Emmanuel KATONGOLE. Born from Lament: The Theology and Politics of Hope in Africa. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2017. pp. 294. ISBN 978-0-8028-7434-4. Reviewed by Kate JACKSON-MEYER, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA 02467.


Emmanuel Katongole explains that he wrote this book after witnessing agency, non-violent action, and hope emerge from violence and suffering among activists living in various African contexts.  This initial impulse explains why readers will find his text thoroughly rooted in concrete reality, enriched by narratives—or what Katongole calls “portraits.”  As Katongole points out, there is much work to be done in the study of hope, for the social sciences tend to neglect the role of religion in hope, while religious treatments of hope are often unhelpful.  And disturbingly, many who have studied people and countries in Africa have overlooked the hope that dwells there.  Thus, this text fills a lacuna as Katongole turns to scripture, theology, and lived experience to argue that hope is Born from Lament.

Katongole summarizes his book in the following way, “The central argument of this book is that, in the midst of suffering, hope takes the form of arguing and wrestling with God” (xvi).  He says, “The overall effect of my inquiry is not only to confirm the inner connection between lament and hope, but also to display the rich theological, ecclesiological, and practical implications of this matrix of Christian agency in the context of Africa’s troubled history” (xix).  Katongole makes a strong case for the notion that lament in more than a feeling—it is a practice that uses and transforms suffering into hope through a relationship with God lived out in the personal and in the community.

Katongole makes his argument by organizing the book in five parts.  In Part One, a chapter on the real experience of violence in the Congo and its historical causes is paired with a chapter that explains the need for a theological treatment of hope.  Part Two argues for lament as practice through an analysis of biblical lament in the Book of Lamentations.  This claim is supported through a chapter on specific ways people in Eastern Africa have performed biblical lament through actions such as songs, poems, art, etc.  To make the case for lament as “turning to God,” Part Three pairs a chapter on the psalms of lament and the theology of a suffering God with a chapter analyzing the “psalmic” nature of the lives of Sr. Rosemary Nyirumbe in Northern Uganda and Archbishop Emmanuel Kataliko in Bukavu.  Part Four investigates the prophetic and peacebuilding nature of lament through chapters on Jesus weeping over Jerusalem and Archbishop Christopher Munzihirwa’s work in Bukavu.  To explore how lament can prompt political agency, in Part Five Katongole relates Rachel crying in the Gospel of Matthew to the work of David Kasali in the Congo, Maggy Barankitse in Burundi, and various martyrs for peace in East Africa.  In these ways, Katongole defends his claim that lament is theopraxis. 

At the end of each chapter Katongole offers a helpful summary and foreshadows the following part, thus skillfully weaving together the many strands of the book.  This book would serve well in a theology course aiming to give real voices to the topics of hope, lament, suffering, or the relevance of Scripture. 

In addition to the main achievement of offering a much-needed analysis of hope and lament in the African context, other achievements of this book include theological method, the notion of lament as practice, and connecting Scripture to practical contexts.  While not the first to use the method of “portraiture” in theology, Katongole implements this method masterfully, showcasing it as a way to not only tell personal stories, but also to interpret them through an investigative lens.

The profound narratives in this book keep the reader connected and engaged, the theological and biblical analyses are intellectually rigorous, and the contextual and political implications give the text a practical orientation.  Born from Lament confronts us with grace-filled responses to difficult realities and in doing so deepens theology and inspires Christian action.