriates and sent to the colonial government offices abroad left a bad impression about taxes in the minds of many Africans. Additionally, the prevalence of corruption across the continent has made it seem justifiable to evade taxes, as many people consider it not wise to (continue to) pay taxes to people who will divert public money to personal use. However, two wrongs can never make a right. African Christians, while working on eradicating traces of corruption within themselves and in their society, will have to respect the rule of law to the letter as sanctioned scripturally.
Additionally, God requested that many people should give free labour for state-building in Israel. In the construction of the tabernacle, for instance, God requested direct labour from people He has gifted “with skill, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship” (Exodus 35:31). This kind of resource mobilization was commonplace in traditional African societies. African governments today will do well to build on that by appealing to citizens with expertise to volunteer in state-building across sectors. On the other hand, Christians who know they have been gifted or have acquired expertise in different areas can go ahead and volunteer their services and even resources, without being asked, knowing that God who commanded it and who sees in secret will reward them accordingly.
It is not God’s intention for His children in Africa to continue to live like slaves to other nations. All of God’s children in the world are made in His image and likeness and should live with as much dignity as the glory God has bestowed upon them. African Christians must then arise and speak with one voice against the continued subjection of their nations to further enslavement through continued borrowing. African Christians will also be faithful in paying their taxes as well as developing the eagerness to volunteer skills and resources towards state-building. Christian leaders in authority should follow and implement these Biblical principles for resource mobilization for national advancement and desist from borrowing.
The question of borrowing at the national level reflects the quality of life lived by citizens. God is very much concerned about the quality of life His children live here on earth, as much as he is concerned about the eternal destiny of their souls. God wants Africans to live a life of dignity, respect, self-actualization and optimum contribution to the development of God’s world.
You may follow Dr Chika Esiobu on social media @drchikaesiobu